posted by Therracat
As anyone who geeks out for a TV series, artist, band, book or genre can attest, you can take a lot of abuse from “non-believers” who don’t share or understand your passion. Fans of the Monkees have certainly gotten their share of slagging over the decades, both from the media and from those who fancy themselves rock and roll purists.
The popular ’60s show has been named by TIME as one of the 100 Best TV Shows of All Time and the Monkees reunion tours have been bankable successes. The lads, now all lads over 60, still draw crowds (and teenagers) to their solo shows, so, for the sake of argument, lets assume they at least have had staying power, shall we?
Oh. Do I have an attitude? Is it showing? When people who obviously didn’t get it would, over the years, question my mad Monkee love I always wanted to snap back, “Shut up. They weren’t made for you. They were made for me.” In truth, the Monkees were likely “made” for girls older than me, those with bras and bumped-up hair, but when they exploded onto the scene I was 6 or 7 and I had a very real sense of what I liked, music-wise. And I liked the Monkees. I put them next to my Hollies and Bee Gees and Rolling Stones albums and plotted grade school ways to get to from England to California, ways that didn’t involve me getting in trouble with my parents or missing too much school. For I was sure that was where I would find them, in sunny SoCal, in that bitchin’ beach house, driving that badass GTO. I was young and to me, ”The Monkees” was a reality show. I’d never been to the United States. It looked and sounded like the promised land to me.
Despite a certain amount of teasing and eye-rolling over the years by people who liked to rib me about my devotion to the Monks I still had enough knowledge and music cred in my arsenal to take on any purists in a duel. If I didn’t win, at least I dented the argument that the Monkees didn’t matter. No more worries on that. If people give me a problem about my hot Monkee love I now can just hand them Eric Lefcowitz’s new book
Author Eric Lefcowitz (“Rhino History of Rock and Roll: The ‘70s”, “Buy American: Buy This Book”, “Tomorrow Never Knows: The Beatles’ Last Concert”, and more) has taken on the history, making, un-making and re-making of the group once before, in his book “The Monkees Tale”. So much has happened in Monkee-ville since that book was released fourteen years ago that he’s added some new thoughts directly from Michael Nesmith, brought us up-to-date on the drama (and make no mistake, there IS drama) and added photos and new news to the history of the made for TV band that many refer to as the “pre-fab four” (pre-fab as in “built to order” not pre-Beatles era). “Monkee Business, The Revolutionary Made For TV Band” is a perfect book for those who love the Monkees and/or those who love the messy, magical, musical 1960s. Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Stephen Stills, Janis Joplin, Neil Diamond, Frank Zappa, Carole King, they’re all in the book and play a part in the history of the Monkees, or vice-versa. It’s well–researched glimpse into a true show business phenomenon complete with fabulous photos by legendary photog Henry Diltz .
Eric was kind enough to answer a few questions about the band and his new book and in the process, gave me even more info to lob at non-believers.
Therra C. Gwyn: Like a lot of writers I know, you are fluent in several genres. You’ve written about popular music and you have an extensive knowledge of the subject. What, to you, is the importance of chronicling the life and times of the Monkees, over another band from that time period? Why the Monkees?
Eric Lefcowitz: Not to get too cosmic about it all but I feel the Monkees, in a way, represent all of us. There’s a human element to their story that transcends all the trappings of their fame. They were four eager young guys who happily signed on for the ride and then found out the destination was not quite what they were anticipating. For me, their rebellion is what clinched the deal (in terms of my fascination with the group). It would have been so much easier to just go with the flow. Their effort to express themselves within the confines of their “gilded cage” was an extraordinary development. That DIY-spirit that informs “Headquarters” is so honest and pure. Artistically that album may be miles away from “Sgt. Peppers” but as a statement of purpose I think it’s still quite valid. Both albums were released at the same time and of course the Beatles got the lion’s share of the credit but if you gave me a choice I’d rather listen to “Headquarters.” Within its own context, I think it holds up better. Yes, I said it. The other part of their legacy that sealed the deal for me was “Head.” There is something so wonderfully weird about that movie. It almost dares you to hate it (especially the first few scenes) but the more you watch it the more you begin to detect its genius. The fact that it was totally ignored by the public doesn’t matter now and I’d rather watch “Head” than “Let it Be” any day. Now I’m hardly trying to stoke an argument about which band (Beatles/Monkees) is better–that would be foolhardy. I love them both. But in terms of cultural relevance today, I think the Monkees–the brand and the band–tower over many of the so-called hipster bands of their day. And the reason for that makes for a fascinating story.
Therra: You outline in the book the many talented people who contributed material to the Monkees success (Carole King, et al). How important do you think famed songwriting duo Boyce and Hart were to their hit-making machine at that time?
Eric: Boyce and Hart were really the unsung heroes of the Monkees. Let’s face it; if the Monkees’ first records stunk they would just be a curio today. But those early Boyce and Hart tracks were amazing. They were absolutely the right guys at the right time. The theme song is a nifty bit of craft work, an instant identifiable ear worm (even little kids know it today) but also ever-so-slightly subversive. The same thing goes for “Last Train to Clarksville.” I heard Bob Dylan talking about that song on his radio show and he said something to the effect that the best way to be subversive was to not let anybody know you’re being subversive. I had no idea that there was an anti-war message built into “Clarksville” when I first heard it but there was something desperate in Micky’s delivery that hinted at it. It’s a classic, as are “Steppin Stone,” “She,” etc, etc. There isn’t a duff track that Boyce and Hart did with the Monkees and it’s a shame they didn’t do more (in my opinion). Also I’ve been lucky enough to meet and talk to Bobby Hart a few times and I have to say he is probably the nicest guy I’ve ever met in show business. Plus, if I recall correctly, he had a swimming pool shaped like a guitar at his house. How cool is that?
Therra: Pretty cool. And now I want one. Okay, In “Monkee Business” you touch on the big debate about whether the Monkees should be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. Do you think they deserve to be there?
Eric: That they deserve to be there is without question but I feel even discussing the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (which has left out many, many other worthy bands) plays right into Jann Wenner’s trap. It’s all about the canonization of a certain Baby Boomer mentality that just turns my stomach and Wenner is the epitome of that bullsh*t (if I can say bullsh*t in print)! We should all move on because it isn’t going to happen, at least not while Wenner walks the Earth. I do think all Monkees fans could work to see that Boyce and Hart are inducted into the Songwriting Hall of Fame, however. That is much more likely to happen and they truly deserve the honor.
Therra: Finally, if you had to use one word to describe Davy, Micky, Mike and Peter, individually, what would that one-word-per-Monkee be?
Eric: Davy: Showbiz. Micky: Natural. Peter: Heartfelt. Mike: Seeker