Feeling bummed about the rampant spread of yet another virus variant? Tired of the cold and the wind already, knowing we have three more months of this? Did Santa find out about that naughty streak? Mother-in-law still calling you by the name of your husband’s old girlfriend? Well here’s some news that won’t help cheer you up. The Monkees are all dying.
Remember the Monkees? If you have a Medicare card, you surely must. They were the anti-Rolling Stones. They were the feel-good, nice-guy, quartet who kept their shirts on (as Mick Jagger certainly should have) invented to star in a television series about a rock band. To a logical person, if you wanted a show about a rock band, you would hire a rock band. Ha ha. This is just a little journalistic humor. We’re talking about Hollywood here, or Burbank, or wherever Columbia Pictures is. And just to prove irony didn’t die the day Le Duc Tho won the Nobel Peace Prize, many of the sets and props used on the show were leftovers from The Three Stooges.
Almost always, when descriptions are written about the Monkees, the word “zany” appears. It’s nearly obligatory. Zany, according to my trusty Roget’s, means campy, clownish, goofy, loony, kooky, sappy, or whacky. Sure. Apparently, the producers of the show had seen the Beatles’ movies and thought they could cash in on them. Now, the Monkees are to the Beatles as a tiny mote of space dust is to Jupiter. “Hey hey, we’re the Monkees. People say we monkey around. But we’re too busy singing to put anybody down.” “Eleanor Rigby” it ain’t. But here’s the thing…the Monkees, who were not, shall we say, overburdened with musical much less thespian talent, were a huge success.
It’s sad enough they’re all dying. That’s really bad news for them, of course, but do you realize what it means for the rest of us? That show about the Monkees, uber-creatively called “The Monkees,” that show you watched every week to see some mediocre singing and truly awful acting, was begun (brace yourself) fifty-five years ago. I’m going to need to sit down for a minute to digest that. I need to sit down for a minute to digest many things (dinner and the evening news, for instance) but the thought that it’s been over half a century since these kids burst into being is daunting. I cannot envision myself here at sixty-eight years of age. Picturing the manic Monkees in their seventies is almost beyond comprehension.
In case you’ve over-indulged in Christmas cheer, let me refresh your memory. The four Monkees were: Davy Jones, the Brit. He was, I believe, supposed to be the cute one. Micky Dolenz, was the drummer and the cast’s ornery child. He aspired to zaniness like a martyr aspires to sainthood. Intently. An interesting side note is that “The Monkees” was not Dolenz’s first foray into television. In his youth he was “Circus Boy.” I could not make this stuff up. Circus boy’s parents were, naturally, killed in a trapeze accident. He was adopted by a clown (better and better) and put in charge of an elephant, the very definition of a trifecta. The elephant had the unfortunate name of Bimbo which, in 1956, apparently didn’t mean what it does now. Language evolves and mutates kindly elephants into trashy women. Peter Tork actually was a musician, adept with multiple instruments. Probably the most talented of the four he was, in TV land, cast as the dumb one. Mike Nesmith, never seen without his wool cap, was the quiet one. Post-Monkees, Nesmith won the first Grammy award given for video after inventing, apparently by accident, the music video. Davy Jones died in 2012, Tork in 2019, Nesmith just a little over two weeks ago. Circus Boy has already out-lived his elephant, along with all his cast-mates.
It’s the passing of an era, the passing of the Monkees. They were mostly benign, certainly not offensive, and they kept legions of teen-aged girls occupied for thirty minutes each week. Were they campy, clownish, goofy, loony, kooky, sappy, and whacky? You bet. It was too good to last. No more monkeying around.