Monkees kick off latest reunion tour in Hampton Beach
Elvis had those hips, the Beatles those haircuts, but what did the Monkees bring to the revolution? Well, nearly 50 years after the world became “Daydream Believers,” Peter Tork, who created the catchy piano introduction to the tune, believes that he and his fellow Monkees were the first to demonstrate that kids rule.
“Every situation comedy before The Monkees and for decades after, had a senior adult figure in the cast helping out the youngsters as they blundered their way through life,” Tork said by phone last week. “Occasionally the youngsters had something to tell the old guy, but the old guy was in charge. The Monkees were different. They took care of themselves. And they reflected the truth about the zeitgeist.”
Tork was referring to the 1960s and the frequent divisions resulting from the war in Vietnam.
“We knew we were alone, that the adults were lying to us,” he said. “The Monkees said, ‘That’s okay.’ ”
Tork recalled how, back then and even now, people told him how much relief they got from the weekly television show. While the Monkees family had their onscreen squabbles, the next week they were back together again, an encouraging sign for real families experiencing a case of generation gap. With a weekly dose of the Monkees, the condition needn’t be fatal.
So, as the promotion materials state, The Monkees truly are “back by popular demand,” reuniting for a national tour that begins next Thursday at the historic Casino Ballroom in Hampton Beach. Since Davy Jones’s death in 2012, the group is now a trio of Michael Nesmith, Micky Dolenz and Tork. And it promises a multimedia evening of music, films and memories.
Unlike the Beatles and bands of the era that seemed to evolve organically, the original Monkees were hardly a product of natural selection. They were a concept developed by aspiring filmmaker Bob Rafelson, who later directed Five Easy Pieces and was a producer for Easy Rider. Inspired by The Beatles’ film A Hard Day’s Night, Rafelson teamed up with Bert Schneider to create a TV series. After placing an ad for “4 insane boys, age 17-21,” Raybert Productions found themselves with 437 applicants.
British-born Davy Jones, a Tony nominee and a veteran of The Ed Sullivan Show, was the first to be chosen. Dolenz, a passable guitarist, had already been in a TV series, the child actor in Circus Boy. Nesmith, a.k.a. Michael Blessing, studied drama in college and had been playing and recording music a few years. The last chosen, Tork, began studying piano at the age of 9 and left Carleton College to play folk music in Greenwich Village. He heard about the gig from his friend and failed applicant, Stephen Stills.
The Monkees were a quick, if not spontaneous, success, beloved by both teenyboppers and their parents. Although the sitcom lasted only two years, the band it spawned went on for several more. The show pioneered the music video format and paved the way for boy bands that followed. The Monkees also created the first psychedelic cult film, Head, not to mention multiple greatest hits. Their influence has inspired a range of followers and fans that includes Brian Wilson, Glen Campbell, Kurt Cobain, Tom Petty, U2, R.E.M., Rachel Maddow and Marge Simpson.
In one Simpsons episode when Marge reports that she was teased for carrying a Monkees lunchbox on her first day of school, Marge’s psychiatrist responds with a paraphrase of Tork’s analysis, “The Monkees weren’t about music, Marge. They were about rebellion, about political and social upheaval!”
Tork has had more than his share of upheaval in recent decades. In addition to a series of reunion tours, the pianist and bass player has played five-string banjo in George Harrison’s film, Wonderwall; spent three years teaching high school and coaching baseball in California; served three months in a federal prison in Oklahoma for hashish possession; appeared in a gag segment, “Win a Date with Peter Tork,” on Late Night with David Letterman; rebounded from surgery and radiation treatment for a rare form of head and neck cancer; written the online advice column “Ask Peter Tork;” and fronted his own blues band, Shoe Suede Blues.
Tork calls the latter, “a mainstay of my interest.” “Every time I play with them,” he said, “I get transported. I get off. Every time there’s a moment when I think, ‘Oh my God, this is what I live for.’ ”
While Tork admits that his life has been a trip far beyond “The Last Train to Clarksville,” with musical way stops as far-ranging as his first hero, Pete Seeger, to Muddy Waters, he also realizes he has no need to make apologies for his career as a Monkee.
“Our music may not have been as good as the Beatles, but it was still pretty energetic and well written,” Tork said. “It’s great to be part of that, to be a contributor, and to know we’ve had a significant influence.”
In this week’s New Yorker magazine, a Talk of the Town piece reports on a recent photo op and autograph session at the Meadowlands Hilton with Nesmith. Monkee maniacs, old and young, gushed things like, “Oh, Mike, I feel like I’m 13 again,” and “I’m so happy! I’m beyond happy! You made my day!”
At the end of the day, Nez, who’s become known for occasional Monkee mockery, reflected on how it had gone. “You know, this is serious,” he told reporter John Seabrook. “You get down to some really basic stuff. That’s what I see when I look into the eyes of these people, and I treat it with unquestioning respect.”
For information about the Monkees show on May 22, go to CasinoBallroom.com. The show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets range from $35 for general admission to $65 and $76 for reserved and preferred seats.