Peter Tork, R.I.P.

There are news reports today that Peter Tork, one of the members of the musical group the Monkees, has died.  Tork was 77, but for those of us of a certain generation — including me — he’ll always be remembered as he was as a young guy, when he was one of the four stars of the TV show The Monkees and part of the band that produced lots of hit singles and albums during the ’60s.

gettyimages-530242673-e1550770849823The Monkees were the first designer musical group, carefully crafted to appeal to a mainstream TV audience, a mainstream musical audience, and the teenyboppers who bought magazines like Tiger Beat.  They borrowed some of the antics that the Beatles popularized in movies like A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, and the four members of the group followed a pretty rote formula.  There was the cute one (Davy Jones), the quirky smart one (Mike Nesmith), and the zany, funny ones (Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork).  In the TV shows, Peter Tork seemed to be the happy-go-lucky Monkee who always got into goofy predicaments and took the comedic pratfalls.

I liked Peter Tork then, and I’m not ashamed to say that I liked the Monkees and their records, too.  I still do, in fact, and I’ve got a bunch of their songs on my iPod — including Tork’s big song, Your Auntie Grizelda, complete with its odd sound effects and fuzz guitar.  Who cares if the Monkees didn’t play all of the instruments themselves?  The songs were classic examples of ’60s flower power music that still stand the test of time.

It’s sad when figures from your childhood pass on, because it just makes you feel old.  Rest in peace, Peter Tork.  You’ll live on in your music and our fond memories of an innocent TV show from days gone by.

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A Head Full Of The Courtship Of Eddie’s Father Theme Song

Humans never truly know whether they are normal or weird.  Although we may have many friends and close family members, we still live largely within our own heads, perceiving the world in our own way.

The only way to know for sure whether we are unusual or pretty much like everyone else is to ask other humans pointed, and embarrassingly self-revealing, questions.  Like:  does anyone else occasionally find themselves replaying the insipid theme song to The Courtship of Eddie’s Father in their heads, for no apparent reason?

People let me tell ya ’bout my best friend . . . .

I always despised that show, with its cloyingly cute little kid and Bill Bixby as the prototype ultra-sensitive Dad and the blatant attempts to elicit “Awwww!” reactions from the audience.  I hadn’t thought of the show in years, but yesterday morning there it was, the chipper, annoying, Harry Nilsson theme song, playing through my head as I walked up the back stairs of our building.  And once it was bouncing around in there, it was impossible to get it out.

He’s my one boy, my cuddly toy, my up, my down, my pride and joy . . . .

Some cue caused the brain neurons to fire and retrieve the theme song from an awful ’60s TV show.  But what the hell was it?  And, even more disturbing, what other trivial bits of stray popular culture lie locked securely within my brain tissue, ever to be forgotten?  The names of all members of the original cast of Laugh-In?  The words to The Monkees’ Auntie Grizelda?  The precise dialogue of the disturbing dinner scene of Eraserhead?

Whether we’re talkin’ man to man or whether we’re talkin’ son to son . . . .

Gah!

Davy Jones, R.I.P.

I was saddened to read today of the death of Davy Jones, one of the Monkees.  Jones died of a heart attack at age 66.

When The Monkees TV show first began airing and their songs dominated the airwaves, Davy Jones became the heartthrob of millions of adolescent girls.  He was one of the first post-Beatles teen idols.  At that time, at least, the role of teen idol carried a certain responsibility — you had to be squeaky clean in your public persona, give mindless interviews about your pet peeves and favorite foods to magazines like Tiger Beat, and pose in the most ridiculous publicity photos imaginable.  Jones carried it off with elan, and then he handed off the baton to Bobby Sherman, who handed it off to David Cassidy, who handed it off to some other fresh-faced, inoffensive object of the platonic affections of millions of teenage American girls.

Who cares if Davy Jones wasn’t the world’s greatest singer or the world’s greatest actor?  He brought joy and excitement to the lives of many, he was part of a TV show that a lot of us liked at the time, and he managed to be part of some pretty darned good music that helped to define the ’60s.  I think Daydream Believer was one his best Monkees tunes, and it seems like a fitting point of remembrance.

Davy Jones, R.I.P.

More Of The Monkees

I’ve been working on the months-long task of rebuilding my iPod after my old iPod crashed.  I began with artists whose name starts with A and I’ll keep going until I reach ZZ Top.  I’ve just gotten to the middle of the Ms, and I’ve realized — again — how much I enjoy listening to The Monkees.

What can I say?  I’m a child of the ’60s.  I remember watching The Monkees TV show when I was a kid, thinking it was funny, and liking the music.  My sister, along with most girls, liked Davy Jones.  My favorite Monkee was Mickey Dolenz.  Some of my friends liked Peter Tork because he was funny; others liked Mike Nesmith because he always wore a stocking cap with a yarn ball on top.  I didn’t care that people said the Monkees didn’t play the instruments on their records, and I didn’t care that the TV show was silly gags combined with a shameless rip-off of The Beatles in Help! and A Hard Day’s Night.

When The Monkees went off the air I continued to buy and listen to their records. I listened to them in college in the ’70s, when Monkees tunes were among the most popular played at our Omnibus dance parties.  And I think their music still holds up today.  Unlike the hits of Bobby Sherman, or The Partridge Family, or other pre-packaged TV/music crossovers, The Monkees songs were high-quality pop, salted with a bit — and just a bit — of the psychedelic edginess that characterized lots of ’60s music.  Songs like Last Train to Clarksville, I’m A Believer, and Pleasant Valley Sunday remain great tracks.

My favorite Monkees tune is Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day, from their debut album.  The YouTube clip of the TV show video of the song portrays the zany, antic Monkees in full A Hard Day’s Night rip-off mode, but the song is still a classic: