Mar 02, 2012
Zeitgeist by Howard Barbanel
When was the last time you believed in daydreams (let alone indulged in them), white knights on steeds or waking up at six in the morning with a homecoming queen beside you?
All that was made possible by an impish British invasion sometimes lead singer named Davy Jones for a manufactured pop group called The Monkees. Mr. Jones passed away on Wednesday, February 29th and with his untimely demise (he was only 66), so too is yet another window pane shattered in the rapidly vanishing chimera of my generation’s youth.
“We’re just tryin’ to be friendly, come and watch us sing and play, we’re the young generation, and we’ve got something to say,” so composed Bobby Hart and Tommy Boyce for The Monkees TV show theme song. How long has it been since we sang and played? Remember being thought of as “the young generation?” I’m 53, born towards the end of the Baby Boom generation and The Monkees bracketed two periods of my youth – as a young boy in the mid to late 60s and then as a young man in my twenties when The Monkees had a full blown pop resurrection in the 80s thanks to MTV and Nickelodeon. Even the 80s now are decades long since gone, let alone the 60s, and the mists of nostalgia are thinning out and being inhaled less and less.
It can be argued that The Monkees were the first pop group propelled by music videos – as their whole show was basically silly antics bracketed by music. From 1966 to 1968 the group had several top ten hits including I’m a Believer, Last Train to Clarksville, Pleasant Valley Sunday, [I’m Not Your] Steppin’ Stone, A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You, Valleri and more. In excess of 65 million Monkees albums and singles have been sold worldwide. The songs were written by such rock luminaries as Carole King, Neil Diamond and the aforementioned Boyce and Hart.
Other big groups of the time were The Beatles (Jones was chosen for The Monkees group and TV show to capitalize on the whole British mop-top thing going on), The Stones, The Who, The Moody Blues, The Zombies and even Herman’s Hermits. The Monkees were unique not only in their genesis on television and their use of TV to drive sales of their records but also in that they were a hybrid band of Americans and Mr. Jones, the Englishman. Jones was an enormous teen idol in his day. In fact, Yahoo Music in 2008 voted Jones “number one teen idol of all time” and Fox News in 2009 put him in the number two spot. Jones was way bigger than Justin Bieber is today and the object of many a then 12 year-old girl’s fantasies.
“Daydream Believer” was Jones’s biggest hit as Monkees front man. American Micky Dolenz would take the lead for many other of the group’s chart-busters. Although the original Monkees TV series would only last for two years between 1966-1968 it would live on for decades in syndication. Many of their big hits would be covered by bands right through the millennium and break the charts yet again.
When John Lennon was killed, we knew there’d never be a Beatles reunion (notwithstanding Paul McCartney’s recent and welcome ubiquity). Many other groups from the 60s and 70s have seen lead singers leave this earth (i.e. Jerry Garcia), assuring that the group sound they created will be seen and heard live no more. The loss of Mr. Jones transcends his place in music or pop culture. It’s really about the inevitable and inexorable passage of time that wreaks its vengeance on us by prodding us along on the bread line of life so that we’re no longer on the cusp or even the middle of things, but being edged out to the periphery. American culture is a youth culture. On television and the movies it sometimes seems that everything and everybody is permanently frozen at 28 years old and it’s just the rest of us on the couch who break 50, 60 and 70.
My father, a WWII navy veteran, just turned 85. His world is vanishing by the thousands each month as those who share his collective cultural touchstones and memories become fewer and fewer. The loss of Davy Jones is like a warning shot across the bow of the Baby Boomers that the world we once so thoroughly dominated in every respect is only given to us on loan – we can only lease a part of any given century or epoch and we will be compelled to yield the floor to those coming up after us.
In October 1968 The Monkees released “Porpoise Song,” from their movie Head
The lyrics (by Carole King and Gerry Goffin) go like this:
My, my the clock in the sky is pounding away
There’s so much to say
A face, a voice, an overdub has no choice
And it cannot rejoice
Wanting to be, to hear and to see
Crying to the sky
But the porpoise is laughing good-bye, good-bye
good-bye, good-bye, good-bye…
Filed Under: Howard Barbanel
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