I was first exposed to the Monkees on the weekend of my Grandfather’s funeral in 1986. I was a young child and my older brother and I spent the night at my Dad’s apartment while my Dad was off making funeral arrangements. It just so happened to be the same weekend that MTV was running a Monkees marathon and my brother and I stayed up all night watching every episode. It is vivid in my mind and my heart. It is one of my most cherished bonding moments with my older brother John. It was an escape from the pain of the very real life moment as my Grandfather was both my brother and my hero and still to this day the kindest man I have ever met.
Davy Jones of The Monkees passed away today. The oft-beguiled Monkees, who were manufactured by two upstart film producers and a veteran producer Don Kirshner to become the answer to the Beatles. were patterned after the Beatles. They were patterned not only in looks but also in demographic and most importantly in the intent of harnessing the power of television. Following the success of the cheeky, Beatles film Hard Days Night; the creators thought they could cash in. The Monkees were wildly successful for a couple of years and toured to rabid fans across the world. The question I am asking is what is their legacy?
Were the Monkees the first sign of the musical apocalypse, where acts are created in an industry laboratory setting as opposed to organically from the people?
In some sense, the answer is probably yes. As Rock grew from an under ground movement into big commerce, it was exploited towards a lowest common denominator that would reduce risk and garner profits. This is just part of the tension of the music business. The artistic side of it loves innovation, experimentation, and change because it leads to transformation and great art but the business side needs to see profits and must assess everything through the lens of risk verse benefits. For the business side it is always about profits not art. This tension pushes and pulls on the music business and always has. The Monkees are in some ways a keystone marker of a subtle shift more towards the business side, one that the ripple effects are still being felt today.
Were the Monkees innocent kids who saw a chance to grab the brass ring and took it?
On this one, I think the answer is yes. In much the same way the guys in Milli Vanilli were. While the Monkees did actually sing the lead vocals on their recordings, they were not allowed to play on the early recordings and were not allowed to write on the songs. It is easy to pass artistic judgment on these guys until you place your self into their shoes. You are a young often literally starving artist who is given a chance to have a platform and most importantly feed yourself, and the artistic moral waters begin to muck up a bit.
Were the Monkees a cultural icon that left us some great guilty pleasure pop songs and an entertaining escape?
I cannot speak for you but as I started, this blog I can say for me the answer is yes.
Rest in Peace Mr. Jones.
Here is a link of Mr. Jones at his best.