Several years ago, I had a neighbor named Peter. Peter lived a few houses down from me, and I would often see him out walking his dog. In his 60s, Peter was a pleasant enough guy, and sometimes if I saw him on the street I would stop to talk to him about music. He was a multi-instrumentalist- everything from French horn to banjo- and played clubs with his band Shoe Suede Blues. Not too long after I made Peter’s acquaintance, I heard he moved to Connecticut, presumably to live out his retirement years. Sadly, I also heard he had throat cancer.
I saw Peter last Saturday night, back in Los Angeles. He was performing at the Greek Theatre in front of a capacity crowd of over 5,000 as 1/3 of the reunited Monkees on their 45th anniversary tour (fourth member Michael Nesmith abstained). Peter Tork was out of retirement, a cancer survivor, and a working musician playing everything from French horn to banjo.
The Monkees were the first band that I ever saw. As an adolescent in the early 1980s, I watched reruns of their television show. In the pre-MTV era, this really was the only music on TV. Though I enjoyed the music of the Monkees, that wasn’t the entire appeal. It was the idea of living on the beach in Southern California, struggling with your three other bandmates to get gigs, and finding adventure along the way that captivated me. This is the life, I thought.
My teenage years saw the explosion of music videos. It changed things in the industry forever. Now, we could all see the people who sang those songs we loved. Unfortunately, not every musician benefited. It has long been supposed that Christopher Cross, a Grammy-winning, platinum-selling, wonderfully talented guitarist and singer-songwriter has MTV to blame for his career taking a sharp downward turn after the general public got a look at his less-than-Brad Pitt appearance.
Irony rose to the occasion, however, as MTV ran a marathon of Monkees shows in 1986, celebrating 20 years of the quartet and prompting a successful reunion tour of the group. Perhaps watching 40-year-olds sing and jump around onstage was okay if they were once cute and cuddly. Or if the audience, too, was aging right along with the band.
Here it was 25 years after that, and 45 years after the Monkees took on the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and the rest of the world, outselling all of them from 1966-1968. Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, and Peter Tork all in their mid-60s, (Tork closing in on 70), delivering 2 and ½ hours of hits, B-sides, and rarities from their vast catalog.
I had skipped the chance to see them in ’86 or during any one of the subsequent reunion jaunts, for a variety of reasons, but mainly because it never felt like the right time. This one was different. I was different. It has been said that nostalgia hits the middle-aged man the hardest, and while I approach 39 and stave off middle-age, I feel the pull of youth.
Last summer I attended my 20th high school reunion, at which I performed with a successful working musician and fellow classmate Willie Myette. Memories of younger days were discussed and celebrated alongside updates of everyone’s current situation. Me? I’m living near the beach in Southern California, struggling with my band to get gigs, and finding adventure along the way. It all sounded very familiar coming out of my mouth.
The gods of television were in on it as well, conspiring to force me to address the band of my childhood, to face those responsible for that initial spark of inspiration. In January of 2011, an over-the-air station called Antenna TV debuted in Los Angeles and began showing reruns of the Monkees on Saturday afternoons. I tuned in, of course, but joining me on the couch now was my 7-year-old daughter. She, like her dad, loved them. Soon, the CD of choice in the car was the Monkees. Mike’s hat, a topic of conversation. And then…
It was announced sometime in early February. A tour and an appearance at the Greek in July. I have never before or since heard a scream of such joy as I did from my daughter when I told her. She did undergo a little conference with my wife and me, explaining that Micky, Davy, and Peter would not look as cute and cuddly as they did on Saturday afternoons. She didn’t care. She just wanted to go. So did we. So, some 30 years after I first heard and saw them on my fuzzy TV screen in Rhode Island, I was hearing and seeing them onstage in Los Angeles.
I’ve been to hundreds of concerts in my life and this one will always be memorable. The Monkees sang and played exceptionally, more than living up to expectations and to the sterling reviews they had earned from Rolling Stone and others during the previous two months on the road. More importantly, it was a night for our family to be together, having a great time listening to music. It mattered nothing the age or appearance of the band. Perhaps that’s what it means to understand we all get older, but we don’t have to get old.
A final note- My wife and I spent a New Year’s Eve a few years ago at the Universal Ampitheatre in Los Angeles seeing Christopher Cross. He was fantastic.
Recommended listening- Then and Now… the Best of the Monkees
Picture By Brian Gimmel