A Monkees believer
By Steve Spears, Times Staff Writer
March 4, 2009
It's been 30 years since the television show that made him a star
went off the air, but Micky Dolenz knows that when he takes the stage
these days, there's only one thing the fans want to hear.
Hits including I'm a Believer, Last Train to Clarksville and Pleasant
Valley Sunday once were the backdrop of weekday afternoons for teens
weened on reruns of a show that aired for only two seasons in the late 1960s.
Playing the wise-cracking drummer for the fictional, down-on-its-luck
rock group gave Dolenz a rare open door into pop culture's elite
circles, once even scoring him an invitation to hang out with the
Beatles during the Sgt. Pepper's recording sessions.
These days Dolenz plays on without his famous bandmates. His sister,
Coco, joins him for a series at shows at Busch Garden's Stanleyville
Theater today through Saturday. On Tuesday, he sat down for a quick
chat about his career, his recent flirtation with country music and
the chances for a Monkees reunion tour.
Between standing in line for the Kumba and the Congo River Rapids,
what can fans hear at Busch Gardens this week?
They're going to hear all the Monkees' hits for starters, most of
which I sang originally. I do them just as people remember them. Then
I sprinkle the rest of the show with stories -- like Jimi Hendrix
once being our opening act.
A similar thing happened back in '86 when the Monkees played in
Clearwater. You had Herman's Hermits and the Grass Roots as opening
acts. None of the kids in the audience knew who they were!
[Laughs] It's happened before! There are classic stories about Guns
N' Roses opening for the Rolling Stones and everyone yelling "Get
off!" Those stories go back a long, long time.
What accounts for the enduring appeal of the Monkees?
Foremost, it's the songs and the songwriting. I had some of the
greatest songwriters of all time writing for me. People like Carole
King, Neil Diamond, Neil Sedaka and Paul Williams. And when you start
with material of that quality, the songs stand up over the years
regardless of the times and the production.
Carole King wrote Pleasant Valley Sunday. What a classic.
I just signed a record deal to do a tribute album to Carole King
called King for a Day. I'm going to sing all Carole King tunes
because she wrote so many great tunes for me, including As We Go
Along and The Porpoise Song for the movie Head.
Yes, Head, the 1968 movie written by Jack Nicholson. That was a
little deep for average Monkees fans.
I still don't know what it's about and I was in it!
Are you comfortable with people calling you "the funny Monkee?"
[Laughs] I don't think about labels much at all. People forget the
Monkees were not a group. It was a television show about an imaginary
group, and I was an actor playing the part of the wacky drummer.
That's still the way I look at it. If people say "you were very
funny," well, that was the point. I worked at it. I took improv
classes. It wasn't just a coincidence.
Could someone replicate the Monkees' success on TV?
If you look at Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers, there have been
other instances. There have been so many attempts to develop another
Monkees. But the problem is you really can't reverse engineer
projects like that.
So what was the secret?
A lot of people miss this: On the television show, the Monkees were
never successful. We were always struggling for success, and that
spoke to all those kids out there who were trying to be the Beatles.
It was the struggle that endeared us to kids, I think.
You're back on TV these days, competing on CMT's reality show Gone
Country. How did that happen?
They offered the show, and I turned it down originally. I didn't like
reality shows. But it's not like those mean-spirited, back-stabbing
shows that I hate. I get enough of that in real life it's called
Are you a fan of that music?
I've never been a huge country music fan, but my lifestyle and my
heritage is very close to country. The thing that really hooked me
was being able to write a country tune. I thought this would be an
ideal opportunity to break into this world. Who knows what will come of that.
So you'd take a real shot at country music?
Oh, absolutely. Maybe not even as an artist. Maybe as a writer.
Any plans to reunite with Peter Tork, Davy Jones and Michael Nesmith
for another Monkees reunion tour?
There are no plans, but someone's always talking about it. I've
learned never to say never.
Monkee Peter Tork has rare cancer
6 March 2009
Peter Tork, a former member of 1960s group The Monkees, has a rare
form of head and neck cancer, he has revealed.
He disclosed the news on his website on Tuesday but has said that it
has not spread to other parts of his body.
Tork, 67, had surgery in New York on Wednesday which his spokeswoman
said had gone well. He will begin radiation treatment after a recovery period.
The Monkees' TV show first appeared on NBC in 1966, while their hits
included chart-topper I'm A Believer.
Tork said on his website that adenoid cystic carcinoma had been found
in his tongue but that it was "a bad news, good news situation".
He added that it was so rare to find such a cancer on the tongue
"that there isn't a lot of experience among the medical community".
"On the other hand, the type of cancer it is, never mind the
location, is somewhat well-known, and the prognosis, I'm told, is good."
He said he had been "humbled by the encouragement, affection and
support" of friends, family and fans.
He said he hoped to perform a planned gig with his new band, the Shoe
Suede Blues, in Manchester, Connecticut.
Mondo Culto: Head (1968)
The Monkees bite the teenybopper hands that fed them in this
Feb 11, 2009
The Monkees weren't a band, they just played one on TV. Or that's how
it started, and even though by the third album they were writing and
playing their own music, they never washed off the stain of being a
pre-fab stunt made up to sell lunchboxes.
For a brief moment they were the biggest band in the world, with four
number-one albums in two years. But after just three seasons their
show was canceled, and wedged right between their teenybopper heyday
and the bitter end was Head, a bizarre, snide, anarchic movie
co-written by Jack Nicholson, meant to shatter their carefully
cultivated image. Part proto-music video, part satire, and all chaos,
Head was an epic flop, playing to empty theaters and all but sealing
the Monkees' coffin.
The movie opens with a dignitary or politician trying to give a
speech at a bridge dedication, but he keeps getting drowned out by
feedback. Then out of nowhere, we see the Monkees -- Micky Dolenz,
Mike Nesmith, Davy Jones, and Peter Tork -- running down the road.
Par for the course for the Monkees TV show, but darker, they look
panicked. They run through the ribbon the pol was supposed to cut,
and Dolenz jumps off in a suicidal leap. Underwater he sees mermaids
and psychedelic colors, set to a dreamy song.
A cut to the screen divided into dozens of tiny TV screens, a cut to
cheerleading at the Rose bowl, a cut to a war scene. They throw a
grenade into a cave and run into it -- and emerge on stage and play a
number. The song ends and the all-girl audience rushes the stage, and
finds that the boys are actually mannequins, which they tear to
pieces. Yeah. It's like that.
There's no plot to speak of, just scenes and images, which more or
less connect to the scene before, but without a central narrative,
and with some odd cameos -- Frank Zappa and a talking cow, Annette
Funicello, Dennis Hopper. But obvious themes show up and recur.
There's definitely a comment on commercialization, from being
stranded in the desert with nothing but a Coke machine to a bit where
the Monkees, in white suits, play flakes of dandruff in a giant
Victor Mature's hair to the sound of a shampoo jingle. (Giant Victor
Mature ends up being a significant character, showing up from time to
time to whack the Monkees with a golf club and generally mess with them.)
They also grapple with their image (a canteen waitress calls them
"god's gift to the eight-year-old"), and how it was pigeonholed, like
Peter Tork's being pegged as the dumb one. They tweak the line
between falseness and reality (which obviously weighed heavily on
people playing characters that shared their real names) by breaking
the fourth wall, talking to the camera and showing us the sets and
back lot as they switch from scene to scene; the artifice is gone,
maybe. Entertainment, commodity, perceptions of reality -- heavy
subjects, but only glanced at in a jumbled mess.
As they pass through a mosh pit of Americana (Westerns, war scenes,
boxing pictures), they recurringly find themselves trapped in a black
box they have to keep finding ways out of. Is it television? The box
of expectations? Just a box? It ends up one of those lazy sixties
psychedelic metaphors that, because it can mean anything, is
In a serious departure from the show, the tone is sarcastic, a bit
caustic, like they're striking back at all the ridicule. Their
classic theme song is twisted into a snarky chant: "Hey hey we are
the Monkees, you know we love to please, a manufactured image with no
philosophies... The money's in, we're made of tin, we're here to give
Other bands had already complained about being turned into
commodities, but the Monkees were born a commodity, and the inside
view could have been interesting. Instead it seems kind of whiny and
sanctimonious, like they're trying to have it both ways. They liked
the superstardom, but wanted to complain about not getting artistic
recognition, and about having to sell shampoo. (The Monkees, before
and after, were happy to sell anything.)
The movie loops around to end where it began, with the Monkees being
chased by football players and Indians and generals, crashing through
the bridge dedication. This time they all jump off the bridge, to the
chorus "Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye." Then the camera pulls back, and
even underwater they're trapped in the box, which gets carted off the
studio lot on a flatbed. Which, it turns out, was a pretty good
metaphor for their careers.
The movie performed dismally at the box office, managing to split any
potential audience. The scenesters and artists the band hoped to
attract wouldn't be caught dead at a Monkees movie even if Zappa was
in it, and the teenyboppers were turned off by the bizarre marketing,
and even the title. Drug reference? Sex reference? Just plain weird?
Either way, Mrs. Brady wouldn't be taking Jan and Peter.
After a final confused television special Peter Tork left the band,
and even though the fragmented group kept touring the four Monkees
wouldn't appear on stage again together until the eighties, when
renewed interest in the show led to decades of reunion tours.
In the end it's hard to tell whether the film succeeds or fails. Some
of the music is good, there are striking visual images, and it
certainly crashes through the Monkees' pop tart image. But to
consider it a revolutionary look at commercialism, or identity, or
anything else would be a stretch. Still, the dune buggies, the
dandruff commercial, Annette Funicello... Like Frank Zappa's talking
cow says, "Monkees is the craziest people."