Friday, March 2, 2012

Wandering Through the World of Memory: Davy Jones and The Monkees.

Not to sound callous, but it very rarely effects me when famous people die.

I feel bad saying that, but look. If it had been me passing away on February 29th, Davy Jones would not have wept for me. Short of someone sending him a copy of my obituary, and saying, “Look at this guy, leaving behind a wife and daughter and a loving extended family, isn’t it terrible that he’s gone so soon?” Jones wouldn’t view my passing as important.

But for some reason, people seem to feel differently about famous folks.

Granted, this is coming from the guy (me, that is) who recently wrote about the sad death of Neil Hope, a death so strange and unnoticed and inexplicable I still can’t wrap my head around it.

But I was talking about Davy Jones.

My initial thought, upon hearing about his death, was probably the same as that of most others: I suddenly wanted to hear some Monkees music.

My secondary thought was that poor Davy never really managed to escape his life as a Monkee, even though the show was cancelled more than 40 years ago.

And then I realized just how deeply woven into my life Davy and The Monkees have been.

There’s a theory about the brain that everything that’s ever happened to you is up there, it’s just filed really poorly. The example I most recall is that you might think of the color green, which reminds you of grass, which reminds you of your birthday party when you were a kid and you had your party outside.

And here’s Jones and Company, and their weird little file cabinet in my brain.

I remember being little, really little, and seeing a bizarre Saturday Night Live-style sketch called “Have a Nice Day.” It was a parody of horror movies, complete with yellow smiley face as the mask of the killer. (Today, I don’t think it would be a parody. In a world where Battleship is going to be a movie, I’m shocked no one has gotten the rights to the mask and made a flick.)

I had no idea this craziness originated with one of the original Monkees. At the time, I didn’t even know who The Monkees were.

I remember being young. Grade school aged. My family was visiting my parent’s best friends, who didn’t have kids. So my brother and I went to the TV, and flipped around, and here was a strange little show with a four silly guys on it, sometimes singing songs.

I remember the adults in the room sort of watching, and sort of not, and laughing at what was happening on the TV. But I was listening to “Last Train to Clarksville” for the first time, and wondering when the people on TV were going to sing more songs.

I had no idea the show was almost 20 years.

Sometime later, there was a show on TV called “My Two Dads,” and it featured a very special appearance by Davy Jones, who sang a new song that was, ostensibly, about the “My” in the title. My immersion in pop culture was not thorough enough that I was able to figure out Davy had been on the TV show I’d seen at my parent’s friends house.

And then I was in high school, and one day my parents came home from a night out, and they had just discovered a brand new video rental place, and my dad was kind of in love with it. Because they had all this weird stuff he’d always heard of, but never seen. And stuff that he hadn’t seen in years.

And in his hands was a copy of The Monkees movie, which was called “Head.” And he put it in, and we watched it, and I had no idea what I was seeing because the movie was just bizarre, and there was no real story, and yet it wasn’t exactly a series of sketches, more a series of ideas.

But next to me, my dad sat there laughing and talking about all the parts of the movie he remembered from when he saw it.

Not long after that, he bought a copy of it.

When I went to college, I took my dad’s copy of the movie with me one year. I kept trying to get people to watch it, but people knew my tastes were a little off the wall, and they declined.

I eventually got my girlfriend to watch it with me. I have no idea why. I’m pretty sure she gave up about halfway through, when she realized there was no plot, and I couldn’t tease one out for her. (She eventually married me anyway.)

Also while I was in college, The Monkees got back together, and made a TV special, and put out a new album. My dad bought it.

I also missed most of the special, though much like my dad and “Head,” I can remember little chunks of it. The first was someone telling Michael Nesmith he needed to locate his hat, from the original show.

The second was also Michael-based, as he was making fun of the laugh track being stuck in the on position by saying things like, “Children are starving in China.” This being followed by raucous hilarity.

At home, my dad devolved into full-on Monkees nostalgia for a while, buying all their classic albums. Borrowed them, and brought them upstairs to my room over the summer, and listened to them one by one. Most of them got a single listen.

Then they all went back downstairs.

I got interested in Mike Nesmith for a time. He was trying to push the internet as far as it would go then, offering up music on his web page, trying to sell some of his out-of-print albums. For a while, he was posting chapters of his new novel, which he said he was going to sell on his web site.

And then one day I wasn’t all that interested in Michael any more.

Until a few years later, when I mentioned that I had this weird memory of “Have a Nice Day,” and my dad told me that was Mike, and loaned me a copy of “Elephant Parts.” Which, much like “Head,” was full of oddness.

Amusing oddness, though. There are those that claims MTV exists because of the music videos on “Elephant Parts.”

More recently, my wife and I saw the Disney version of “Aida” in a touring company. Mickey was one of the cast members. He mentioned The Monkees in his bio, stating something like, “He doesn’t remember much of it, but he’s assured he had fun.”

Over the last few years, I have hit the local music stores, and the big box stores, and always, always, always there were The Monkees albums, sitting around, waiting for the nostalgic and/or the uninitiated to buy them.

I’d pick them up, and look at the long list of songs I knew, and I’d put them back.

The Monkees didn’t last that long, really. They were a band put together for a TV show that only lasted a few years. And the band itself was very, very, very on-again, off-again, going from four members, to three, to two, then back to three, then up to four, and then…

Well, there were other variations in the middle.

A friend once asked me if I was buying any of The Simpsons DVD sets. I told him no, that if I wanted to watch the show I could turn on the TV any time of day, and flip around, and find that it was on somewhere. After all, the show has been on more than 20 years, and has 500 episodes in the bank.

And The Monkees? Well, they’re a little harder to find on TV, I think. They get picked up for syndication fairly regularly, and if their DVD box set is out of print right now, well, by next week, it won’t be.

But I don’t need any of that.

Davy and his sometimes cohorts are part of the fabric of my culture. I might not be able to find an episode of the show, but if I flick on the local oldies radio station, I doubt I’d have to wait more than 24 hours to hear Davy singing, either in the foreground or the background.

If I really, really wanted to hear them, I could have them up on YouTube in seconds.

And maybe that’s why I don’t weep for the stars. Because even when they’re gone, they’ll always be here. I can’t miss Davy Jones, because somewhere, right now, Davy Jones is singing “Daydream Believer.”

Here’s hoping that girl cheers up. You’d think she’d feel better after 45 years or so.

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