Friday, March 6, 2009

Friday Dance Party:Always a Monkee to Me

The news that Robin Williams is to undergo emergency heart surgery is disturbing, to say the least. It's hard to imagine that ball of manic energy sidelined by anything.

The doctors have insisted on the cancellation of his current stand-up tour, which was to climax with a stop on Broadway this spring, just in time for the Tonys. It remains to be seen if he will be able to make that engagement.

(Update 3/7/09: It has been announced that Williams will not be taking his show to Broadway this season)

And it's been several weeks of hospital for Ed McMahon, who apparently has pneumonia, among other oldster woes. His birthday is today, and he'll be celebrating it in a hospital gown; let's keep that back flap closed there, Ed!
(Update: go here for McMahon's AAvist obit)

But I was most distressed by the following news. Peter Tork, my favorite Monkee, has a rare form of cancer attacking his tongue, for which he underwent surgery and will require radiation. I was a pre-teen when The Monkees burst on the scene, and they were quite a phenomenon for two or three years. Their music was often discounted by critics who snidely called them the "pre-Fab Four." Their origins were indeed prefabricated, as the foursome was cast in the television series bearing their name before discerning if any of them had any musical talent. The accompaniment on the first two albums by the group was furnished by studio musicians, with the boys supplying only the vocals. As time went on, and their popularity soared, the group took control of their product and, in their later recordings, provided all instrumentation.

It was 1966 when a couple of film-makers, inspired by A Hard Day's Night, decided to create a television series with a pop music group at its center. Mike Nesmith (the tall one with the wool hat), Mickey Dolenz (the funny-looking one in back), Davy Jones (the short Brit with the Broadway credits), and Peter Tork (the brainless goof who always arrived in the wrong costume) became immediate sensations when The Monkees hit the TV waves. They had the number one song of 1967 ("I'm a Believer") as well as the number three song of the year ("Daydream Believer"). Their first four albums shot to number one in the span of a single year, the only musical artists to accomplish such a feat. Also in 1967, they outsold The Beatles and The Rolling Stones combined, and were the first musical artists to win two Emmy awards.
The Monkees television show fizzled as quickly as it ignited, and ran only two seasons. The guys continued to release records until 1970, then split up. They have reunited in various forms since then, with varying degrees of success. The truth is, I was attracted to The Monkees not because of their music, but because of their wild antics on television (to this day, I long for a spiral staircase; it's one of my dreams to own one). The boys expertly delivered the energized one-liners and goofy physicality which were trademarks of the series. The show always included a musical number, usually set to wild antics filmed in a quick-cut style unusual for the period (it can be argued that The Monkees created the first music videos, as we came to know them later on MTV).

Among the four, it was Peter Tork who usually received the least publicity, which may have been part of my attraction to him. (I'm not sure it was a physical attraction, as I was pre-pubescent at the time.) Mike Nesmith was the smart one, who went on to run a film production company. Mickey Dolenz provided the lead vocals on most of the group's hits, though Davy Jones became the breakout teen idol. When the group was first sent out on tour, they had to decide which instruments they should play live. The strongest drummer was Jones, but his short stature caused him to disappear behind the drum set. Nesmith and Tork were much better skilled on guitar and bass, so Dolenz, who as lead singer should have been up front, was given the drummer spot. In archival footage, Jones can be seen lamely banging a tambourine during most of the songs.

I wish Peter Tork a full recovery, and in remembrance of youth wasted watching ridiculous television starring boys with cute hair, here is this week's Dance Party: