Sunday, January 13, 2013

#57 Monkees Blow Their Minds

For you Monkee fans who are also in geek-love with "This American Life", you will totally understand the connections in this post.  If not, start by skipping the next paragraph (at your own peril).

TAL did a show on "Doppelgangers". Fred Armisen does an uncanny impression of (and also echos) the show's omniscient narrator, Ira Glass during the intro and also in a (cut) sketch on Saturday Night Live.   (Watch it, seriously. If you are like me, you will not only love reading an obscure blog about a 60's tv show/rock group, but you will also love that your NPR crush is famous enough for Portlandia, but is not famous enough/ready for prime time.)

Now, when I think of doppelgangers, I think of Frank Zappa.

Near the end of the run of the show, the Boys brought musicians onto the show, to give them some interesting exposure. (People on this list also included Tim Buckley & Charlie Smalls. Liberace appeared during an episode, as a bizarre piece of performance art. Jimi Hendrix was their opening act on tour. But we digress.)

Nes called Zappa. Except Frank had a much better idea than just appearing. If he was going to be on a show, then he wanted to play Mike Nesmith. And vice versa, Nesmith would play him. Zappa also "played" a car by trying to smash it with a sledgehammer. Apparently, at one point in history, cars were made out of durable materials, such as metal. The prop guys had to rig the car to fall apart and explode; the sledgehammer only worked on the pieces of the car made of glass.

It was filmed in April of 1967, and aired March of 1968. The actual plot of the show involves the Peter character once again being in a trance, this time due to the magical powers of someone named "Oraculo", played by the familiar character actor/villan, Monty Landis. Instead of playing the bass, the Peter character goes onstage and crows like a rooster. Keep an eye out for "The Penguin", Burgess Meredith, sitting by himself at a table in the audience. He probably wandered over during a break from filming "Batman". He did many episodes of "Twillight Zone", as well as tons of legit theater work.

Louie Shelton can be heard playing the best guitar licks on "Valleri", a Boyce & Hart tune. He is an incredible session musician who is essentially a Zelig of most of American Rock & Roll. He's played on tons of hit records in the 60's, 70's & 80's. "Session musicians" are the anonymous & often completely uncredited, yet incredibly talented people who essentially support the big name acts whose names appear on the record. It happens all the time folks, not everybody plays all their own music. And the whole public perception and debate of who is the genuine article vs. who is a doppelganger, is essentially an extended version of performance art perpetrated by promotional side of the art, music, film and TV industries.

What is real, what is an imitation? What is the difference? What if the Monkees project (the music, plus all 58 episodes of the tv show and the film, "Head") is a grand experiment in comparing reality & artifice? 4 actors playing characters who happen to have the names of the actors. 4 unknowns in a band, played by 4 suddenly famous kids who aren't allowed to play on their own records.  

The difference here is no longer important; the best entertainment is based on an illusion of reality.

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