Saturday, April 27, 2013

Howard Kaylan of the Turtles and the Mothers of Invention

Here's a random picture of me in front of Morrision Hotel with Howard Kaylan (in the hat) and Henry Diltz at Howard's booksigning of Shell Shocked.



Henry Diltz Presents Graham Nash's Photography at Morrison Hotel

Graham Nash has evolved from the well-known musician of the 1960's and is now showing his photography.  Henry Diltz has a gallery, Morrison Hotel which features the current exhibition. He is also showing the work at the LA gallery and did a show in Long Island as well.

Nash,  of Crosby, Stills, Nash and sometimes Young graciously appeared at the opening for a brief period.  Also in attendance were Henry Diltz, Elvis Costello and Danny Clinch (who is called by some the "new Henry Diltz" for his rock photography).

He is known for being the man that Joni Mitchell did not marry.  She is known for fiercely guarding her own public and private self image, portraying herself through song and her oil portraiture.  The legend goes that although deeply in love with him, she could not accept the compromise of marriage that she feared she would be forced to accept.  She tells tales of her grandmothers, who despite strong musical callings, gave themselves over to their husbands and families.  She was determined that their lives and sacrifices should not be given in vain.

The gallery has a variety of photos, mostly black and white, of his friends from the 60's and 70's, including Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and also himself.  It is always a pleasure to see icons captured in everyday life, there is a shot of Joni taken between the rungs of a chair while she was chopping onions in the kitchen.  Taken together, it is also a portraiture of a period, before social media and constant documentation, by ourselves, by our friends and full secret surveillance cameras everywhere in public.




On a personal note, I was glad to have maintained a strong relationship with Henry Diltz from being table neighbors at the Monkees Convention.  I attended the opening and a gentleman with a shock of white hair turned to me and said, "Hello, I'm Graham." and shook my hand as I introduced myself. As Elvis was crossing the room, we also shook hands as I said to him, "Hey, aren't you the guy who got to meet Mike Nesmith?"  As expected, he had quite a perplexed smile on his face.  Danny hung out, looking cool in a porkpie hat.  The evening was a blast.


Mike Nesmith Brings His Songs to NYC

Reflections on Mike Nesmith at Town Hall, NYC on April 16, 2013.  It was the second to last stop (Washington DC) of his first Solo-ish tour in years.  He was backed by a bunch of familiar names that had been working with him since the 1980's, see the "video" of "The Busker", and a few of the characters were onstage that night.

The most striking element of the night, for me, was ironically, NOT the songs.  He chose to introduce each with a short story.  He described that he saw his music as mini-movies, which fits in with his early trajectory of the development of the music video.  And, interestingly, there was NO rear-screen video projector, as seen at ALL Monkee reunion tours, and innovated by Neil Diamond.  That is something to opt-into in terms of pure theatricality.  This evening was designed to be focused on music and the audiences' own imaginations.  Each song was tied to one of these stories, so we could finally understand the context that came from the writer's mind.  It was a way to tie art to the author in a highly specific way, catering to the *star* persona and answering questions about his obscure experimentation.  It was almost an evening of old-fashioned storytelling.


Mike stayed true to most of his original arrangements, so much so that during "Grand Ennui", the music onstage had the exact sound of an 80's video (which was perhaps the point).  During the encore "Thanx for the Ride", the band was able to incorporate a recording of a Red Rhodes' solo.  I own the Prison and am familiar with some of his Post-Monkee songs (Joanne, Rio, etc).  I was glad to hear his low-key versions of the evening.  The sound was consistent over the course of the whole night; not that all the songs sounded alike, but that we were invited into the mind of Nez, which seemed like sitting in a sunken living room on a shag rug with the fire going.  The overall evening didn't seem to have an actual narrative arc, from fast to slow songs, just a lovely smooth consistency.


It was interesting to hear how Mike had (or hadn't) grown with these songs that he's been focusing on since the late 1970's.  It is ALWAYS worth it to hear him performing live, and granted, the performance was subtle and muted. I'd actually LOVE to see him perform again and again, and to watch him get looser with the material.  Or even get a chance to see him in a smaller venue, although I would imagine he might not prefer to play a smaller room.  Or would consider it a come-down, or whatever.  If his live work could continue in a regular series of smaller but steady gigs, new (and old) fans could pay attention to the intricacies.  He could easily find himself as an elder statesman of music and successfully do the transition as a performer in his own right.  He has been absent from the concert stage for a long enough time to be fighting his own shadow of arrogance.  Honestly, despite his previous persona of being the "Leader", I sense that this is a shy performer, who needs encouragement to do tours.  This was him feeling the waters and giving his audience the benefit of the doubt.  Do people really want to see him?  YES.  Is he masterful on stage? YES.  Is this something he wants to do on a regular basis?  We don't know.


I will also admit to preferring an "intimate" (100 or fewer people) setting at a performance to a large hall.  The balcony at Town Hall was half full. However, the audience seemed very dedicated and die-hard.  You would think the guy had been touring regularly, the way the crowd cheered fiercely as soon as they heard a title or the first recognizable strains of a song.

Mike did perform "Papa Gene's Blues", in a slight variation.  And later, "Different Drum" with an additional verse which does not appear in the Linda Rondstat version.  Yet, I still sense that he is feeling his way around with these pieces.  It feels as if he may be playing these as close to the way he played them when he had first written them or did demos. To use Gladwell's 10,000 hour of practice-before-mastery rule, he still feels at the beginning of his acquaintance with these pieces.  I will admit up front that I have seen Peter perform with SSB a ridiculous number of times in the past couple years.   He has been doing The Blues for several years now, and incorporates that style of playing into various songs.   Some of the songs he incorporates into his sets have been with him for over 50 years and he will allow them to grow into another form, rather than twisting them for the sake of making them seem new.  "Last Train to Clarksville" comes across as a sad, slow tune and reveals the lyrics as a sad message of farewell, rather than the upbeat version we all all (over)familiar with.


My overall view was of watching a performer encased in amber, available for examination and encased in a beautiful medium.  He has a lot of growing and experimenting to do at this stage of his performing career.  Based on previous experience, he is ahead of the game in terms of artistry and willingness to take chances.  Let's hope this is the beginning of a whole new chapter in his performing life.

Other items of note:
Elvis Costello was in the audience (and sadly, did not "perform" or even join in onstage).  Apparently, Jessica is a big fan.  Her father had been interrogating her about why.  "What do you like about his music? Why?"  His daughter, who is a performer in her own right, was enthusiastically handling the merch table.  She recognized fans who had been at previous shows and is such a gregarious presence, I hope to see her perform in the future.  Christian Nesmith is also a performer (alongside Circe Link) and I would hope that the entire extended family will go on tour sometime in the future.  (See the talent-rich model of the Wainwright-Roche family)

A Naked Persimmon member was seen scooting backstage almost as soon as the performance was over.  She had posted pictures of her with Nesmith and again commented on Facebook.  I'm not so sure she had a *magic bracelet* for that night, but certainly had a *meet n greet* of her own.

The *magic bracelet* was a silver-cloth wristband which allowed 50 lucky audience members to meet Nez and get 1 Nez +1 Monkees item signed.  The process to get one was especially circuitous.  Announced on FB, you had to download a song and register at Videoranch.com . Then you were told a date when the places would be announced, but the lucky email went out at 1am Pacific Time, which meant middle of the night everywhere else.  The link required you to HAVE a ticket to the show and pay an additional $50.  The system required a combination of persistence, luck, insomnia and money.  Many people complained about having to pay $30 to *meet* Peter or Micky at the Monkees Convention.  At least that was a matter of what-you-see-is-what-you-get.

For those who would like to read about Fred Velez's experience including the Set List from the evening, check out his blog at Monkees.net   I am still looking for recordings of all of his intros or transcriptions.  I tried to capture what I could, but my notes are far from complete.  More to come . . .

Monday, April 22, 2013

Direct References to Politics: Fall of Southeast Asia in Dominoes

In the middle of a very sentimental episode comes the most biting 2 seconds of commentary within the entire series.

"Monkee Mother", #27.  We are just coming out of the "Sometime in the Morning" segment, which acted as a love song to the younger version of Dick Van Dyke's writer, Sally.  A dream sequence, in which the Boys are wearing costumes from the Victorian Cowboy era.  This also might have been a commercial break, which would deflect attention even more.

We see the Boys playing a simple game of dominoes; the kind where you line them up and then knock them over.  The mic is on and is recording, this is the stuff which would normally be left on the cutting room floor.  Or rejected by the sponsors who might want to remain apolitical.

Micky asks: "What is this called?"
Davy: "This is called . . "
Peter : "Southeast Asia"

They cheer (now for the camera) and the scene proper begins.

Here is where the clear division of character and actor is displayed.

Peter had once spoken his mind and was told to retract his statements.  Raybert had control over what was going out over the airwaves.  They snuck in what they could.   Their actors were not meant to express their own minds.  Not just in terms of the music, but in terms of the content. Keeping controversial moments is a different brand of power than the PR arm.








Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Songs vs Bombs at the Boston Marathon


Dear Readers,

I had sent something to Andrew Sandoval (author of Monkees, Day By Day) a few months ago, when I started the blog. He was very encouraging.  Plus, he is also co-producing Peter's show, "In This Generation".

Anyway, I had a vision/idea/aural fantasy about an alternate performance of "For Pete's Sake" and wanted to put it out into the world.  I don't know if he would even consider doing it this way in his solo tour.  But I'd love to get an audience together to sing it TO him.

I put it all in a letter to Andrew Sandoval.  And then decided to post it here.

WHATEVER YOU DO, SING!!


Dear Andrew Sandoval,

Yesterday, I was on the subway in NYC, and an arrangement for "For Pete's Sake" came into my head and I couldn't stop singing it to myself.  I don't know why, I haven't heard it recently, but it stayed with me and wouldn't let me go.  When I got off, I realized it was exactly when the bombings in Boston were happening (I grew up there and knew a LOT of people who were there and nearby).

But I heard it as a CANON, sung acapella and adagio by a chorus of mostly women's voices. 

The lead singer (could be Peter, but not necessarily) should divide the audience into 2 sections and begin:

Leader:
Love is understanding
Don't you know that this is true.
Love is understanding.
It's in Everything we do.

===

Cues Group A:
Love is Understanding . . .

Leader continues:
In this generation
In this lovin time
In this generation
We will make the world shine

==

Leader begins again and cues Group B to join:
Love is understanding . . .

Group A continues:
In this generation . . .

==

Cues Group A:
Love is Understanding . . .

Leader continues:
In this generation . . .

==

Leader and both Groups together:

We were born to Love one another
This is something we all need
We were born to Love one another
We must be what we're goin to be
And what we have to be is free.

Group A begins singing from the beginning on the second "Love"
Love is understanding . . .

Leader and Group B continue and sing another round.

======

Anyway, that's the idea.  I don't know how all this stuff works, intellectual-property-wise, or if Peter is even open to reading this sort of stuff from a random fan/blogger/groupie.  He knows me by name and is probably sick of me.

Take this as a gift, do what you will with it.  (Or not, sharing this vision of it is something I had to do)

If nothing else, it means a lot to ME that I was singing a song of peace exactly at the time the bombings happened.  And Peter's probably heard it a million times, but that song is still alive and relevant and important.

I'll be at the NYC shows.  Keep singing and listening and bringing music to people!!  You are doing GOOD, GOOD work for this world!

Yours very sincerely,

Tammy Rose



Monday, April 15, 2013

Various Monkees on Tour

Nez is currently on the road, with a limited meet-n-greet afterwards.
Peter is soon to start his "In This Generation" tour.  (-a direct reference to "For Pete's Sake")

There is even an announcement going around-possibly a rumor- about a 3-Way concert in Saratoga, CA, August 14, 2013- Monkees.net

And the reclusive Nez is posting his fleeting moments on Facebook.  Posted below for posterity, because he often removes them after the fact.

Nez FB Post: Rittenhouse Sq Philly: Mid Tour
"Notes from the Road.

Sitting on a park bench in Rittenhouse Square in Philly watching the dog walkers and missing Dale. 

The caretaker sends me messages that Dale is hale -- so I am happy for that -- but there was a passing pit bull that sensed my dog-missing distress and came over and sat on my foot and put her head on my knee for a second. 

"You'll be home soon" I thought I heard her say -- then she looked at me and said "do NOT anthropomorphise us. We be dogs Nez -- never less -- and there is plenty in that -- more than you can ever know on this plane. We need not be manlike -- our dogness is our greatness."

It was a kind of dog speak I have only heard Dale use with me when she scolds me. It is always a gentle scold followed by a nudge and a wink and a "don't do that again -- if you can help it."

In this case the pit bull winked when she walked away.

Philly is pretty today -- sunny -- but the road is turning into a bit of a tunnel now. I'll be happy to get back to my beloved home and grounds and animals and recharge.

The tunnel notwithstanding, people everywhere are gracious and supportive -- friendly and open and sharing with their courtesies and kindness. It is a great atmosphere in which to stand and sing -- like an emotional shower.

Next is The World Cafe, then the Town Hall NYC -- and then the Birchmere in DC!!

The thought of the DC cherry blossoms fills my head with anticipation and excitement to see those gorgeous images. Even the road tunnel cannot hide their exquisite beauty"


--

The "road tunnel" he talks about is a reference to "The Monkees on Tour", Episode 32, last of the first season.  The notion, he generously attributes to Peter, talking about what life is like on tour.  Roughly: "Life is a tunnel.  Darkness, limos, airplanes.  Then you go onstage and there are these brief moments of light."

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Evolution of the "Mike Nesmith Character" On Tour

Reading all the reviews of Papa Nez's performance, I am surprised by one thing.

There's a lot going on that doesn't surprise me.  I expected his musicianship to be superb.  His song choices, his amiability towards the crowd.

He seems to almost be having fun.

This is NOT a Mike I recognize.

On the shows, he was aloof and cynical.  Commenting directly to the camera about the terrible lines, ready to rage or offer a disapproving look.  Sometimes, he did't seem to be on the same show as the rest of The Boys.  They were always playing eager and seemed to be game; he was the elder brother they were trying to impress.

And then, afterwards, he seemed sullen.  Too busy trying to invent or reinvent the music video.  Not wanting to tour.  Not bothering.  The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.

Until the dreaded 1997 TV Special, "Hey, Hey, We're The Monkees", I had even had faith that he might have a quick wit, and hoped his discretion was the better part of his valor.  My faith was lost.  To this day, I have never seen a more cynical and hateful and tone-deaf take on the Monkees history than that piece of dreck.  ("A throw up band", really?)

But, there have been rumors of him SMILING.  Beaming, actually.

A bunch of FAN reviews (which are always the best). These go into the "Monkee Experience" and include what goes on in the audience, as much as what happens onstage.
Fred Velez, the latest blogger on Monkees.net, has a review of Rahway, NJ.
Cowabunga Corner reviews the Michigan show.
Monkee's Live Almanac (great video clips and pix)

And the "professional" music reviewers.
Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Munhall Concert.
Northampton, Masslive, Iron Horse Concert




Thursday, April 4, 2013

Winking at the Audience: Verfremdungseffekt

The breaking of the fourth wall is an inherently theatrical device and is not usually employed by film or TV.  "Realism" seems to be the defining language and style of choice with a few rare (and ultimately dated exceptions).  For example, in the early seasons of Modern Family, the characters sit & talk directly to the camera, interview style.  This technique is minimized in later seasons, until if anything, the characters may rarely do a quick take to the camera.  It is an acknowledgment that "someone else" is witnessing the action, and provides an intimate connection with the audience.

In theater, however, the audience can be a large crowd, aware & responding as a crowd will. Laughing, clapping, externalizing their behavior.  Television is a much more intimate medium in that the audience can be made up of one person, who may find something funny but not laugh out loud.

Even the simple Romps of the Monkee series included complex ideas to communicate that they were aware that the style of "Realism" was as fake as the outer society.  The Monkees did takes to the camera to address their presumed audience, essentially winking at the other "kids" out there.

Even the camerawork was intentionally imperfect.  Take the video posted on Youtube of "Valleri", which has the one remarkable idea of using a crane to lift Davy above the band during the verses.  It is an utterly unrealistic and unexplained movement, which singles Davy out as the focus, literally. In a gesture of "Hey, kids, you think this is gonna be just another boring shot of the boys on a bandstand.  But watch carefully!" The Boys are in JC Penny clothes (or maybe that jean jacket actually belongs to Mike?), not suits, which indicates a stylistic shift away from the 1964 Beatles fashion as seen in "She", where they are all dressed in suits.  The crane example is taken from the "Captain Crocodile" episode.
And whoever posted it on Youtube added a nice editorial comment during Davy's tambourine bit. "Hey Davy, there isn't that much tambourine here.  Chill."  He was a terrific musician-actor, but not that great at "acting like an instrumentalist". But the audience knew (at least I did, as a child) that they were miming to their own songs.  As a child, I instinctively knew that I could be imperfect when singing along to their records, because my fake microphone was not turned on.

Note the inclusion in these shots of the actual lights on the set behind them-which would normally be considered a rookie mistake of a cameraman.  Here, it is just another aspect of the Distancing/Estrangement Effect,  coined by Bertolt Brecht (in German as Verfremdungseffekt), and used throughout the world's theater traditions, including many Eastern Traditions, including Japanese Kabuki.  To quote the Global Shakespeare source:

"The distancing effect is a technique used in theater and cinema that prevents the audience from losing itself completely in the narrative, instead making it a conscious critical observer. The actor accomplishes this by directly addressing the audience, barring them from feeling empathy (film), interrupting the narrative (cinema), or drawing attention to the filmmaking or theatrical process.

This is also seen in the "Salesman" romp, as in MANY other points throughout the series and the film, Head, this technique is used.  Some casual viewers assume the show is for kids, or sloppy or thrown together; the use of direct address or shots which pull "back the curtain" on the illusion is one of the many aspects of its inherent theatricality and avant-garde filmmaking.



The Boys were surrounded by machinations, not the least of which was a backing band made up of the Wrecking Crew.  When all else fails, add an interesting visual gimmick (or a great guitar solo).  Even if it was not the intention of the supporting backstage crew & technicians, the repeated & insistent inclusion of this messiness drove home a message.  They were not perfect, and were not trying to be perfect.  And isn't it boring to be perfect?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

"Salesman": Most Sophisticated Romp of the Series

The main trope of the Monkees TV Show is how happy the Boys are, even if they are not successful.  Money & success are seen as evil, as is selling out.  The ethos of the 1960's was presented as inherently hypocritical; the best musicians were praised for being poor and obscure by critics, whereas commercial success also brought audiences and secured a certain amount of renown. The TV show's inherent trope was that the Boys were not famous, even though all the actors were.  They knew both sides of the coin and embodied it most clearly in the "Salesman" Romp.

Good/Bad magic is used as an allegory to activate a plot.  One example of "good magic" is Boyce & Hart (and Phil Spector?) appearing on "I Dream of Jeannie", doing their song "Out & About".  Jeannie even plays drums, and B&H appear with violins in their hands.  The characters all seem to employ Harold Hill's "Think Method", from "The Music Man", (movie starring Shirley Jones); based on the idea that one can just think about the music and then will be able to play.  Eventually, this theory, devoid of good or bad magic is how Peter eventually "plays" the harp in the "Salesman" romp.

"Salesman", from the album, "Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd." and here from the "Devil & Peter Tork" episode combines a series of quick edits and various techniques.  In the first 20 seconds we have: stock footage of lighting with a pink filter, fisheye lens which distorts the face of the "Devil" (Monte Landis), rapid edits, fire, disco ball, Sci-Fi fake rocks, the featured throne from the first-aired episode, "Royal Flush"-which is an allusion to Micky's "used-car salesman" character, 4 background dancers in variously colored leotards and tights, all interspliced with a cheap-looking set complete with red curtains and a fog machine, through which the Boys walk in awe and bewilderment, completely in keeping with the plot.  Most romps leave the plot/situation behind and allow the Boys to improvise randomly, paying little or no attention to the storyline, other than to interact with the novel props & sets from that week's episode.

Eventually, the "Peter" character is brought in by the Devil-Chicks, ordered to kneel before the Devil, rescued by the other Boys, they are eventually cornered and attacked by the Devil-Chicks with pitchforks, and appear again in devil costumes themselves.  And then groove with the Devil-Chicks.  Mike appears as a singer, to remind us that this is a surreal fantasy sequence, and they are all aware of the distance from reality.    The Devil seems to hypnotize/control them; this can be variously interpreted as the seduction of money, fame, sex, drugs, immorality or what-have-you.  These shots in particular place the camera at a very low angle, looking up at the actors, which creates a dramatic effect of power.  The stage lights can be seen behind them, which add an interesting visual color, element and expose the viewer to the fact that "None of this is real, kids.  No nightmares!  We're just telling a story within a story!"  This use of Brecht's Distancing Technique is common throughout the series and the film, Head.

Peter and Davy see a (Playboy) Bunny waitress walking through the scene, carrying a single drink of alcohol and there is a quick cut to the "Daydream Believer" rainbow set sequence from another romp-a reference to more innocent days, perhaps?  Or a mere juxaposition to the Go-Go atmosphere they now find themselves in?  This shot is particularly poignant when one knows that it would be the Peter Tork actor who would openly discuss his addiction issues and support from Alcoholics Anonymous.

There is some sort of ongoing chase metaphor which involves the "sneaky bunny dance" and a conveyor belt, which has the Boys running until exhaustion and utter confusion kick in.

This sequence leads right into a more "realistic" scene back at the pad next to the golden harp, where they discuss the romp as if they had all seen/experienced the same vision.  The dialogue includes the use of the word, "Hell", albeit bleeped out.  And a direct insult to the censors and censorshp, who are  compared less favorably to Hades:  "You know what's even worse? You can't say Hell on television".  Even the Boys as actors are trapped in the show within a show, where the Devil character stands in for the men in charge.


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