Sunday, August 25, 2013

Naked Persimmon Waxes Poetic

Their FB post about the 2013 Tour ending last week.

Cause It Looks Like We've Made It Once Again...

//Yes, it looks like we’ve made it to…the end?//

It’s been exactly one week since The Monkees played the last show of their A Midsummer’s Night with the Monkees 2013 tour. The tour provided a sense of magic for so many of us—Monkee Magic, if you will—and reminded us of exactly why we love these boys so much. An event that one year ago seemed so unlikely has now become the highlight of the year for many a Monkees fan.

It was (and arguably still is) believed by some that the death of Davy Jones also meant the death of the Monkees, as any sort of collective touring or performing entity. Much like a phoenix, however, the three remaining Monkees rose from the ashes of Davy’s untimely demise and went out on the road, holding the Monkees banner high and continuing on the legacy that Davy had infused with his unforgettable spirit.

//It cannot be a part of me, for now it’s part of you...//

And when we, the fans, sat in the seats or danced in the aisles at those shows, there was not a single doubt in our minds that Davy Jones was very much on that stage, spiritually if not bodily. We watched Micky, Peter, and Michael play, sing, and laugh together, their camaraderie fully eclipsing any previous Monkee drama and stripping away the pretense to one very simple core principle:

No matter what happens, the Monkees will always be the Monkees.

They will always comfort us in our darkest times, bring smiles to our faces when we need it the most, delight and surprise us when we rediscover them again and again. Because the Monkees are part of our lives, we have been changed for the better, and nothing can undo that.

Seeing the Monkees on stage this summer brought us back to that safe place inside—that childlike state of being where life makes sense and isn’t as hard when you have your friends there with you. And it gave us a glimpse—however brief—into what it would have been like to be in that audience forty-five years ago, heart pounding and pulse racing as four young men with seemingly boundless energy gave us the show of our lives.

Just as they did this summer.

//If this is to be our end, then I would have them make such an end, as to be worthy of remembrance...//

This would be the place where it would be entirely too easy to become maudlin. To ponder, moderately-sized lump in throat, whether or not this was the last Monkees tour. We could speculate, hypothesize, deliberate over the numerous possibilities…but it almost seems a disservice, both to the Monkees and the fans.

There are not enough words for how grateful we are to have been given the gift of this tour. So many things stood to go awry—as we know from Monkees tours past—but whether through design or fate, this tour started and concluded without a hitch. Egos stayed under control, and what was most important was made and stayed important: The music, and the happiness of the fans

If there is one thing we have learned, it is that, when it comes to the Monkees, never say never. Ultimately, the decision to tour again rests solely with three particular men…but it is our feeling that Davy’s passing has made Micky, Peter, and Nez see that life is still there to be lived, and that as long as the spirit is willing and the body is able, there are still places to go and songs to sing. 

And as long as they are singing, we’ll be listening.

Linda Ronstadt: The Songs Now Sing to Her

Linda Ronstadt has Parkinson's.  And cannot sing a note.  It has robbed many people of many things, but this is the ultimate insult.  The world has lost one of the great voices.  But I'll let Nez jump in.

From Nez' FB post today (8/25/2013):

The awful news about Linda losing her voice to Parkinson's is terrible but it can never diminish the legacy she has created for us in the songs she has sung for all of us. 

Because of her these songs will live as long as people listen to songs and these songs will always sing with the same power and beauty that she was and is.

Like all great gifts, these songs now sing to her as they once sang with her.

Listen to them. You will hear what she has done. What she has given us.
Her voice is far from stilled. It lives and sings forever down the halls of time.

Linda did more for Different Drum than I ever did -- or ever could have.

She breathed eternal life into it.

Linda is one of the integral figures who reveals the impact of The Monkees on the larger field of music.  She's the first mainstream Country-Rock act, and began with "Different Drum". Written and performed on The Show by Nez- a wink that goes unexplained on the show, but the airplay of the song made the mystery persist.

Through her voice, I fell in love with the sound of the Great American Songbook ("What's New?") and the sound of Nelson Riddle.  (Check out the last clip there, Keely Smith is incredible!)

Her career spanned pop, musicals ("Pirates of Penzance" at Shakespeare in the park!) and even Mariachi Music.    I could go on and on.

(Update on 8/2/8/13) This NYTimes piece includes references to Michael J.Fox and Michael Pollen (brothers in law??) and a whole list of musical friends she mentions in her memoir, Simple Dreams.

We are incredibly lucky to have the magic of recorded music and to have her songs sing to us for now and ever more.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Monkee Music on the Impressionable Pre-Teen Brain

First Generation vs Staying Power

This review of the Cupertino show reveals a certain prevalent age-bias.  This may be common among any "Golden Oldie" show.

Each generation recognizes its own.  The older demographic might be the largest (estimated 70%-80% at any given show).

"As we sat at a table on the winery grounds awaiting the concert, my sister looked around and said, "I knew everyone here would be our age." We wondered if we might actually know many of them, but not having seen them since high school no longer recognized them.
A few brought kids - or maybe grandkids - and Micky explained to them that before Shrek, it was The Monkees who sang "I'm a Believer." "

The "kids-or maybe grandkids" is hard to figure out.  One argument could be made for people raised on watching the tv show (in any age) can ALMOST claim to be first generation.  Because several that I know do encourage their children-and grandchildren. After almost 50 years, the possible/average generation combinations are too varied to pigeonhole.

"Their non-stop selection - from "Last Train to Clarksville" to "Pleasant Valley Sunday" - had served as the soundtrack of our idyllic summer days of "Dark Shadows," my brother's Little League baseball games, our family vacation to the Northwest, weekend water skiing trips and nightly games of kick the can.The older versions of Micky, Mike and Peter brought them back, but the absence of Davy, who died on Feb. 29, 2012, served as the intrusion of reality on our journey into the past. "

Interesting to note that 50 years of aged Monkees does not intrude on idyllic summer days, but a death does.  As if the group's music & concerts exists primarily (and most importantly) as a Time Machine.   Other acts from the 60's get critiqued for being "too old", or too "unhip".  Springsteen has been touring for years, has lost band members to death, but each show is a unique "happening".  The Rolling Stones are still trying to prove their cool cred, despite being mercenaries (and 70 + to boot). 

"but maybe also for the loss of those long-gone days, of no longer being 9 and 11."  

Note here that there is an inherent sadness, of the contrast of being 9 and 11 and then coming back to the present.  The wisdom hinted at in the song "Shades of Gray", knowing that you are a grownup and that life is more complex that you could have ever understood.

But their best asset is their ability to activate memories which have been dormant for decades.  And somehow this works for every generation.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Batman & Monkees

From an article here on Nerdvana, a rumor has begun that the Monkees exist in the same world as Batman (because the Penguin, Burgess Meredith, made a cameo on their show, #56).  But they also include a visual by artist Alex Ross, who includes some familiar Monkeemen in the background, which means Wonder Woman's World.  And probably Superman and the rest of the DC Comics universe (does that preclude Marvel?  As in the Monkees cannot coexist with Spiderman, if they were to meet at a party?  Like, would they all blow up or something?)

There's a more comprehensive list of Monkee/Batman references here, on Monkeestv dot tripod (which provided orginal trivia info for the DVDs of the show).  Other Bat-related references include Van Johnson, Julie Newmar, Olan Soule (who teamed w/ Casey Kasem-who did Robin - as well as Shaggy on Scooby Doo!!) Frank Gorshin, Donna Loren and Valerie Kairys Venet!!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Robin Thicke and Me!!

Most of the time, this blog is dedicated to the Monkees.

But there is a vague connection to the concept of Music Videos and what is "popular".  The Stephen Colbert Report is pretty popular and has been a legit meme for the past few days.  "The Song of The Summer" episode was much better than scheduled.  It was the show that Daft Punk was NOT on.  There was even a joke about how their manager wanted less exposure, and how the Beatles tanked after being on Ed Sullivan.  And Ringo ended up being a train conductor (true).

I was (randomly) lucky enough to be in the audience when Robin Thicke appeared .   He performed "Blurred Lines" and Spin Magazine called him "dorkily charming when he went out into the crowd".  Especially when he sang directly to That Girl in the Black Dress (i.e. ME!  Below!)

BeatleFest, 2013

Just in case there are Beatle fans out there who imagine that anyone who likes the Monkees is just plain nuts . . . and you know who you are . . . sometimes there is a tremendous amount of crossover.

The same organizer, Charles Rosenay, who brought the 2013 Monkee Convention to fruition, brought 10 tribute acts together to perform a day of Beatles-Covers. The proceeds all went to victims of Sandy Hook, which was close to where the festival took place.  It was held in Danbury, at the Charles Ives Concert Park, named for an incredible American Composer (my personal favorite of his is the Concord Sonata)

Here's a review by Fred Velez, all around Monkee-guy and blogger for  Pictures of Ringer Star here, there's a reason there is only one "R", Fred.  It's a pun!

PS Here's Fred's description about the notoriously difficult Meet&Greets on Mike's solo(ish) 2013 tour:

In mid-March, there was a message on Nez’s Facebook page regarding the meet & greets. You had to log on to his Video Ranch website store, purchase a free Nesmith song download, and you were put on a list of folks who would get a special email of when to purchase the meet & greet passes, which was at the time limited to 25 people. The day the email message went out, it was at 4 in the morning. The first people to see it and purchase the m&g’s were insomniacs, and I didn’t look at my emails till 8am, by that time they were mostly gone. The week of the show at Rahway, I ran into a friend at Beatlefest in NJ who put me wise that he contacted someone at the Video Ranch store to see if there were any m&g passes left, and was told there was a limited number and he was able to purchase one for Rahway. I started calling and emailing Video Ranch and got with touch with someone at the store about the m&g, and finally was able to purchase a pair for myself and my Lovely Linda for the Town Hall concert in NYC. It took a little persistence, but I made it, Folks!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

In On The Joke

One of the best parts, IMHO, of the Monkees TV Show is the fact that they break the fourth wall . . . or as Peter says repeatedly "the third wall". (Obviously, this man has never been on stage)

And if you are an actor/character who happens to share the name of your doppleganger on and off screen, it's hard to tell where the artifice ends and real life begins.

They turn to the camera.  That's it.

Simple, right?  Easiest thing in the world to have an actor/character/actor turn to the camera and make a face or deliver a line.  Talk right to the audience, like someone in vaudeville who leans over the footlights.  Sharing the joke, especially when it is terrible, releases some of the tension.  Especially when the audience is not really laughing with you.

One modern example of a band trying to reveal that they too are "in on the joke" is Mumford & Sons' video, "Hopeless Wanderer".  But they are trying too hard.  And it is painful.  This week is is a meme, in a few months it will mark the death of the band.  Hopefully.  And I say this as someone who LOVEs folk music.  And banjos.  They just happen to be riding a huge wave of popularity in a tiny raft.  They are credited with bringing the mandolin mainstream, but will soon turn their sound into a caricature of itself.  The lyrics and music do not have enough complexity to outlive their publicity.  If you are looking for CLEVER string music, try Natalie MacMaster, the Carolina Chocolate Drops or Allison Krauss!!

Another obvious comparison is the casting of 4 comedians to "play" the roles of the band, as they are randomly playing piano and banjo as if they were in a silent movie or banjo quartet (??).  They embrace "folk" music, the kind which marks its history from the turn of the century (the year 2000) & the premiere of "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"  Dirty, bearded wanderers=excellent banjo skills.  Another part of the joke is that they have enough money to HIRE the best comedians out there to take the role of each of the band members, and have them wink at the audience.   The Beatles played at being actors, and the Monkees played at being both musicians and actors, but a band replacing themselves with actors?  The reversals are just bizarre.

Much credit for the M&S analysis comes from this excellent post, "Don't Let Mumford & Sons Trick You Into Liking Them".    Which resembles the flavor of much of the anti-establishment press from the 1966-1970 era against the Monkees, from the musical snobs of the day.  Here, is where I agree with the cynics, M&S have jumped the shark.  Just because the band is in on the joke doesn't make us laugh with them.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

John Ware, Drummer of The First National Band reviews the 2013 Tour

The reviews about the 2013 Tour keep pouring in.  Mostly just random fan ravings, excited bubbles about which songs they put in ("Door Into Summer") and which they took out ("Daily Nightly").  The Boys are full of energy and as great as ever, etc, etc...

So when I happen across a genuine and completely unique take on a concert, I pay attention.  And so should you. Not just because it is from a contemporary of The Boys.  Or because he's a musician.  Or even that he's played with Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris and the Hot Band (which included member's of Elvis' band, TCB).  Or even because he's from Nez's First National Band.  Or because he's really interesting, as this rare interview from WheresThatSoundComingFrom .  To help you get situated, there's also connections to Red Rhodes (Nez's Pedal Steel Player) and the Flying Burrito Brothers, who famously scoffed at the former Monkee and his Alt-Country pet-project. Just because you have 2 former Byrds, doesn't mean you should throw stones at glass houses . . . (or whatever metaphor you'd like to use)

Read John Ware's take on things: a positive review for an entirely different set of reasons.  You don't have to be a fanatic from the '60's craze, or just another appreciative musician.  You just have to GET IT.  He got it.

From John Ware's Facebook post, 8/6/13, 5pm Eastern Time:

OK...we all know the truth. It was a goddamn television show. It stole it's look from Richard Lester's HARD DAY'S NIGHT...wholesale. Three of the four principals were actors with modest skills beyond clowning and frowning, and Michael Nesmith didn't get the gig because he could write memorable songs. He got it because he was funny and showed up at auditions wearing a $2 knit watch cap...a gimmick. It "HAPPENED" because the time was right. The POP music business has always been a squirrelly bitch. The public knows what it likes, and it quite often likes garbage. The public especially likes garbage fed to them regularly on a TV screen, and THE MONKEES were a banquet for the masses. I barely knew they existed. I was in college, and television was not my drug. I also didn't listen to much pop music radio. I had my own recorded stash, and I DID inhale. Mainly I blissed on a band from "back home." It was the backing band for a white devil named Ronnie Hawkins. My college classmates HATED the shit I had - not that any of them were glued to pop radio. I discovered Mike Nesmith quite circuitously. I got a job right out of grad school playing drums for the Stone Poneys (a logical progression if ever one were offered), and Mike wrote Linda Ronstadt's hit single, DIFFERENT DRUM. He was "around" the band, because we were working his material. Over a period of months Mike and I became friends, and (this is well documented) we eventually made music TOGETHER. I had nothing to do with the MONKEE-shines. I certainly became aware of his part of the TV boy band, but it wasn't the music THEY promoted. It was the music that HE wrote. I missed what had been produced to capitalize on the synthetic fame of the group, and, by that, I mean I missed the complexity of the songs "they sang." It's easy to dismiss the MONKEES and yet very hard to deny that the records (the radio assault) were exceedingly well crafted fare. That fact was hammered home to me at the Monday night show the "boys" presented at the Paramount Theatre in Denver. It was a sensory BLAST in keeping with the TV heritage. The entire "concert" was accompanied by a non-stop jumbo screen montage (sometimes synched to the show and sometimes NOT), and the 100 running minutes was also non-stop. There was no room for coming up for air in the backseat of my Chevy. Those guys WORKED HARD FOR THEIR MONEY, and, whether one likes the tunes or no, it was a recitation of perfectly sculpted POP MATERIAL. I'm here to say there were no ONE/FOUR/FIVE songs on the playlist, and, if you have to look that up, do so now. Onstage the players looked like a gathering at a neighborhood bake sale, including the moms and your strange uncle, Bob. They may have looked bizarre, but the ensemble played a tight, musical, exuberant (bet you're surprised by THAT one), and memorable tunestack that deserves a STANDING O.

Monday, August 5, 2013

"All Roads Lead to The Monkees"; The Economics of Merch

Interesting post about one fan's perspective on the band, on why using their real names started a trend but killed the rest of their careers.  Jerry Seinfeld, case in point.  Glee, America's Got Talent, American Idol, etc.  Larger media viewpoint.  What else does this reveal about their current "value" in the market?

I've been pondering the idea of the "20 Year Silence" the author refers to.  Roughly the time in between 1970 and 1986 (give or take 4 years).  Considered by this culture to be "prime entertainment years", the band became sensations again in their 40's.  And again in 1997, with a tv show and more touring.  And now in their 70's, they are more popular than ever.  Is it because the original marketing in the 1960's was innovative and now the brand is continuing that objective?

Looking at the Current Net Worth of the individuals: MN=$50 Mil, MD= $7 Mil, PT=$4 Mil, DJ=$5 Mil, the enterprising economist in me wonders what the comparison would be to 1960's, 1986's, etc. (Also the idea of "Net Worth" is essentially unrelated to "Personal Value", significance to fans, etc. Just a financial calculation of their holdings, potentials in contract negotiations, etc. Don't be offended!!)

Literally, I have been "coming out" about the Monkees to friends only recently.  Afraid that people who take themselves "too seriously" about music would react negatively, especially in favor of the Beatles or the Stones.  Some people still do that (mostly men older than 50).  But I find that anyone under that, especially women, hold no grudge.  At dinner the other night, I was talking to some friends from MIT about guilty pleasures in music.  The Monkees were assumed to be mainstream.  Which makes me re-evaluate their outsider/underdog status.  With the recent tour, they are getting to be just too popular.  When in doubt, I will always refer back to the original TV show.

Of all things, the TV show is almost an area of ANTI-Merchandising for the modern fan.  Kellogg's, sure.  But Yardley Soap?  And all of the memorabilia is offered only at Yard Sales, Conventions and eBay. There has got to be a peculiar area of Economics that is ripe for dissection about residual loyalties of old television shows.

I find it separately interesting that the "2013 Tour Merch" is so successful and predictably so, for the logo on anything can multiply its inherent value to a fan.  See 2012/2013 Tambourines selling and reselling for $20 to $30 (value without the brand, estimated at $5).  The Tour Book also includes any and all pictures of the current threesome, without any additional manipulations-which may or may not be an artistic decision.  There are pictures of the band walking down hallways, and for whatever reasons, Davy is blocked by another member (mostly because he is so short).  A vendor complained that the publishers did not bother to airbrush out his feet/legs/top of his head and attributed it to a lack of funding in not hiring a graphic artist to re-touch the photos (?).  There are also reports that the DJ Estate was asking too much to license his likeness for ay of the merch.  There is still a "Daddy's Song" tribute during the concert and much mention of honoring his memory, but Davy Jones fans are still bristling at the fact that he is not a bigger presence as part of their experience, i.e. Nothing for them to buy/invest in.

The Davy Jones Equine Foundation, run by his daughters, provides any number of items for purchase, directly or indirectly using Davy's image. The "Keep Calm and Ride On" tshirts were everywhere at the Monkees convention and the concerts I have attended.  Most fans I have run into are active on Facebook (all ages) and would be likely to have seen these shirts.  Notice that there is zero representation of this foundation at the tour merch table.

I would estimate that the average ticket price is around $100, and that the average fan probably spends an additional $40 at the venue for Merch or food/drinks. The current tour Merch Table offerings are here. (And I think my estimations are still conservative)  Other monetary factors include parking fees, time +gas, motels/hotels, multi-stop fans/groupies, and buying tickets for members of your family or friends who would not pay for the show (or attend at all) unless the main fan does all the legwork.


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