I’m sure by now most all of you know of the passing of a true pop icon, Davy Jones of the Monkees, who had a heart attack earlier this morning. Naturally this comes as a shock to very many, as within the past year he participated in a ¾ Monkees reunion tour as well as a 60s retrospective concert on PBS, which we caught a bit of and he seemed as vibrant and happy as ever, and honestly looked better than I’d seen him look in some time. Not that I’ve been keeping tabs, but you know…
Honestly, it’s almost strange that 40+ years after their last record (under the original run at least), we’re just now losing a Monkee, which is a bit of the cynic in me, but also sorta points to the “wholesomeness” that the TV show brought to the public eye, which obviously carried out to a certain degree in their personal lives once the glitter and fame passed them by.
Growing up I always thought of the Monkees as a “lesser” Beatles, even though growing up I was much more of a Monkees fan. There’s just something irresistible about the Monkees at their very best, none of the weighty pretentions and expectancy that comes with a lot of latter day Beatles tunes, and just a sense of whimsy and fun and undeniable melody, even though they had several songs that were both heavy and serious.
Also, growing up, Davy Jones was assumed to be the lead singer since he didn’t really play an instrument, though in truth Mickey Dolenz took lead more often than not, especially on the hits. But in spite of that, Davy was still at the center of all things, the short, cute, charming, pushable, huggable, laughable fall guy amongst a group of guys that were paid to take a fall. He embraced his role with a charisma and an enthusiasm that was more than just teenage kicks, but a genuine desire to entertain, to coax a laugh, to make someone’s day that much brighter.
My parents, especially my mom, absolutely hated the show, thought that one was as silly as the other, and Davy was by far the silliest. But that’s what’s so perfect about the Monkees, that their outer persona was just a crunchy confectionary shell that didn’t require layers of understanding or repeat listens – you played their songs over and over and you watched their shows with delight because they were a joy and a pleasure, even a privilege, because it’s rare to find pop songs that frivolous and that good at the same time.
And again, at the core of all things was Davy’s English accent, his unmistakable vocals, his corny laugh and his boyish innocence – even when playing the “tough guy,” it was with a mirthful twinkle, revealing a harmless mischief just below the surface.
But there was a sincerity as well, a belief in what he was doing, the words he was singing, and even though they weren’t his on paper, he made them his own in heart and soul, infecting us all with his undeniable ability to turn a frown upside down.
To this day, when I hear him sing Daydream Believer, I still get chills, and when he delivers his titular line in Shades of Grey, it still brings a bit of a tear to my eye. He was the genuine article, even amongst the prefabricated glitz of a cash in boy band, and even as the group began to take their career and musical integrity more seriously, his was certainly the light heart, the face everyone recognized and the name everyone could drop whenever the Monkees came into conversation. Amidst punched walls and Head and touring with Hendrix, his presence kept things in perspective, reminding us that at the end of the day, this was just pop music, made to be enjoyed in the moment, but not taken too seriously – just like every hitch that comes along in life.
Even at 9:05 PM, I can’t bring myself to listen to Daydream Believer or Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow) or She Hangs Out or I Wanna Be Free, because it’s still too unreal, too unfathomable that the voice and spirit that made these songs legend is now stilled.
As I mentioned when Whitney Houston died a couple of weeks ago, for me the passing of some rock stars is more the loss of a previous generation, but the passing of Davy Jones covers decades, and is the irrevocable loss of the one smiling face in an era now known more for its belligerence and cynicism than actually bringing real joy and pure love to the world. Davy Jones will be missed not just for the songs he sang, but also for the personification of something better just around the corner.
Look out…here comes tomorrow!