The mood of what turned out to be the longest and most eventful day spent in this or any fandom was set early. After a quick wal-mart run, I returned to the hotel around 8:30 am to find that the entrance was blocked. By the Guys unloading the Monkeemobile.
I deliberately went into the day with no solid plans, so i simply surfed and skimmed the events in the vendor rooms and the ballroom as fate, interest, and friends led me. For that reason, it’s hard to depict the “smaller” events of Saturday in any kind of linear narrative. Instead, I organized it by the thing that seemed the most important today–the people I encountered, most of whom were NOT the guests of Honor.
Henry Diltz: I visited his booth early in the day in the course of an embarrassingly thorough shopping spree, Much like Boyce and Hart (who I’ll get into later), I know his work intimately (some of his photos are burned into my brain forever, and NOT just Monkees stuff). However, I didn’t actually know much about Henry aside from his being “that dude who photographed like 3/4ths of thy 1960s”. I approached his booth a bit timidly to buy a photo for my sister Mich (AKA “Lauren”) to be autographed by him, and by Nez on Sunday. He turned out to be the third most disarmingly charming person I talked to all day (right behind Iain Lee and Circe Link), and I immediately grokked how he got access to so many of the intimate scenes he captured over the years. I ALSO found out that I’d selected his favorite photo that he ever took of Nez. His jotting down my URL (!!!) was a bonus.
Circe Link: I went to Circe’s first show on Friday, and fell in fan love. HARD. While I did enjoy some of her shows on VR3D (I’m in there EXTREMELY rarely as “Camille Flenses”), I didn’t really connect with her work till I saw her live. I caught Circe’s show twice at the con (I’ll be putting up some video from the Sunday show in the Sunday post), and as I watched and sang and Kazooed along, the same thought kept running through my mind–Anissa would have LOVED Circe.
I felt a bit…conflicted about approaching most of the Monkee kids’ tables, because I was only familiar with a few of their projects, and I didn’t see any way that a conversation that implicitly started with “your father was a source of my sexual awakening” could go anywhere but downhill. However, as mentioned, I’d really connected with Circe and Christian’s music, and told them as much as I bought a stack of CDs. And then Circe asked about my tee shirt–one of only two or three people who did. I told her the tale, briefly, and she smiled and said, “She looks like a very happy person.”
I responded, “That she was.”
The Tumblr Gang: Intermittently I spent time with quite a few different friends from the Monkees’ Tumblr community in both the dealers room and the Videoranch room. I spent the bulk of the day running around with 1 or more of a set that included Amy, Jen, Jaime, Aeryn, Megan, Lynsey, Melanie, and I’m sure I’m forgetting people and if I do I don’t mean offense! Lots of awesome geekiness ensued– the sorts of wacky-but-intelligent bonhomie you find from 95% of the Monkees community. (Aside–that kind of attitude, for me, is the defining trait of a “true” Monkees Person, and carries more weight than whether they prefer the “right” Monkee or know “enough” about the band or have the “proper” attitude about whatever the drama de jour may be). Anyway, we played seriously and lightheartedly debated deep issues like the role of gender and race in the fandom. We also (with some help from Iain Lee) peer-pressured Jaime (AKA “Princess Gwen”) into pitching the “Monkeeopoly” game she created to the Rhino people. Both the rep from Rhino and Andrew Sandoval himself were VERY impressed with her work. Read here to learn more about Monkeeopoly, and LIKE AND SHARE THIS FACEBOOK POST (in which Rhino is tagged) to make clear that there is a market for this game! To put this in Tumblr-ese, WE MUST MAKE THIS A THING.
Pop Music Hall of Fame Induction/Tour Announcement: I should say more here, but really I feel a similar conflictedness about the award that Nez seemed to describe on facebook, and (as he does) he already said it WAY better than I could ever hope to. I’m not a fan because anyone else is or due to peer pressure–quite the opposite, really. That said, it’s nice to see the “wider world” acknowledging what we’ve all known for decades. As for the tour…unless we see some serious set list changes, they decide to include Texas in the “midwest”, or Jen wants to carpool up to Kansas City, I’m probably gonna have to skip this tour for reasons of money and life priorities.
Iain Lee: Iain Lee is awesome. OK, no, not firm enough. I’ll say it again. IAIN. LEE. IS. AWESOME. I hate to say this, and it’s partly due to the circles in which I move (I am on the nearly all-male Steve Hoffman forum but not terribly active). However, I can count the number of male Monkees fans I truly like on two hands and have some fingers left over. Iain is one of that very select brotherhood. In any case, We’ve exchanged Facebook comments and likes sporadically for almost 2 years, and have formed something of an ersatz mutual admiration society with each other. I’d not fully understood this till we met in person, but Iain has EPIC people skills–he’s just got a knack for getting people to open up in interviews that I frankly envy as a bush league qualitative researcher. He’s also an insightful guy who seems to think deeply about how people tick. In addition, if you went to his excellent tribute to Davy session, you know he cares a great deal about preserving the rarest bits of the Monkees’ history and legacy and making them available to all. He also has that uniquely cutting sense of snarky English sarcasm that oftentimes discomfited me when I lived in the UK during university. However, when you meet him face to face you can see the little twinkle in his eye that betrays the acerbic acidity as at least a partial put-on.
Micky: Micky’s Q&A was also epic (in a very different way), and I’ve decided to do a standalone essay that considers both his and Nez’s individually and in comparison. However, there is one random Micky Moment from Saturday that I need to share–because in an odd way it seemed to capture something of the essence of the con. Around 8:30, I came down from a post dinner “introvert break” in my room to touch base with friends and then queue up for the Movies of the Mind show. For those of you who weren’t there, the Hilton has a two floor lobby of sorts. The ground floor lobby became an impromptu gathering place during the con (Iain interviewed me there on Sunday, in fact), and the second floor, in addition to the conference space itself, was open to the first floor in the middle. Anyway, I exited the elevator on the second floor and started strolling toward the Dealers’ room. almost immediately, I saw Micky’s bodyguard striding down the hall, with Micky right behind him. There were very few other people in sight at that point–I might have even been it. With no conscious thought I slid against the wall and started to avert my gaze. But then, Micky stopped, turned around, and walked over to the railing, to look down on the raucous singalong taking place below. What seemed like the entire convention crowd was down there belting out Monkees tunes at the top of their lungs, totally immersed in fan glee. I slid around behind him, keeping a good distance. I don’t think he even saw me.
For just the barest of a few moments–maybe 3 seconds tops?–I watched Micky watch the crowd, unnoticed by all. Then, of course, someone glanced up, spotted him, and the crowd broke out in a mighty roar. He grinned (I assume), waved, and continued on his way down the hall. However, as long as I live, I’ll remember that moment of silently watching Micky as he watched his fans singing in exuberant joy.
And with that…it’s time for the main event.
Movies of the Mind: I’m not going to get into the usual nauseating detail, as there’s really only one thing that you need to understand about this concert. I think everything else I’m about to describe flowed directly or indirectly from this one choice. For the set list, see Chicago, and subtract Tomorrow and Me. For the lineup, subtract Chris Scruggs (he’s off at SxSW) and add Christian And (HELP THE AUTHOR! I didn’t catch the new Steel/Mandolin Player’s name over the cheering!). But these differences were trifles. The band walked out and saddled up, to loud applause. Nez was introduced and emerged to utter euphoria. He introduced the band, and as he started up the first story, it hit me.
Nez didn’t come on stage carrying a guitar.
There was no instrument sitting on stage waiting for him.
Christian was sitting in the back with a guitar.
MICHAEL NESMITH WAS ABOUT TO DO MOVIES OF THE MIND WITHOUT HIS GUITAR.
The last struggling bit of my rational mind still holding on after the events of the day called up the memory of his incredible performance of Door into Summer in Tulsa, then flipped the light switch and headed off to hide for the next two hours. My id, on the other hand, booked passage to Rio. 🙂
Taking off the 12-string anchor seemed to free Nez, physically and emotionally. The man was all over the stage. At times he conducted and cued the band, at other moments he served as a cheerleader to the fans, starting all the gestures and claps at the right moments (Watching him lead the hand waving during Tonight was worth the $110 right there!) He was in constant motion, half-dancing in his Nezzish way with during the instrumental sections of several songs. I couldn’t decide if I was imagining him in his underwear in the kitchen (Q&A reference, we’ll get there in another post), or in the robes of a Sufi dervish. Vocally, his performance was the best I’ve heard since the 1980s, if not the 1960s. Every single note and word was hit with confidence and authority. The crowd grew more and more joyous over the course of the set until somewhere between Yellow Butterfly and Tonight we were all transported…somewhere… into and by the ecstacy flowing in a circuit between Nez, the band, and us.
In short, it was one of the most powerfully primal experiences I’ve ever had while fully clothed.
I spent hours trying and discarding metaphors to explain what the HELL Nez or we did to evoke that experience in that concert. The merging of Papa Nez and Monkee Mike…a virtuous cycle of rebirth…a spiritual communion of–Oh, screw it, I’ve got nothing. Besides, I truly have no idea what was going on on that stage or in his head, or even if the magic was sparked by him, by us, or (my strongest hunch) the alchemical reaction of the two. I’m unsure whether Nez will delve into this when and if he writes about the con, but I hope he does. All I know is that prose and verse wove together in seamless stories, All the band members surpassed their already-high standards, and that my Audio unsurprisingly only captured the barest glimmer of the magic of that concert. Hell, I very nearly decided to throw up my hands and quote page 99 (the dance scene) in Neftoon Zamora in lieu of a concert review. That probably got closer to explaining what transpired on Saturday than I just did. My words are simply inadequate. I do think I need to share one moment though, which for me encapsulates the whole show.
At one point, somebody yelled out “I Love You!” in a rare moment of silence.
Nez became totally still, looked out at all of us in a manner seemingly shedded of all his masks and barriers.
And then he simply said, “I love you too.”
Who would have thought that the best performance I ever saw from Michael Nesmith and likely ever will would come on the night that he really didn’t play his own instrument?
After the show, I floated out the door, bought the Sparkly Shoe tee shirt (I still prefer mine, but hey), and exchanged a few words with an equally gobsmacked Iain, who was about to go into the 11:30 Boyce and Hart show. I lingered outside the door for a few minutes to talk to Amy, Megan, Lynsey, and some others of the Videoranch contingent who drifted by. Then on a whim, even though I knew I was about to keel over from exhaustion, I slipped into the seat behind Iain just as Rachel Lichtman was introducing the documentary.
Now, I am FAR from the be-all and end-all of Monkee Trivia buffs by any means, but I’d say that I have more useless knowledge than, say, 80 to 90% of Monkees fans, especially regarding the TV show (yay factchecking gig!). However, I still learned a great deal from the documentary, from the duo’s role in enacting the 26th amendment lowering the voting age to 18, to the real (if utterly “Mad Men”) reason that Don Kirshner hired Tommy Boyce in the first place. In short, the documentary was a fascinating and well-constructed piece that kept me up after 4 hours of sleep and almost 20 of geeking out. Check it out soon at a film festival near you. It was after 1:00 AM when the film ended, and after a quick chat with Iain and a swing through the pajama party singalong winding down downstairs, I stumbled up to my room.
Somethere in the midst of this long, strange day, two thoughts had begun to coalesce in my mind from the ripples I began to sense yesterday. First, I don’t think you can understand the Monkees’ pull on fans without understanding and accepting the role of emotion in the process. Attempting to understand the essence of the Monkees phenomenon through a purely rational lens is just as much folly as is wallowing in fannish “feels” until you half believe they live in the damn beach house. Now, by “emotion” I don’t mean illogic, or even the Pavlovian response of Fannish Behavior. That moment when you walk into a meet and greet room and your pulse instantly jumps 30 beats from the adrenaline is no more than a drug. While the high is fun as far as it goes, it ultimately divorces you from reality. When done right, creating, sharing, and connecting with art evokes and unlocks emotions that enable one to connect with oneself and with others. In my opinion, that’s the purpose of art (if it can be said to have something so pointed as a “purpose”). The Monkees, for me at least, evoke emotions of joy, wonder, a neverending yearning for freedom, and above all, authentic friendship grounded in love, or “loving kindness”, as Nez put it far more succinctly in his Q&A. The power of friendship freely given and received is embedded overtly or implicitly in nearly everything the Monkees and the larger collaborative team ever created. It can be found in the lyrics to “For Pete’s Sake”, and in what is the most powerful moment of the TV series by a mile, when Mike debates Mr. Zero with Peter’s eternal soul as the prize and gives Peter the confidence to go play the harp. Reading the real life story of the group through this lens only strengthens my point.
Jumping off from that first point, I soon realized the second epiphany that coalesced somewhere between my friend’s walk up to the Rhino booth with Monkeeopoly in hand and her posse at her back, and my magical moment as I watched Micky watch us. The fight for true freedom or liberation is not and cannot be a solo sport. Whatever the hell happened on that stage could not have happened if Nez had played to an empty room–in fact, I don’t know if it could have occurred with any audience other than that one on that night. Singing along to Headquarters in your room is far different than standing in the middle of a lobby belting out “You Just May Be the One” with 200 of your closest friends. One can even extend that thought outside the musical realm to the political, or even spiritual realms. Have you ever noticed how almost all of the most moving political and spiritual anthems have plural lyrics? Dependence is ended with Independence, but Independence can only be sustained if people choose to become Interdependent, allowing everyone’s strengths and weaknesses to balance out. True interdependent collaboration is probably the hardest feat for humans to pull off, but when it works, it’s magic.
And I think we’ve hit the point where I have to explain the title of the post. After everything I experienced on Saturday, that particular lyric to Listen to the Band never seemed less appropriate for a song that has become the unofficial anthem for the fandom. It fit in 1969 as a declaration of breakup and independence, sure, but not so much in 2014. So the title to this post became my alternate lyric. 😉 See you tomorrow with my Sunday recap.
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