I’ve written so much about Michael Nesmith, the Monkee I am was most similar to, the one who intrigued and attracted and infuriated me the most for 36 years. However, even though I’ve had a hunch this was likely coming for about a week, Now that it’s here I find myself at a loss for words.
As is always the case in my post-2012 ongoing series of Monkees Synchronicities, Nez’s passing is happening at an interesting point in my personal life. I’m about a week out from making some physical changes that are in some ways a culmination of the road of personal growth I’ve been walking since 2012, when Davy died, then a friend died, and then Nez seemed to embark on a journey of self-acceptance and engagement with the world that mirrored my own. Our journeys sort of diverged in early 2019, if only because metaphors can only be carried so far.
Nez was a kind, imperfect, broken, sensitive genius (not unlike 3 other guys I could name, if in different ways and to different degrees). As a kid he helped me to laugh, and as a young adult he helped me learn how to write. He definitely taught me to grow, to the point that in recent years I sometimes felt as though I’d outgrown him a little as an influence. But I always wished him joy and peace on his path, even if it wasn’t one I would pick.
I’m still a bit numb as I write this, after an afternoon of keeping one eye on the tributes pouring in on the Zilch facebook group. I may come back and ramble for a few thousand words or something, but really, I’d rather just share my best memories of Nez over this weird decade that was so transformative for both of us,
There are some debts in life that can’t be repaid. I have a few, and I suspect you do too. They’re just so big, so random, from a source so distant, or so imbued with Grace that you just have to say thank you and then pay them forward as best you can.
This website, and my later association with the Zilch podcast, was an attempt to pay forward a debt indirectly, because of course I would never have the chance to pay it back directly. But my life since May 12, 2012 has been nothing if not synchronistic to the point of downright fucking bizarre, often in ways that somehow involve the Monkees. Hell, I’m now fairly convinced that spraining 1 ½ ankles after Micky and Mark Lindsay’s show the weekend after interviewing for my soon-to-be new gig in Philly was a warning from the universe that I was trying to control too much, too fast, too anxiously, and too perfectly. (Alas, I didn’t actually *grok* that particular clue-by-four till many months later…). In that grand tradition of Monkees Synchronicity, when the PTFB team was preparing for Peter’s Celebration of Life, it turned out that the Shoe Suede Blues show that the team could get its hands on both audio and video for was…Bay City. At this point I wasn’t even surprised, because of course it was. I was happy to provide the audio, and Sherri had managed to find the video. Kevin Marhanka married the two files, and I was asked to provide an introduction. Most of what happened at Club 66 was covered in Zilch episode 146, but this bit is more appropriate here, in Fandom Lenses, where it all started. Here’s how I introduced the Bay City Show, standing center stage at Club 66 where I had seen Peter for the third to last time. As I said to our emcee John, no pressure. 😉
I’m pretty sure this is an urban legend, but I once read something to the effect that every cell in your body is replaced every seven years, which means that every seven years, you are a completely different person. As I said, I don’t know if that’s true, but in any case, I am not the same person I was 7 years ago, in large part because of the events of September 8, 2012 in Bay City, Michigan.
Once upon a time in the late 90s, in a Yahoogroup called Long_Title, some geeky, lost monkees fans found each other, became best friends, and called their little gang the Frodis Femmes. There was Cin, who’s here today, Mich and Mattie, who are back home in Cleveland, Ohio, me, and the bubbliest and most outgoing of us all, Anissa. Cin once called her our Davy, and she died suddenly in May 2012, a few months after Davy Jones. Anissa was a huge Shoe Suede Blues fan since the early 2000s, way before it was cool. She went to shows in California and Ohio, spread the word to all and sundry, and even had a Shoe Suede Blues license plate! There’s a reason I often say I’m just substitute co-hosting Zilch in her place. Because if Anissa had still been here when Zilch started—well, imagine Christine the Button Queen with a healthy dash of Pinkie Pie from My Little Pony. 😉
But back to Bay City, and the show we were all going to in Anissa’s memory. That day was…weird. The weirdness started at the hotel breakfast buffet, when I looked up from my omelet and saw none other than Peter Tork walking in in a rumpled tee shirt and some serious bed head. I mean, intellectually I knew he was just a normal guy, but there’s nothing like seeing one of your crushes when you were 10 grab some granola and a coffee to bring that point home.
The weirdness continued at the show, when he played a song in Anissa’s memory. He didn’t have to do that, just like he certainly didn’t have to post an RIP message to facebook the day after she died, acknowledging her loss and giving us comfort. But he did. So yeah, Peter was the normal guy at the breakfast buffet, but he was also kind to his fans—often far kinder than we deserved. I think a lot of us know that, whether or not we’re brave enough to admit it.
And speaking of kindness to fans, I think of the meet and greet after the show, in this tiny little record store that was filled way beyond capacity with fans wanting a photo and a signature. [Sherri interjected at this point to note that the line had stretched all the way around the block at its peak]. My long suffering husband Kevin was overwhelmed by the crowd. I was overwhelmed by the crowd. That night I truly wondered how one could do that job for one hour, let alone 5 decades, without running screaming into the night. Peter was visibly tired, and I learned later his knee was in pain. But he stayed at that overstuffed, overheated, overstimulated record store until every CD was signed and every photo snapped.
But the most remarkable thing about that night in Bay City took some time to sink in. Shoe Suede Blues had helped me start healing from Anissa’s death, just as in my tween years, when the Monkees helped me start healing from learning some life lessons way younger than I would have liked. And I wanted to pay that healing forward, through sharing kindness in that same humanly heroic way I had seen Peter connect with us in Bay City. I am a better writer because of Peter Tork. I’m a better leader and definitely a better podcaster. But most importantly I’m a better person because Peter taught me by his example that you don’t have to be perfect to help build a better world. You just have to be kind to yourself and everyone you meet.
So, enjoy the concert. I hope it helps you heal as much as it did me.
The next day, I opened the gift bag that a member of the PTFB team had slipped me in a quiet moment before the celebration started. In addition to a tree ornament and some other goodies, I found this bracelet, with this explanatory note.
That bracelet has been on my wrist ever since, and will remain there for the foreseeable future. Because it will remind me that there is only one way to pay off karmic debts like the one that inspired this blog, and it’s decidedly not living a lifetime of anxious striving to be “good enough” to “earn your miracles”. The only way to balance the scales is to be as kind to yourself and others as you can be in the present moment. Sometimes being kind is lending a helping hand, sometimes it’s honestly sharing a painful but necessary truth to help someone heal and grow. Sometimes it’s putting another’s needs above yours, and sometimes it’s making sure you put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. Sometimes you need to pitch in to help, and sometimes you need to step back so others can shine. You’ll never be perfect at it, but the most perfectly imperfect way you can pull off the paradox of true kindness is by paying attention to every moment as it happens, as best you can. Because Now is all we have. Now is all we ever have. And Now I can see that the journey of the past 7 years has been a journey to grok what it means to live that truth with my family, my friends, my work, and especially within my own tough, tender self. Some people get sports cars and fall in love with a hot young thing at midlife. Me, I got a PhD, fell back in love with a septuagenarian boy band, and wrote a blog about it all. I hope you didn’t mind all the oversharing along the way.
This post feels like an ending too, but in a good, poignant way. Kind of like driving home from Edgewood with a tummy full of just enough barbecue, chatting with Cin and Debby about the joys and struggles of our lives, debating how to best share what happened with those who weren’t there, and just enjoying the moment. But even if Fandom Lenses is done (and we’ll see if it really is, some people taught me long ago never to say never 😉 ), I will remain a part of Zilch for as long as I can participate in a manner that’s kind to me, to my fellow co-hosts, and to all of you who like to take us along as you live your daily lives.
This spiral won’t ever totally end, but when I stood on that stage in that club in Edgewood, Maryland, I think I might have graciously, miraculously been given an utterly unexpected opportunity to repay the debt to Peter that inspired this cycle of growth. Or maybe there was never any debt to repay in the first place.
After 33 years of data gathering and analysis, all the way
from the 1986 revival to their (probably?) final US show last Saturday, I
finally feel ready to propose a Grand Unified Theory of the Monkees. The
Monkees, singularly and collectively, on screen and on stage, through their
music and in their individual lives and work, can be understood as exploring a
(the?) central question of humanity: How can one make a difference in the world
while remaining true to one’s friends, one’s art, and most importantly, to
oneself? I suspect we all grapple with that balance between gaining the world
and losing one’s soul. The Monkees’ journey suggests that this dilemma can be
resolved by striving for an ideal that is rooted in our values and sense of
self, but that is directed toward making a better world for others.
More on that later, though. We’ve got a show to review.
Prologue: Philadelphia Museum of Art, about 4 hours before soundcheck.
Cin and I stood near Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, trying to listen to the museum guide over the chattier members of the tour group. I’ve become mildly hooked on visiting the museum since moving here (if you make it past the “Rocky Steps” you’ll find a truly world-class collection), so this wasn’t my first or even third time looking at one of the museum’s crown jewels. I was just about to pull out my phone to make sure we were still going to have time to grab lunch before heading back home to get ready for sound check, when the guide’s spiel caught my ear.
“Notice the two wilted flowers in the arrangement. Van Gogh
included these in each version of his Sunflowers paintings as a Memento Mori, or reminder to the viewer
that all things in time must die. This version of Sunflowers was painted in
Arles in 1889, and…”
And the tour guide’s voice faded out. I looked at the two
wilting flowers, but I didn’t see them. Instead I saw Nez, eagerly but gingerly
climbing on stage at the Colonial Theatre, about 3 months after joining the
Zipper Club. I saw a photo of Peter that was released after his death, taken
the day he recorded Angels we Have Heard On High for Christmas Party. The
wattage of his smile kept me from weeping at the frailty of his body—if only barely.
After his death I’d remembered that he’d seemed a little thinner than usual
when I met him backstage that final time I saw him in St Louis in 2016, but
after he spent two hours running around a stage like he was 23, I simply
chalked it up to nearing the end of a 7 month tour.
I’ve never had trouble with that concept. The thing I had to learn was Memento Vivere, and The Monkees were 4 of my first and most important teachers in living fearlessly and joyously in the face of death, from 1986 to now. But tonight would be the first time I would see them since Peter’s death, at the very venue where Nez had to end last year’s tour in favor of a quadruple bypass.
What would tonight be like?
(note: while I list all songs played during soundcheck and the show proper, I don’t discuss all of them. that’s how I kept this under 3000 words. 😉
If you ever have a chance to do VIP soundcheck for the Monkees (or any other band you love), do it. To be clear, I’m quite sure there’s a difference between a real soundcheck and VIP soundcheck (We heard Nez singing from the Keswick lobby a solid half hour before they opened the doors to let us in, which was both cool and damn reassuring for the obvious reason 😊). However, it was still neat to walk in to see Micky and Nez in a more relaxed and casual mode (Nez was in sweatpants cracking Kim Jong Un Jokes! Micky’s monitor earpiece just plays CNN!), and listen to their banter, watch the band go through its paces, and play a half-dozen songs, some we’d hear again later that night, and some that weren’t in the setlist. I’ve embedded a few videos Cin shot, but a few moments stand out from the soundcheck.
One of several that were also featured in the show proper. I was bopping and grooving along with Cin, as you do, until the Harpsichord solo, when it hit me that it was the first time I’d heard it since its originator, Peter, died. Micky and Nez glanced at each other for the briefest of moments, and it seemed as though something might have passed across both their faces. Nothing was said, and I fully admit I could have projected it. In any case, the moment passed, the guys started singing again, and we all joined in, as you do. 😊 The first of a few times in the evening I was struck by how lightly they were carrying Peter’s loss—in a good way.
Andrew pointed out this song probably won’t be in the
setlist for any of the shows this tour, so if this is the last time I ever hear
this song live, what a lovely way to go out, sharing an intimate performance
with about 30 of my fellow fans. I’ve mentioned how much this tune means to me
in a few previous reviews for a few different reasons, so I won’t belabor the
point here. After this tune Andrew called forward one of the audience members,
who had brought his vintage Monkees edition Gretsch to the show. And now, I’m
not 100% sure, but it looked like Wayne was actually playing that guitar most
of the main show! If so, how cool is that? In any case, after the audience
member showed off his guitar, Nez told the story of his original (stolen)
Gretsch 12-string, which somehow devolved into a tale of getting baked with Red
Another highlight moment, with Christian and Nez bantering
with each other. At first Nez demurred that he didn’t remember the tune very
well, after Christian responded a little teasing and waving of the “I wrote this”
sign behind his dad’s head, the two did a lovely version that put me in mind of
the version Nez did at Pantages. Another song I thought I’d never hear live
again, and another song I was so thrilled I DID hear again. And then they
transitioned seamlessly into the closing tune for soundcheck,
Pleasant Valley Sunday
And with that, we bid the guys farewell for a couple hours,
and Cin and I went down the street for Chinese. And because this was the kind
of night it was turning into, we bumped into Jodi Ritzen and Marty Ross.
Good Clean Fun The Keswick Blues
Anything I could say would not approach this amazing moment, so just watch. At the end we all leapt to our feet. Nez expressed his gratitude at surviving his near miss last year, and then renamed his song “The Keswick Blues” to laughter and applause.
Last Train to Clarksville
You Told Me
“Peter Chat” and For Pete’s Sake
In a well done segue, Micky pointed out that the banjo part in You Told Me (handled masterfully by backing band newcomer Probyn Gregory) was originated, of course, by Peter. Then, Micky matter of factly led the band into For Pete’s Sake. No Elegies, no dwelling, just a forthright tribute and on with the show, which I believe is almost certainly what Peter would have wanted. 70% of my brain was focused on singing along (as much of the audience also did), but a bit of my brain was chewing on how smoothly Micky had handled what could have been an awkward or maudlin transition, especially in comparison the cascade of Feels that were flowing on-stage and off in 2012 after Davy’s passing. I was now pretty sure that Micky and Nez had known what was going on for a lot longer than even when they dropped a few ominous hints last spring and summer, and had processed the loss in ways we hadn’t had the time to do yet (something later confirmed in an article on Billboard). But beyond that, it felt like there was a lesson in Nez and Micky’s approach to the evening. However, mid-Monkees concert is a decidedly stupid time for introspection, so I put a pin in that germ of a thought for later. Maybe on the ride home.
Door Into Summer
Unlike Cleveland, Nez nailed it! My definitive version is still Tulsa in 2013, but it’s good to know that all Nez needed to give a killer performance of one of my favorites was a sufficient blood flow to his brain. 😉
You Just may be the One
Little Bit Me, Little Bit You
A non-insignificant part of the audience was playing along with the hand gestures. Some things never change.
Girl I knew Somewhere
Birth of an Accidental Hipster
Best. Live. Hipster. EVER. (that I was present for, anyway)
Every time I’ve heard Nez play this one, from 2012 to now,
he seems just a little bit more incredulous as he sings “It looks like we made
it once again!”
With good reason. 😉
Pleasant Valley Sunday
The first time (I think) I’ve heard them do this one so early in the set (it was the act 1 closer), and it actually works to get folks jazzed up to head into the break, buy lots of Merch, etc.
Intermission was pretty straightforward. There was no projector at the Keswick, hence no Till Then Tribute or other videos. I bantered with Cin, handed out some buttons and met a few listeners, which I always simultaneously love and feel a smidge awkward about. Producing Zilch is inherently a solitary hobby in some ways. Yes, I hear Ken’s or Christine’s or Tim’s or Rosanne’s voice through my headset, and we’ve all become good friends, but every hour of recording time translates to another two or three of solitary editing and sound work to create a final segment. (Well at least it takes that long for me, but of course I’m not the Podfather. 😉 ) Beyond that, even with over 7500 members of Zilch Nation FB, I’m still a little taken by surprise to meet living, breathing strangers who listen to our rambling of their own free will. Getting to know members of Zilch Nation in person is something I’m always grateful for, and a responsibility I take seriously.
Back to the show!
Act 2, as was the case last year, opened with an Acoustic set.
Papa Genes Blues
Randy Scouse Git
For all that I loved the Poncho and the Tympani and “THE COLORS!!!”, every time I hear this arrangement of RSG, I love it more. Might be my favorite version.
Nine times Blue
I’ll Spend My Life With You
Didn’t really expect to hear this one in a Monkees Show, but I’m glad of it. Just as he did at the Colonial a few months ago, Nez NAILED THE HIGH NOTES, with some lovely backing by Circe and Coco. (Note–for brevity’s sake I’ve glossed over my usual gushing over the backing band in this review. Tl;Dr–they were everything they’ve been in every show I’ve ever seen with them, and more.)
With the Acoustic set done, we made the turn toward the last 10 songs of the evening.
Me and Magdalena
Beautiful. Might be my favorite version they’ve done.
Auntie’s Municipal Court
Nailed it even more impressively than in Cleveland, though I think the fact that it wasn’t 85 degrees and 85% humidity probably helped. 😊
Excellent as always, and they did the band intro here. Oh, and the gal in the front row fucking nailed her verse. Almost as impressive as when Christine did it in 2016.
Sweet Young Thing
Micky, self-aware predictable performer that he is, actually treated us to some robot moves at the start of this one. We all laughed. (Somebody should try to calculate how many times he’s performed that song over the last 53 years between Monkees, solo, and other tours—it’s got to be closing in on 1000…)
Nothing was said beyond what’s become the usual intro, and nothing needed to be said. But I can’t have been the only person in the hall who flashed back to the opening shots of that video as Alex Jules started in on the keyboard intro. And if such a thing was possible, the Sea of Light shone even more brightly than it ever had before. And as I gazed around the full house at the Keswick, and up at the mighty band on stage, the question I pondered in front of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers earlier in the day was answered.
The Monkees are still Memento Vivere. Even—no, especially—in March 2019.
What am I Doing Hanging Round?
I’ve finally come to a decision as to who Sings this Better, after 7 years of waffling back and forth each time I heard Peter or Nez do it. Both give excellent performances, both interpretations have nuances that recommend themselves to the listener. More specifically, Nez knocked it out of the park this time. However…
Peter sings this better. (Sorry…)
Listen to the Band
That’s OK, though, because Nez and Company gave THE BEST PERFORMANCE OF LISTEN TO THE BAND I HAVE EVER HEARD.
Maybe it was another one of those mini flashbacks, this time to 33 1/3rd, when Peter said “hi” as Nez wandered up and plugged his guitar into an amp, Micky and Davy joined them, and the Monkees gave a live to camera performance that managed to simultaneously kill off one version of their band and give birth to a new version of the Monkees that has endured 50 years.
Now, I’ve always been ambivalent about the “I think I can make it alone” line. I wrote a whole diatribe about it back in 2014 if memory serves. But as I sang along to this song one more time, I got a sense of the deeper ways in which that line is true.
And then they wrapped up with I’m a Believer.
As you do.
Afterparty and Marty Ross Meet & Greet
After saying Hi to Host Emeritus Craig Smith and Megan Stemm-Wade on the way out the door, Cin and I headed over to Jodi’s afterparty, featuring a meet and greet with Marty Ross. I got the singular honor of giving a New Monkee a Zilch Button, we chatted a little bit, and then I guarded our stuff at the table while Cin met and talked to a guy she’s been a fan of for over 30 years. As the event wound down, Marty Ross played a little mini-set of music, and ended it by telling a Peter Story!
About 20 years ago, they were both at the same event (audition? Not sure on the details, it was after midnight at this point and I was kind of fading). Peter and Marty got to talking about the Beatles, as one does. Peter mentioned that he’d been working on a blues version of Lady Madonna, which he played with Marty. And Marty played that Bluesy Lady Madonna for us in turn. I wish I’d had my recorder going, because it was an excellent adaptation of the song, not to mention a beautiful tribute.
So, a little over 12 hours after we were standing in front of one of Vincent Van Gogh’s masterpieces, Cin and I were trying to stay awake in our Uber home. My mind was drifting, and I found myself thinking back to the understated and lovely ways Micky and Nez paid tribute to a man they both called a brother on Facebook when the world found out the news we now know they had been anticipating for a few years. Their chill approach to performing in the shadow of Peter’s passing created a space where we could focus on celebrating, not mourning. (I was struggling to describe it to Christine earlier today, and she gave me the word “Steady”. That nailed it.)
But there I was, in the back of the Uber, realizing that
what Micky and Nez did was actually a pretty cool gift for us. The evening
wasn’t about them, or the audience, or even Peter or Davy. It was about The
Monkees—the whole weird unlikely convoluted Shades of Grey phenomenon that
we’ve all co-created over the last 53 years. We all came together, and they led
us as we all invoked that weird, well, whatever the hell thing The Monkees is,
and we discovered that the magic, evolving though it might be, was still alive
and well in 2019.
And then a song that wasn’t in the show, and most likely
will never be in another Monkees show again, came to mind. And yeah, I’m fully
aware Peter was writing about the Tao, but as I drowsily watched the streets of
Philadelphia roll by my window, it seemed to fit both that night at the Keswick,
and everything in the previous 53 years that led up to it.
Something doesn’t change There is only one Always changing inside What does it become?
Can you dig it? Do you know? Would you care to let it show?
Those who know it use it Those who scorn it die To sing that you can dig it Is to make your soul to fly to heaven.
Can you dig it? Do you know? Would you care to let it show?
There is only feeling In this world of life and death I sing the praise of never change With every single breath
Can you dig it? Do you know? Would you care to let it show?
Next up on Fandom Lenses, God willing and the creek don’t rise, is The Monkees’ final (currently scheduled…) United States show, back at the Family Arena in St. Louis. Dedicated readers may remember that the first time I saw a show there, I had a strong, deeply visceral hunch that the show was the last time I would ever see the Monkees. Turns out I was 33 1/3% right. Now, I hope that premonition continues to be mostly wrong, but I shelled out for a good seat—just in case. Can you be simultaneously extremely excited for a concert and hopeful that it takes a little longer to get here?
I’ve said it here and on Zilch, but as a reminder, Peter Tork isn’t wasn’t perfect. At times he could be challenging, quirky, occasionally self-sabotaging and, well, a bit bitchy. I knew that from the first time I met him (or any Monkee), in a little dive bar in Dallas with James Lee Stanley in the summer of 1997, when he wasn’t totally in the best of moods for whatever reason. Learning with my own eyes that one of my first crushes was a normal, flawed human being wasn’t a lesson I expected to learn as a naïve 20 year old, but it was a powerful one that stayed with me.
In no small part because of his imperfections and shadows, Peter still made this a better world with his music, wisdom, humor, and above all, love. More specifically, he made MY world demonstrably better. Go read the archives if you want more details or listen to any of a half dozen Zilch episodes, I’m not rehashing it. And because of the incontrovertible fact that Peter Tork made this a better world, the moment I saw his obituary I suddenly realized for an incontrovertible fact that I can be imperfect and challenging, quirky, occasionally self-sabotaging and a bit bitchy… and still create a better world. It’s time to stop fretting about self improvement and get on with climbing higher and higher in a different way.
Dear readers and members of Zilch Nation, forgive me for thinking of myself here, but this is a lesson that came almost directly after I was asking it from the universe. Creepily so, actually–Peter’s obituary popped up on Zilch and my phone buzzed mere seconds after I was ruminating on the question. And then, voila, an instant epiphany after weeks if not months of banging my head against a doorjamb instead of moving two inches to the left to walk into the next room. Given that Peter was a kind, mystical, and wise teacher (and something of a trickster), and because of everything that has happened since 2012, this bit of synchronicity on his way to his next stop doesn’t surprise me one damn bit.
Thanks for the final lesson, Peter. One favor though–do give Anissa another one of your big hugs for Cin and Mich and Mattie and me, would ya? It’s been 22 years since I met you that first time and got my first hug from you, after asking you a little timidly because, like I said, I could tell you weren’t in the best of moods that night. To this day, that’s the best hug I’ve ever gotten from anyone aside from my parents or my husband. Probably because you’ve had a lot of practice over the years. If nothing else, that picture of you hugging her is my favorite pic of both of you.
I’d like to propose a slightly crazy lens through which to view this album. Yeah, it all seems pretty upbeat and jingle bells-ish at first listen. However, as I sat with this album, as usual, I realized the still waters of this little cheerfully wrapped present ran deceptively deep in more than a few spots. SO here’s my overthought and very subjective theory. All the songs here can be understood to lie on a continuum. On the right end are the tunes that are mainly about Christmas, in the friendship and family and Micky and Davy sliding down Melvin Vandersnoot’s chimney with care sense of Christmas. However, this album also contains more than a few tunes that, whether or not they use the word “Christmas” in the lyrics, more heavily invoke the themes of a much older (and darker) version of the winter solstice holiday, by design, circumstance, or a combination of the two.
Winter Solstice has gone by a lot of names (Yule’s probably the one you’ve heard most often, but it’s honored in some form by just about every culture on the planet). There are varying practices (many of which have been absorbed into our contemporary Christmas traditions), but one of the common themes is a mourning of the death of the old year/king/sun and a kindling of hope sparked by the rebirth or renewal of the new year/king/sun. Very much a cyclical, melancholy, but also hopeful exploration of the mysteries of the waxing and waning of life. This darker take on the holiday in contemporary pop culture certainly isn’t a new innovation. One can find playlists full of darker/sadder holiday ditties that emphasize the dying of the old year or old loves over the sparkling tinsel possibilities of the new season about to dawn on the horizon. Compare, Say, Winter Wonderland to the original lyrics of Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas.
To be clear, I don’t think this “Christmas/solstice” tension that I sensed was completely a deliberate artistic choice by anyone involved. Even for a band whose lyrics once name-checked Plato’s cave allegory, who released a movie that anticipated post-structuralism, and who return again and again in their work to meditations on their artistic journey as a cyclical spiral of decline and rebirth rather than a linear progression through time, that’s pushing it. However, circumstances have brought a decidedly melancholy undertone to the still-upbeat vibe of the Monkees’ community over the second half of 2018.
To be blunt, between a quadruple bypass, Micky’s cryptic comments in a pre-release interview, and Peter’s request for privacy the day before the album dropped, it’s getting harder and harder to pretend that The Monkees are still those eternally young men we can cue up at the press of a button, or even the older but still vibrant men of recent years who could help us beat the darkness back a little while longer by leading us all in one more chorus of Daydream Believer. I sense a similar vibe from this album, which combines the joyous celebratory tone of Good Times while dialing up the tinges of melancholy that shaded moments like Me and Magdelena. And if the tension between cheer and wistfulness in the album was intentional, then kudos to the artistic team involved for providing a surprisingly vulnerable exploration of the joy and sadness of a group that (especially since 2012) simultaneously embodies a seemingly immortal sense of joy and creative possibility while also honestly grappling with their own singular and collective complexity, flaws, and mortality. Kind of like the complex stew of emotions that often arise for people around the winter holidays, come to think of it.
At a glance the cover of the Monkees Christmas party contains the jumble of cheerful symbolism and deep-cut easter eggs one saw in Good Times. Finger puppet aside (I know some of you love it but I think the thing is fucking creepy), that album cover depicts what would have been my fantasy Christmas morning in 1987 or 1988. But wait–what’s that in the bottom? The Monkees in their outfits from Head, running away from the mob and toward the bridge and their “deaths”. Seems a kind of weird image to invoke next to all the tinsel and neon and lunch boxes.
Or maybe, if one takes more of a Solstice angle on this album, it’s not that weird a choice at all.
(I’m just gonna leave this right here.)
(This one too.)
If you want to learn more I’ve linked some of the most interesting resources at the end of this post, but since this is an album review, not a comparative religion article, I’m gonna rope in my inner didact and get to the damn music. I took the liberty of embedding the spotify playlist so you can listen while you read. (kind of like The Prison! Except totally unlike The Prison!)
You know what? Just watch the damn thing. The whole vulnerable, loose, joyous enchilada from Nez tentatively walking up the stairs to the stage with a massive grin on his face to Christian and Jonathan’s moving gestures and mouthed words of appreciation to us for supporting their dad before walking offstage (The video stopped before that point, but it happened. It was perhaps the most touching moment of the evening). Not kidding, you need to watch it all. THANK YOU JODI FOR CAPTURING IT. At the risk of seeming more woo-woo and new agey than I intend, I feel the need to note that this show fell on the autumnal equinox of 2018. Not sure why, but I’m rolling with the impulse. Once you’ve watched, keep reading.
OK, so let’s Recap, because I’ve just had the wildest 8 months of my life:
I didn’t review the Saint Louis 50 Summers of Love show in October 2017 here because I’d literally just come back from the biggest job interview of my life halfway across the country (I actually had a follow up phone call with my soon-to-be boss right before I got in the car to drive out from Tulsa) and I simply didn’t have the mental bandwidth to write anything coherent. (I was also so exhausted I managed to trip over a curb and sprain 1 ½ ankles the day after the show, so… ).*
I didn’t review the November 2017 solo Micky show at the Hard Rock Casino 5 minutes from my (now-former) home because I was frantically packing up and cleaning the house we’d lived in for 10 years to move halfway across the country to take the aforementioned job.
I didn’t even GO to the December Micky show in Bay City, Michigan at the same venue where Peter gave my sisters and I a musical gift I am still trying to pay forward in some ways, because, well, see pretty much all the other essays I’ve published here.
And then I moved halfway across the country.
And then I started the hardest and best job I have ever had and may well ever have.
And then Ken almost died.
And then all of us on the Zilch Podcast team had to think very hard singularly and collectively about a sustainable future for the Zilch podcast and our roles in it.
And then as the adrenaline of the move wore off I started weeping at random moments when watching sailing millennial hipsters** on youtube and I got myself back into therapy for the first time since my post-doctoral implosion.
And then the M&M shows were announced, and I bought tickets for two shows less than a week apart (one in Ohio, one in my new hometown) because one of the minor(!) facets of this awesome, overwhelming miracle of a life change is that I live a nonstop flight or an easy day’s drive from my sisters now.
And now I’m gonna review BOTH shows, right here, over the next week.