Fandom Lenses

Life as viewed through silliness, Fandom as seen through Reality


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We will Make the World Shine: The Monkees Present the Mike and Micky show, The Keswick Theater, Glenside, PA, March 6, 2019

All photos and videos courtesy Cindy Large unless otherwise noted.

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.

Courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art

“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.

Peter’s photo courtesy June Millington. I took the one of Nez at the Colonial during Rene.

Memento Mori.

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.

Memento Mori.

What would tonight be like?

Soundcheck

(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.

The Girl I Knew Somewhere

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.

Some of Shelly’s Blues (Phyllis’ favorite Nez song)

D.W Washburn (Which Nez apparently can’t stand 😉 )

What am I doing hanging round? 

Featuring Nez talking about Boomer Castleman and Michael Murphy: “Boomer’s no longer with us. See ya Boomer, Say Hi to Dave and Pete!”

Sometime in the Morning

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 Rhodes…

Tapioca Tundra

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. 

The Show:

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

Sunny Girlfriend

Mary Mary

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)

St. Matthew

Porpoise Song

Circle Sky

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

They couldn’t play this at the Keswick because of technical limitations at the venue. Fortunately I have no such problem. 😉

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.


(Real Time Side Note—I’m finishing up this review a day or so after Part 1 of our Peter Tribute went live. It took us two weeks to get this episode out to you because we wanted to get it right, and it’s meant the world to hear from all of you, and also members of the PTFB team, that we’ve touched our listeners. We always want to do right by Peter, and by all of you. Now go buy one of our new buttons, hmm? All proceeds go to Peter’s favorite charity.)

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

Joanne

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. 😊

Going Down

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

Stepping Stone

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…)

Daydream Believer

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…)

Encore

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.

1969: The Monkees are Dead. Long Live The Monkees.

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.

Epilogue

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?

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A Better World: Remembering Peter Tork, 1942-2019

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.

This was the last time I saw Peter live. He also did this song the first time I saw him live. Amazing both times.

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.

RIP Peter Tork and Blessings to all who knew you.


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“We’re here Tonight, and that’s Enough”: Reviewing The Monkees’ “Christmas Party”

91uFKIHh9qL._SL1425_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!)

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“I’ll just Mosey On”: Michael Nesmith and the First National Band Redux, Colonial Theater, Phoenixville, PA. September 22, 2018

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.

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There is no Monkees Lyric that fits this: Finding out why the Philly M&M Concert was cancelled, July 26, 2018

michael-nesmith-recovering-from-triple-bypass(Y’all know why there was no M&M Philly review, right? Because I don’t want to get into that again. Listen to the last 10 minutes of Zilch #117 if need be.)

I hit share on the Rolling Stone article at Zilch FB before I even read it on the mere shattering strength of that headline (and promptly discovered Christine already had). And then I read it.

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As (S)he Finds Out There’s Been No One Keeping Score: The Monkees Present The Mike and Micky Show, Cleveland, OH, June 16, 2018

M&M posterOK, 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.

…Holy Shit, I needed this tour.

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“Everything Lost will be Recovered”: Micky and Coco Dolenz at 54 Below, March 25, 2017 (With Featured Guest Melanie Mitchell)

Dedicated to my brother, Daniel Walker. (Who I just can’t quite call “Dan” or “Danno” without feeling weird–but I’ll keep trying!)

MickyCoco54Below2_zpssndvmogrPrologue: Salina, Kansas—about two weeks ago

I was tossing my overnight bag on the hotel bed and about to start getting ready for the evening’s concert when my brother Daniel updated Facebook. It was the early days of the biggest tour of his career thus far, playing keyboards for Ann Wilson of Heart (read all the way to the end for some video of him in action), and he posted that he was DYING for a local delicacy, a chocolate shake from Braum’s. There was a Braum’s conveniently on the way, so I texted him, then swung through the drive through and headed over to the venue, a gorgeous restored art deco palace in the middle of a medium-sized city in the Kansas Plains.

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I was there, and I’m told I had a good time: The Monkees in St. Louis, November 5, 2016 (Bonus: some Final(?) Thank Yous)

14991351_10153869770282455_8226728400517285904_o*necessary last minute prelude required by intervening political events*

Yes, this dorky concert recap still matters, even when times are rough. ESPECIALLY when times are rough. That’s one of the few things in life I’m sure of. Also, I would like to direct you all to the following lyric:

“Love is understanding, don’t you know that this is true?”

I want all of you to really THINK on that lyric, and its implications, then try reading it the other way round—Understanding is love. If we all (being Monkees Nerds) know this is true, then what are our next steps in this moment? However you feel about what happened, there is a profound divide, and it’s time for all people of goodwill to start bridging it, in order to stand together and build a better world.

And with that, let’s go to the review.

~~~

How could I title my (probably) final Monkees concert review ANYTHING else? Let’s go to the tote board:

  • 30 years of Monkees fandom (almost to the month, best as I can figure)
  • 7 group concerts (2001, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2016, 2016)
  • 4 Peter Solo Shows (1997, 2012, 2016, 2016)
  • 3 Nez Solo Shows (2013, 2013 with conversation reception, 2014 )
  • 1 Micky Solo show (2016)
  • No Davy solo shows (but to this day I wonder about that nasty cold I picked up in Manchester a week before Nez Show #1 😉 )

So after all of that, this is almost certainly my final Monkees show. I’ve said that before, and I’ve thought it even more times, but this one feels more finally final. (this is the universe’s cue to prove me utterly wrong) We don’t know categorically this is the FINAL final tour, but there have been hints around the edges, and it’s felt a bit like the elephant in the room we’ve all kind of decided to ignore. I wish I was better at ignoring those elephants, it would save me thousands in psychologist bills. But it’s there, so I’m going to face it head on. No cutesy intros, no ruminations on the meaning of life based on the lyrics of Auntie’s Municipal Court. I’m just going to tell the story of this trip and this concert, and try to make sense of it all at the end.

Driving northeast from Catoosa (no, doesn’t have the same ring): the Pre-show festivities

14937462_1367075193326704_6879888801787689405_nAfter spending most of Friday traveling up from suburban Tulsa, I finally reached St. Louis at the start of rush hour after two traffic jams and a detour. Just as I was exiting on to the highway that looped around town, Christine the Zilch “Button Queen” called to change our meeting place to the mall where Rosanne would be signing her book the next day rather than the hotel by the venue. She said “Just take the Manchester road exit.”

*beat*

“Did you say Manchester Road?”

“Yes, Manchester road.”

I hung up and rolled my eyes. It was gonna be one of Those weekends.

~~~~~

After some driving around St. Louis and a lovely Barbecue dinner with Christine and her Husband (Try Pappy’s!), we took a few selfies and bid each other adieu. The next morning I awoke and after grabbing breakfast downstairs, I spent a few hours puttering around my room writing the front end of this essay and watching youtubes before my lunch engagement with about a half-dozen Zilchers. We went to a lovely little pub back on Manchester Road (don’t tell me that wasn’t deliberate, Christine), and met her and other long-time members of Zilch Nation such as Opalina, Pixel, and Jane for lunch. Next up was Rosanne’s Book Signing—one of the things I was most looking forward to. Due to a fortunate coincidence, she was in town speaking at a nearby college that week, and I had a spare ticket to the show. It was a match made in PhD Monkees Nerd heaven. We chatted with zilchers and passing fans, talked up the show to shoppers, and I managed to inhale Rosanne’s copy of the Monkee Chow Mein script (gifted to her by Gerald Gardner) in about 10 minutes. We chatted about Monkees book ideas and her wacky celebrity stories (which I will withhold the names of for obvious reasons), and generally had a fun afternoon. And then it was time to go back to the hotel, primp, and then head for the meetup.

~~~~

We’d just arrived at the club where Tom O’Keefe (who works for the venue) and Christine had prepared a lovely spread for us. I had a moment of regret that I didn’t have a tablecloth to spread out underneath the zilch buttons, when I remembered that I HAD BROUGHT THE DAMN PONCHO. Just as I spread it out on the table and started pouring buttons out of my bag, I heard a voice familiar to everyone in the Monkees fandom and especially to me.

I stopped, and ran to hug podfather, mentor, friend, and bratty older brother Ken as he entered the room. I owe him so much, and I was so afraid he’d never get to see the fruits of his labor. Melanie and I joke that we’re a bit like Charlie’s Angels, going forth into the world of concerts to spread the good word of Zilch while Ken stays back at headquarters running his Podcasting empire. But I (and a few others) was NOT going to let the year of the Monkees end without him seeing them live, and so after a few bumps in the road he made it to his first Monkees Concert ever—with front row center seats. He was immediately swarmed by the faithful, and was surrounded by zilchers taking selfies with him and looking as happy as anyone I’ve ever seen.

And then around that time—well, you older fans know that running gag in Cheers when everyone would look up and yell, “Norm!” when he entered the bar? Well, imagine us all automatically yelling “Andrew!” in the same manner when a very nattily dressed Andrew Sandoval stuck his head in the club door to say Hi.  As the hubbub died down, Ken asked him some wonderfully insightful questions about the tour and the anniversary, and we all gathered around as Andrew shared his viewpoint on the Year of the Monkees. I stood about three feet away from Andrew, trying not to interject anything overly stupid, and also forcibly keeping myself from pinching myself. THIS WAS REALLY HAPPENING.

Alas, Andrew had to leave after about 10 minutes to go work for a living, and as Rosanne was quickly chatting him up about the writer’s guild getting access to a full set of Monkees scripts promised to them for scanning by a mutual friend, Tom O’Keefe beckoned me to one side. I assumed it was about our date the next morning to record for Reel Spoilers, but Tom got straight to the point.

“Grab your guest and get to the elevator as fast as you can.”

I understood immediately. Andrew had left, so I extricated Rosanne from her new conversation as subtly as possible. As we neared where Ken, his wife Linda, and Christine were standing waiting for the elevator, Rosanne remembered that she hadn’t ever had a chance to give Peter a copy of her book and sprinted to grab one from her bag (Micky received one several months before). She got back just as the elevator came, and then before we knew it we were all waiting by a nondescript door to a backstage office, waiting to be Summoned into the Presence for photo ops. It all happened so fast I didn’t even have a chance to get nervous. OK—maybe a little. 😉

Ken went before me, and it took a moment, but I think as soon as Ken started talking, Peter recognized Ken as “That Ken!” He sounded delighted as they shared a moment before the photo. Rosanne floated up, handed Peter a copy of the book, and took an elegant photo like the elegant seasoned pro she is.

And then it was my turn. I had just broken a promise I made to myself never to lengthen Peter’s meet and greet line again after Bay City, so I took advantage of the moment. I’m so delighted I did. I tried to swiftly thank Peter for the certificates of appreciation he signed for me and Melanie and Ken at the SSB show, but I imagine it came out something like “thank you blah blah blah your sweet thank you note yadda yadda Zilch bla bla bla shoe suede blues.” (Side note, I didn’t even try to talk to Micky. I would have just stammered out “Thank you — Zak–” and burst into uncontrollable sobs and held up the line until half an hour past showtime.) Peter was totally sweet, said “I was happy to do it” as if he’d actually managed to understand the utterly mortifying word salad that just escaped my mouth.  (Second side note—THAT is why I spent almost as much time plotting out possible small talk scenarios for my Nez conversation reception with Nez as I did outlining one of my PhD qualifying exam questions). Then the standard “execution at dawn” celebrity photo op (was so frazzled I didn’t even pose in a remotely flattering way and ended up with several extra chins that I swear I don’t have, but oh well), and I quickly scuttled out of the way for the next folks taking pictures. As I cleared the area, Micky piped up and called after me, “Hey, I love your Pink Party hat!” I turned around, grinned, and tipped my fedora back at him. I think I may have said “Thanks!” But the adrenaline was kicking in and things were going hazy. And then it was over, and we all rode back up the elevator to the party in a state of shock. I had just enough presence of mind to make a cheeky “Rule 2”-bending post to the Zilch group, and decided to check in after the show to see just how much it blew up. (spoiler alert: a LOT)

The rest of the party was a bit of a daze, as I quickly inhaled about four pieces of toasted ravioli, hobnobbed with John Billings and his wife, accepted more hugs and selfies from fans of the show (I will not mention many of you out of fear of missing someone, but Lou and his Daughter Junebug stand out, along with Monkeeman Kevin), and signed a stack of papers for Zilchers to get each other’s autographs. As I signed away mechanically till my fingers started getting sore, I started thinking to myself “Tonight is my Karma…” (If so, I guess I’ve lived pretty clean overall)

And then it was time to get to our seats. Rosanne and I jogged downstairs, and after a quick stop for directions found our seats just as ken was settling in two rows in front of us. I came up to chat some more with him and Tom O’Keefe, and handed out a few more buttons to me seatmates before the lights dimmed. And for what may be the last time, Andrew’s video started playing, and I prepared myself for an evening with the Monkees. I’d never done it while sitting next to a fellow PhD, and I hoped I wouldn’t come off like too much of a doofus. (Though Rosanne had seen me at the meet and greet, so that ship had already sailed)

It looks like we’ve made it to the End: The Show

(To see highlights from the show, check out this youtube playlist, compiled by Lou Babinga and featuring goodies from Sherri Hansen. )

This time, I just thought I’d keep myself to a sentence, a word, a reaction, or a moment from each song (plus videos where available). We all know how they go, and we know they were impeccably performed. Everyone was in top form , and if this was my last show, then…well…what a way to go out. Here was what happened and/or what I thought/felt the last time I experienced:

Listen to the Band: This is the last time I will hear them remind us to do just that when times are hard.

Clarksville: ZOMG DAVE AND COCO ARE WEARING ZILCH BUTTONS!!!!!!!! *high-pitched squeal*

That was then, This is now: Thank you for being there when I was 9 and needed you—and in a very different way 30 years later. (Still sad I didn’t ever get to hear Heart and Soul live though)

Saturday’s Child: Peter was peeved that Micky got a round of applause for merely sitting at the drum kit 😉

Grizelda: Peter doing the Grizelda right in front of a BEAMING Ken Mills. #TEAMGRIZELDAFOREVER

She: Good Heavens, That was the last Mic Stand Tilt Gag I will ever see. 😦

She Makes Me Laugh: Somebody else’s Pink Party Hat gave Micky a chuckle. I love this fandom. And I love you, Anissa.

A little Bit me, A little Bit you: I really enjoy the duet take on this one—almost forgot that this is the last time I’ll hear a song I first heard Davy do live back in 2001. Thanks, Davy.

The Girl I Knew Somewhere: Good heavens, this is the last time I will hear Peter do that tasty little harpsichord solo.

You Bring the Summer: Now THAT’S Synchronization! (And someone threw in That “Baby!”)

Steam Engine: AWESOME to see live! (Though you DID do this in Cleveland this tour—I just checked my setlist from that show)

Shades of Grey: No tears, just gratitude and a growing realization of just how central this song is to my personal worldview. Loved seeing Micky and Peter hug at the end… (and yes I agree Rosanne, totally a better memorial than Daydream Believer). I honestly expected them to retire it after he died, and it’s wonderful they brought it back this year.

Me and Magdalena: Here is where I cried. When i listen to this song, Magdalena is the young me, the scared me, the me who worried for her father and still tries to make it all better by being perfect. Everything lost WILL be recovered, girl, I promise.  ALL. OF. IT.

Papa Gene’s Blues: Good heavens, this is the last time I’m going to hear this harmony. (And I think this might be when Ken turned around and gave me a Heart sign?)

Look Out, Here comes Tomorrow: Peter does this better than Davy did. Also, Rosanne Welch, PhD knows how to rock out properly to Monkees Songs.

Randy Scouse Git: “Who woulda thunk”, Indeed? As always when on these adventures without Kevin, I thought of my “boy with yellow hair” whom I rewrote these lyrics for in college and who I left back in Tulsa.

For Pete’s Sake: Pretty sure that “I’m glad it wasn’t a show about a fictional track team” line was new, Peter! Good on you for keeping it fresh. 😉

Sometime in the Morning: Best live version of this I’ve heard. As the closing notes played, I looked up, smiled, and tipped my pink party hat to a figure I could almost see sitting in the rafters, whose shoes I’ve tried to fill for the last two years when I was Called to Adventure by a crazy, insufferable, wonderful podcaster from Arkansas who is one of my best and perhaps unlikeliest of friends.

Thank you, Anissa.

I love you.

Higher and Higher: I gotta get my butt back to the gym. Will always remember the Stranger Things Have Happened version this playing in my headphones and dragging me forward at the end of my first try at the Tulsa Run 5k (which ends on a NASTY hill…)

Let’s Dance On: Never say doctoral degree holders can’t cut a rug when the moment requires. 😉

Intermission: Butch Patrick tried to steal my Pink Party Hat! Should have told that brat I always preferred the Addams Family 😉 (Seriously, he was a sweetheart and very nice to all the folks bugging him at a concert on what might well also have been Date Night…) Also enjoyed hearing Roseanne talking to folks sitting around us in the audience, learning their Monkees Stories. (Rosanne, have I ever mentioned I’d love to do an ethnography of the fandom one of these days? Well, I’d love to do an ethnography of the fandom one of these days. Let’s ponder this. 😉 ) But the capper was watching the streams of listeners coming up all intermission to meet their favorite Podfather, Ken.

Mary Mary: FINALLY got a good shot of Coco’s Zilch Button!

Circle Sky: Well, It looks like we made it to the end.

Porpoise Song: There’s so much to say…

Long Title: Ken was LOVING this one. I think he went full headbanger here. Or maybe that was when we transitioned directly into

Stepping Stone: PETER DID HIS GENE SIMMONS TONGUE SCHTICK RIGHT IN FRONT OF KEN!!!!! Totally stole the song away from Micky, which I did not think was humanly possible…

Words: They remembered them! 😉

Goin’ Down (song): CHRISTINE THE BUTTON QUEEN WAS SUMMONED FORTH BY MICKY AND NAILED IT!!!!

Goin’ Down (intros): Rich Dart, you magnificent Bastard. That was Epic. I am 95% sure Micky wasn’t expecting him to pull the fake flying bloody hand trick…

DW Washburn: Good heavens, this is the last time I’m going to hear Peter do that Basso Profundo “DW Washburn!” line live.

What am I doing Hanging ‘Round? Good heavens, this is the last time I’m going to hear that banjo line live. Also, Peter somehow gave a performance that gave an extra-solid yank on the heartstrings at the end…

Daydream Believer: A sea of twinking phone flashlights brilliant enough to bathe the audience in a soft glow…a rebuke of darkness and misfortune in the form of a silly dance and goofy song…3000 people joined together to celebrate love and light and daydreams and friendships that survive decades and discords and even death. And this is the last time I blow out much of what was left of my voice screaming for an encore.

PVS: Good heavens, this is the last time I’m going to hear that opening guitar lick live.

I’m a Believer: Yes. Yes I am. From the moment I sang in my hairbrush in my bedroom to the moment Junebug walked up with that bouquet of flowers, and Peter, as is his wont, promptly ate them. Of the power of love and friendship and silliness, above all other things in my life, I am a believer. Thank you, thank you, a thousand times thank you for teaching me.

…And then they MONKEE-WALKED OFFSTAGE.

And that was what happened the last time I saw the Monkees.

Ken had been invited back again after the show for a longer audience, which was as it should have been. I gave him a huge hug, told him half-jokingly to try to bag Micky and/or Wayne Avers for the podcast, and then Rosanne and I left to get some grub. Cracker Barrel is little more than culinary background noise in my part of the world, but Rosanne hardly ever got to eat there, so we hit the branch next door to the hotel, nibbling a very late dinner and chatting about Monkees, academe, pop culture, and the importance of spending money on comfortable high heel shoes. As we walked out to the cash register in the gift shop to pay up, Rosanne pointed down at a shelf and said, “Oh, how Cute!” As she paid the bill, I looked down.

It was a matched set of Owl salt and pepper shakers, because of course it was.

Thanks, Anissa.

But…do you want to know what my absolute favorite part of Saturday was? It wasn’t the show, cathartic though that was. it wasn’t the meetups. It wasn’t standing 3 feet from Andrew Sandoval as he gave his take on the care and feeding of the Monkees (both the people and the brand). It wasn’t even ticking the last item off from the Monkees section of my bucket list and getting to briefly meet the Monkees backstage before the show. My favorite part of last weekend was watching Ken. I’ll never forget finally hugging a guy who changed my life after a two year wait. After seeing and bathing in all the love for Zilch Nation over the last year or two, I was delighted to see Ken holding court with all his listeners, fans, and even a few former guests. I loved seeing that split second of recognition on Peter’s face backstage when he realized that Ken was “That Ken”! I loved sitting two rows behind Ken, watching him FINALLY getting to rock out to his first (and likely only) Monkees concert from Front Row Center, after a brief worry it might never happen when Branson was cancelled. About half way through the show he turned around and made a heart sign at me. I returned it. You were the man who had the original idea for what grew into Zilch Nation, and I am thrilled you finally got to see your creation first-hand. We all tried to describe it to you, but what you have seen you must believe–If you can. I love you, Brother.<3

It cannot be a part of me for now it’s part of you: Final thoughts

In a blur of adrenaline in a nondescript office in Saint Louis, the final (Monkees-related) dream that I even thought to wish for as a kid came true. It all came true because I opened myself to friendships and to my sillier side, while keeping hold of the things that made me well, *me*. To be clear, Zilch will stay Zilch, and I will remain with Zilch for as long as Ken will have me and the fandom will have us. The podcast will inevitably be somewhat different the Year after the Year of the Monkees, but that’s the way of the world. I want to dig deeper into the TV show, and into the people who made the show what it is. I have some phone numbers and emails from Rosanne that I need to follow up on. We’re even pondering the possibility of some sort of Zilch Nation uber-meetup next year. And yet last weekend was almost certainly AN ending, whether or not it is THE ending of the phase of my life where I blew way too much money following a septuagenarian boy band.

So, what have I learned, over 30 years, 15 concerts (would have been 16 with the one in Glasgow in 97 that got away), over a dozen of the best friends I will ever have, a blog and a podcast?

Well, I’ve learned that The Impossible—like Micky Dolenz complimenting your hat, Peter Tork writing you a thank you note, or Nez cracking a sweet, Nezzish smile at one of your jokes, is attainable with a little luck combined with the application of hard work. I’ve figured out that the best way to make sure my life matters is to be authentically and totally myself and to serve other people when and where the moment arises, because it’s not about me. Ending up backstage before the show talking to Peter and Micky did NOT change my life. It’ll be little more than one of those amusing cocktail party stories when people ask me what my hobbies are. But the road I walked between Anissa’s death and that nondescript office in St. Louis DID change my life.

I want to be an academic library director at a place where I can make a difference. That might or might not happen in Oklahoma. I want to continue playing with my library podcast and blog, and use an opportunity I have to teach others how to be library leaders. This might turn into a side business, but it’s OK if it doesn’t.

I want my heart to outlast Davy’s. I haven’t had the nerve to say that openly, but I suppose now is the moment to do so. I don’t have very tall genes, but I wound up an inch taller than Davy Jones. I’m ready to see if I can do the same with my wacky but effective circulatory system, but the road there is not paved with medicinal bacon cheeseburgers. So I suspect my next journey is figuring out how I can deal with wounds that are probably not going away anytime soon by means other than spartan self-flagellation and workaholism (which appears to be good for about 50 pounds or a beloved friend dropping dead, whichever comes first) or self-medication with cholesterol. I’m guessing the long term solution will involve equal parts psychotherapy, moderate exercise, and Soylent for all non-social meals. (it’s not as bad as you think, I swear). 2017 will be the year of self-care, and the year I look more closely around me to make sure I am doing my part in the places where I find myself to make a better world.

Whether it’s due to PTSD, Early oxygen deprivation, or simply being a third generation worrywart, I will always have to live with my lizard brain telling me that I do not deserve to exist. If my scholastic, career, and fandom accomplishments of the last 5 years didn’t fix that, then it’s simply not gonna happen. But over the last few years, three lifelong role models finally pounded through my thick skull the concept that one can learn to live with those early wounds and have a happy life nonetheless. Hell, it’s perfectly ok to bitch about your miracles as long as you don’t get stuck in that part of the cycle, and use what you have to brighten others’ lives. I am not that, but it is also part of who I am. There are colors you can change and some you cannot switch.

Last but not least, I want to say thank you to a people who seem to pop up over and over during the darkest and most uncomfortable times in my life. This ending post may be premature, but I know all too well it may not be. I have written this post and lived this weekend on the assumption that it will be the last show I will ever see with any of you. So here goes:

To Davy: thank you for giving me a lifelong Thing for English accents (I married a guy who does a passable one, even if he does hail from Oklahoma). Thank you for making me believe you were singing The Day we Fall in Love to ME when I was 9. Thank you for that first “shades of grey” lesson in heroes being complex people when I stumbled across that photo in A Manufactured Image of you smoking a *gasp!* cigarette. Thanks for that weird jolt of confidence I felt walking down that street toward the University of Manchester in 2013, about to give my first international conference presentation. (but really, did I HAVE to come down with that cold?! I was going to see Nez in Ferndale 2 weeks later!)

To Peter: Like I said, I think I fucked up what I was trying to say in that meet and greet. let’s try again with that (and some other things) since I bet I can persuade You Know Who to make sure you see this. Thank you for getting me curious in alternate spirituality—my road ended elsewhere but it was an early and necessary part of my path to making sense of a VERY weird childhood. Thank you for showing me that a kind heart and a keen mind need not be contradictory. Thanks for that hug in Dallas in ’97 when I was scared out of my mind I’d do something wrong. Thanks for the song in Bay City, Michigan and for utterly ignoring the dorky gal at the breakfast buffet who was trying to maintain a poker face, avoid eye contact and pretend she didn’t recognize you (and who was probably failing abysmally). Thanks for reminding me that the point is not to be perfect or to overcome all your demons, it’s to learn from your mistakes, not let the demons run the show, and to keep picking yourself up again when you fall. Thank you for coming on Zilch, and making me eat two years’ worth of words to Ken and everyone else. Thank you for, at the end of the day, being as kind to your fans as possible—certainly kinder to us than we deserve. Thank you for inviting Ken backstage a second time after the show—that meant the world to him. And thank you, thank you, thank you for the Facebook update that helped me grieve and ultimately changed my life. Everything I have done since May 13, 2012 has been an attempt to pay what you did forward.

To Nez/Monkee Mike: I’ve always kind of followed your lead as a thinker and an artist. I unashamedly travel to the beat of my own drum (which is a different drum than yours, but works for me). I keep a jar of Liquid Paper on my desk to remind myself that my success comes on the shoulders of women who faced obstacles I can’t even fathom. I do my best to stand up for what’s right, even it if meant I was a terrible fit for corporate America. I unashamedly blend large words and dry wit. I’m an introvert who wants to create big things. I’m nowhere near as smart or as witty, but of the four of you, I’m probably the most like you (or at least the You that you let us see). In 2012, in one of the most freakish coincidences of my life, we’d both lost old friends under shocking, gut-wrenching circumstances. And in my grief I tried to follow your lead once more, knocking down a few of my personal barriers, and tentatively raising my freak flag higher, and then higher still. One thing led to another and, well, I landed at Zilch. When I was younger, I loudly sang along with I Am Not That, combatting a terror of the soft bigotry of low expectations that arises when folks know you have a heart defect (or got your start in a Boy Band). But if the last five years I saw you seeming to accept more openly that you are that too, just the same as me. And when my path crossed with Zak and I knew I was uniquely positioned to offer a helping hand, I was able to find the nerve to own that inconvenient part of my truth in much the same way you Mooged the Nightly.

Thank you for being such a gentleman when we met in Chicago. When I’m about to go into a particularly nervewracking presentation or podcast interview, I remind myself that I managed three minutes of small talk with you without making an idiot of myself. It’s embarrassing to admit, being a PhD and experienced public speaker and all, but I don’t think I’d have joined Zilch without the courage I gained from our conversation.  Thanks for playing Princess Gwen. Bumping into that episode while channel surfing in 1986 led me down a surrealist pop culture rabbit hole (Monkees led to Monty Python led to Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman, among many others) from which I hope never to re-emerge. Finally, I finally get what you were saying in Tapioca Tundra. I intellectually knew (or at least strongly suspected) much of what you said at Pantages, BUT it took hugs and buttons and a roomful of Zilch listeners to actually GROK it. Zilch Nation is a necessary part of the recipe, and without it, there is no Zilch, at least not in the truest sense of the word.

To Micky: Thanks for the memoir. I’m a Believer was my first deep look at you (and the other guys) as real, complex people, and it piqued my interest in a more mature way right around the time I was becoming too old and too cool for my childhood crushes. (We SERIOUSLY need a sequel or revised edition though, and it’s looking like you may have some free time in 2017. Just saying…) Thanks for always being the diplomat or the glue or whatever metaphor one wants to use for helping to keep four very different people reasonably cordial with each other for surprisingly long stretches of time over HALF A CENTURY. Thanks for laughing at the hat in Tulsa, and complimenting it in St. Louis. It was cool to be seen as a real person, if only for two seconds. Oh, and thanks for befriending Zak. Like I said, I didn’t even really try to go into that topic any of the times we’ve met because I would have gotten about three words in and exploded in sobs. I would give up a million backstage invites if it would get you down to Houston to do a show and meet him next year. This is a hint. 😉

To everyone else involved in making and remaking and re-re-making the Monkees ™ in its musical, television, and live forms, from Bob and Bert all the way to John Hughes: Collectively you (mostly) figured out the right balance of art and commerce, and somehow you created something that I suspect may outlive all of us in the cultural landscape. You made what could have been a filler kids TV show and cash-grab albums far better than they had to be, and in so doing you captured a moment in time and an optimistic worldview that has rippled through pop culture to bring joy to tens of millions of people. You’re the part of the machine we all too often forget to thank, so—thanks. 🙂

Although I intend to stay at Zilch for as long as Ken will have me, there is a very good chance that this is going to be the last time I post about the Monkees (or at least a Monkees concert) on Fandom Lenses. I may let the blog stay in stasis as-is, I may refocus it on other pop culture interests such as Hamilton, or get back to that Dr. Who project I barely started when Zilch came a-calling. I may in fact next be posting on a solo show in a few months making this farewell post superfluous and ridiculous. But Nez (and Micky and Peter) taught me how to say goodbye this year, and so I am, even if it turns out to be more of a “see you later”.

And with that, it looks like we’ve made it to the end.


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“There’s Colors you can change, and some you cannot Switch”: Peter Tork and the Shoe Suede Blues, October 14-16, 2016

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Part 1: “I woke up one morning, the air was black as ink”

Good Lord, but this was a hard week to see Shoe Suede Blues. You see, for me, SSB is inextricably tied up with the Frodis Femmes in general and the loss of Anissa specifically. That would be a difficult enough ghost to contend with in conjunction with the waning months of the Year of the Monkees, but this week has had its share of loss too. Not just the tragic fire at Davy’s church in Beavertown, but a loss closer to home.

The joy of co-adminning a group of other folks with Transposition of the Great Arteries (something I NEVER would have found the nerve to do before The Year of our WTF, Fandom Lenses, and Zilch) is that I’ve made friends from all over the world, from group founder Stuart (sort of the Kiwi version of Ken Mills) to folks like Rowan and Tobias and Iain (no, not that Iain, though they’re similarly warped) and Emily and Emilie (we had the same surgeon!) and Eric and Eric (also an incognito Zilcher) and Jane and Sarah and…Kathy.

Kathy and I didn’t talk a whole lot, but when we did we got on well. She was not quite 14 years older than me, and (to our knowledge) one of the first people in the US to get my “fix”. She was one of the people I considered a role model, and was healthy and active right up until about 6 months ago, when things seemed to catch up with her all at once. I’ll spare you the details and terminology, but what at first seemed like a minor passing brush with congestive heart failure (yeah, we say things like that in the Mustard group) gradually turned into something more serious. After several frightening near misses, she passed away Sunday night. And before I and the rest of the group could do much more than register the shock, Davy’s church burnt down, and being a Zilch admin I had to help deal with the fallout from that.

So you’ll understand that when the plane landed in Baltimore, I was more than a little concerned that the triple whammy of angst would put a bit of a damper on the weekend. But I was a Frodis Femme on a minor mission (more on that later), and a Zilch co-host with a job to do. In the span of four years I went from nearly choking on an omelet when Peter walked into the breakfast buffet in Bay City to making Micky Dolenz laugh with my pink party hat about a mile from where I learned Anissa had died. But still, this weekend was going to be hard. Even before Kathleen and the fire, I’d been feeling a bit low. Working too hard, moving too little, eating too much. For a while I used the Year of the Monkees and post-doctoral decompression as an excuse, but a big part of it was simply fear at the ending of the PhD. Would I figure out something Big Enough to do with the doctorate? Would I be a Good Enough Podcaster or writer or librarian or friend? Would I ever Do Enough to make myself believe that I deserve to exist? A sensible person would be able to set this sort of question aside as an imponderable matter. But for whatever reason, I can’t do that very easily. Well, except for when I’m listening to some good tunes. 😉

14633040_10209254099727103_2525532625528466637_nPart 2: “The colors of your life are something you’ve got to choose” (Club 66, Edgewood, MD)

After meeting up with Melanie on Thursday, we had dinner at the restaurant in the DC suburbs where my husband proposed to me a little over 15 years ago (yikes! Where did the time go?). The next day we picked up Sherri Hansen (Monkee Photographer extraordinaire, who I’d only met once before) and drove north to Edgewood. Club 66 is an old armory turned car repair shop/music club. Exposed beams, old signs, lots of character. It could have been an Oklahoma dive bar and I felt right at home. This was also the first time that I could be said to be “working” a Monkees or solo concert. Melanie, Jeff Hulit (who is even more wonderful in person than he sounds on the show), and I set up our goodies on top of a disused wood stove in an alcove of the hall, and handed out drinks and cookies (proceeds benefiting DJEMF) as well as Zilch Buttons. Peter’s wife Pam checked in to say hello and ask if we needed anything, and I could tell in a matter of seconds of meeting her that Peter had chosen wisely. She seemed kind, very courteous and friendly with his fans, but also appeared to have the kind of strength of personality one needs to be married to a minor celebrity. I also FINALLY got to hug the head “Blues Kitty” from the PTFB team (I’ve become friends with the person I’ll be calling “BK”  over the past few months as we cooked up this year’s podcast and concert-related schemes). We chatted briefly, though I knew I would need to save my Frodis Femme Mission for a quieter moment. As the crowd settled in I could tell this was a different audience than one usually sees at a Monkees or even SSB show, split evenly between locals who came up to enjoy a fun Friday night at the club regardless of whoever was playing, and the die-hard Monkee fans like the Zilch team, too many listeners to mention, and above all else, Miho.

A few weeks before the shows, some strange posts in Japanese started appearing on the FB group set up for attendees of the SSB Mini-tour. As best as we could tell via facebook’s terrible translator, she was coming to the US from Japan for the Hartford show. To our utter surprise, she arrived in Edgewood (a somewhat rural area of Maryland) grinning from ear to ear, handing out gifts to everyone (the green tea KitKats were AWESOME!) and generally appearing to have a great time. Delighted wasn’t the word—Miho seemed beside herself with joy. Melanie tried to communicate with Miho with a little success, I dredged up the half-dozen or so Japanese words I vaguely remembered from the one semester of college Japanese, and we muddled through. As the house lights dimmed, I positioned myself in a good spot to capture live video of the evening while staying close enough to work the booth. I couldn’t record both audio and live stream, so this will be a bit more impressionistic than I usually am.

To put it succinctly, the show was raucous. After the Club 66 house band nearly blasted the roof off the building during the opening set, Peter, Joe, AJ and Sturgis strolled on stage, and with little preamble, started into Annie Had a Baby. The show was the typical SSB set, with blues and blues rock standards mixed with Peter’s own compositions and a handful of Monkees tunes. A highlight was when the house band returned to the stage, and the combined group did Johnny B Goode with enough verve to give Micky and the Monkees touring band a run for their money. Normally I have to try to describe these shows, but this time I’ll just share the videos I shot, with the exception of one I’ll get to in a minute. The set was not as Monkees heavy as my selected videos implied, I was livecasting for a particular audience… (Sorry I can’t embed these, Facebook is being persnickety).
Annie Had a Baby

Clarksville (SSB Style)

A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You

(most of) Slender, Tender, and Tall (and yes, I am 0 for 3)

She (phone crashed) Hangs Out (at least I got the SSB-ified lyric change)

Johnny B Goode & Sea Cruise (with the House Band)

An “offensive” take on Stepping Stone

Daydream Believer

(Most of) Pleasant Valley Sunday

Got my Mojo Working

About halfway through the set, Peter started talking about the guy who wrote the KitKat jingle, signaling it was time for Saved by the Blues. As I mentioned in Nashville this song always hits me right in the Atrial baffle, but something about it was extra touching in Edgewood. For the first time in the evening I switched off “Zilch Mode” and gave myself over to the music, struck again how well a song written for a 74 year old recovering alcoholic pop star fit the life of a 39 year old nerd girl who has about 4 drinks a year tops. But it wasn’t just the song that struck me—Peter’s intro story of alternately celebrating and complaining about his past was something I resonated with.

Yeah, sure, I can insist that I am not my heart defect as much as I please, but it implies certain realities re: jogging speed, childbearing, and life span. Of course medical advances might get me to a ripe old age, and I could lay off the Triple-cheese bacon Prozac and get my ass back to the gym to minimize the above complaints. But it’s frustrating that the older I get, the less I can take my heart health for granted. Not unlike the knowledge that one should probably shoehorn a Boyce & Hart tune between Muddy Waters and Mose Allison to keep the audience engaged in one’s set list, I suppose.

That said, I’m delighted that I’ve mostly skipped the whole quiet desperation phase that most people deal with in their 20s and 30s—I’ve had the privilege to know that the point of life was to be lived and lived fully (though my definition of a full life changed rather dramatically in 2012: see earlier posts here for a somewhat emo recap). There are also things and people in my life due to my CHD that I celebrate, from the ridiculous joy I feel waddling across the finish line of a 5K in a little under an hour to the crazy friends the internet has dropped into my life. All I wanted as a child was a friend who liked the Monkees and a friend with Transposition of the Great Arteries, and now I have hundreds of both. And this isn’t even getting into becoming Monkees Internet Famous via Zilch and meeting Zak and the substantial amount of karmic debt I’ve been able to pay forward to the next generation. I celebrate all these things every day, and I am lucky to have everything I have in my life.

But then of course, at the height of my joy re: my wonderful life, Kathy drops dead, then Davy’s Church burns down leaving me to douse Fandom Drama when I’m not frantically trying to maintain my post-PhD round of workaholism and I’m back to crying angry tears, eating junk food, singing Long Title in the shower, and generally bitching about the whole miraculous existence thing. 😉

When I was a young kid inhaling A Manufactured Image and getting my first glimpse at how the sausage had been made (and what came after the fame), I worried that my equating being a middle class white girl in ’80s suburbia with a “corrected” CHD and a sick Dad to being an ex-Monkee was a little too melodramatic even for me.  But seeing Peter belt out Saved by the Blues in Edgewood, the cycle of celebration and exasperation he described felt far, far too familiar. However, before I could too deeply consider whether the wheel of Karma was continuing to turn in my own life, Shoe Suede Blues was on to the next tune, and a kid came up to me to ask for another coke, and then Peter started into the intro banter for a Monkees tune, which meant it was time for another livestream to Zilch. Chop wood, carry water, work the concert.

After the show, Melanie, Jeff and I spit off in different directions. Melanie needed to work the line, guard the DJEMF money box, and then hit the line herself toward the end to get a CD signed (and thank Peter for taking leave of his senses long enough to agree to Ken interviewing him for the podcast). I, on the other hand, decided after Bay City in 2012 that the man had done enough for the Frodis Femmes to be worth a dozen meet and greets. So I happily took the task of standing on the far side of Peter’s table, handing out the last of the cookies & buttons to folks who had just met Peter and wishing them a good night.

14568189_1075593652547712_5495446533775623190_n

Photo by Sherri Hansen

In between people, I was able to, for the first time in my life, get an anthropological view of a Monkee’s autograph session, and holy shit it was fascinating. Seriously, I need to talk to Rosanne Welch and see if there’s some way we could do an ethnographic study of celebrity meet and greets or something. Some fans were eager and overexcited, others timid. Peter was incredibly gracious to everyone in the line (he appeared to be in a great mood all weekend as far as I saw), but he had some especially lovely moments with Miho, who appeared utterly overwhelmed by the experience. They stood in a corner, heads almost touching, while Miho talked to him in Japanese, Peter nodding and talking back, seemingly communicating in spite of the language barrier. The icing on the cake was Melanie, who took the opportunity to thank Peter for appearing on Zilch, and letting him know how much it meant to us. He replied that it meant a lot to him too. Melanie told me afterwards, as I was distributing the last few cookies. Feels were Felt. The cycle was turning from complaint to celebration again. Life is good after a SSB show.

But anyway, back to the evening. My friend and honorary little sister Amy had driven down for the show (She couldn’t make the CT show due to a family commitment), and since we hadn’t hung out together in person since the last Monkees convention, I called dibs on her as a roommate. After a little light banter with AJ (who was just as awesome as I remembered from Bay City), we made our way back to the hotel, stayed up later than we should have with some fun slumber party-style gossip, and then crashed. We both had long drives in the morning, unfortunately to different destinations. 😦

Part 3: “I woke up one morning, The Air was Bright and clear” (Infinity Music Hall, Hartford, CT)

Fast forward a day, one drive from Maryland to Connecticut, and one not-terribly-shocking discovery that New Englanders can’t do “authentic southern barbecue” regardless of what the sign says. (not kidding: I’d heard tales of the odd things that Yankees do with cornmeal, but I was still shocked to discover the “cornbread” they served me was so sweet it could have passed for a reasonably good slice of yellow cake). We spent Saturday relatively quietly, mostly driving and then recovering in advance of the hectic day to come on Sunday. We had to have breakfast (EXCELLENT Polish Eggs Benedict and REAL maple syrup redeemed Connecticut re: the nonsense with the cornbread), change hotels (the pitfall of traveling on a hotel chain employee discount), and prep for dinner and a show in downtown Hartford. Although I would be off-duty after the pre-show meetup, I had a bit of non-Zilch business I hoped to take care of if the opportunity arose that evening.

img_3017For the second time we got to the venue a couple of hours early, this time to have dinner in the restaurant attached to the venue. I only got to exchange a brief bit of chit-chat with the PTFB gang AND a surprise Dave Alexander (who requested a half-dozen Zilch buttons for…some folks he knew 😉 ) before our dinner guests began arriving. The restaurant staff seated us in the back room and we had a blast. I got to put faces to names, talk a little more with folks like Janice Jow (who recorded the video of the Hartford show embedded below) and Cyndi Byrkit, among many others. (If I didn’t name you, it’s not personal, it’s that I’m horrid with names!) But the best moment of all was when “BK”, our friend from PTFB came into the room with a surprise. After thanking Melanie, I, and Ken (in absentia) for our help in making the weekend possible, she presented us with signed certificates of thanks from the PTFB Team AND Peter, as well as a personalized autographed photo of Peter. And then she called us the 2016 version of Maggie McManus. And then I got kind of weepy.

After the party broke up, we had about a half hour before she show started. I was wandering back to the bar to possibly grab a drink, when I ran into BK again. After we chatted for a moment, I realized that there was no crowd around and she didn’t seem to be in a terrible rush. The moment had presented itself, so I grabbed it.

Peter Anissa FB Post“I mentioned in passing a while back that I worked so hard for you guys because I owed you. Here’s why. Back in 2012, when Anissa died, Peter posted his sympathy to PTFB, and he did a song for her in Bay City. I’m quite sure you played a part in making that happen, and, well, thank you. It meant a lot to us, and–”

And then my voice started breaking, and BK hugged me. And she replied, “Peter wanted to do it.”

I thought of all the changes in our lives that sprung from an unexpected kindness at a time of loss. Peter Tork is a complex, imperfect guy. He’s been kind of broken and banged up by life in ways I didn’t grasp as a kid (or even in 2012), much like many (most?) of his fans. But you know what? He’s also a good man, muddling through life like the rest of us, occasionally screwing up and also occasionally, wondrously, providing a moment of warmth in the darkness that brought healing to Cin, Mich, Mattie, and me. It’s enough to make a hyper-anxious overcompensating PhD Librarian Podcaster wonder if perhaps it’s time to figure out how to forgive her own imperfections.

And then BK and I Mooged the Nightly (or perhaps Sashayed the Grizelda is the better metaphor here) and changed the subject to some silly topic I can’t even remember till we were giggling again, and parted company so she could finish prepping for the show. I debated going song-by song for the Hartford show since I have a full recording, but this thing is shaping up to be a 4000-plus word monster as it stands. Fortunately, Janice was sitting in the row in front of Melanie and I (you can even hear us here and there) and got some good video. 🙂 (I’ll update the post later with the full audio, but dropbox is being infuriatingly slow)

YUM. Come for Peter’s sultry vocals, stay for Joe’s tasty guitar solo.

The Video ended just before Peter’s tuner went flying off the end of his guitar and sailed right at Melanie. (Yes, she returned it. 😉 )

Dave Alexander came on stage to help with the encore. Make the video full-screen and you will clearly see that HE WAS WEARING HIS ZILCH BUTTON! And as mentioned above, he asked for a handful more for “the band”. Those of you who will be in good seats for the final legs of the Monkees shows, PLEASE report any further Zilch Button Sightings!

And with that, the show ended. Melanie got in line to get a few more things signed for friends and for Sherri (who valiantly fought through a nasty stomach bug to work the show and meet & greet), and I hung out on the periphery of the action, half-watching Peter’s conversations and also chatting with the members of Zilch nation who came up to me to tell their stories, especially Kristy Lynn Torkee, an exuberant young woman who drove all the way up from Florida for the show, dodging hurricane damage all the way. As she gushed about her conversation with Peter, I suddenly flashed back to Dallas in 1997, when a much more timid version of me was about her age, standing at the front of the line at a Two Man Band show, terrified out of my wits as I asked for a hug. For the record, Peter is the second best hugger I’ve had the pleasure to meet. After almost 20 years I was and am happy to hang on the sidelines so one more first-timer like Kristy could get one more hug, while still letting not-so-young Peter get to bed at a decent hour. And then, after a stop at the bar of the hotel next door (I never got that pre-show drink), it was time to head back to the hotel, pack up, and get ready to go home.

Part 4: I’ve got a new step and a brand new pair of shoes

img_3045This review has been hard to write. Not because I had a bad time (quite the opposite), and not (totally) because of how much ground I had to cover. It was hard because it was almost certainly my last Shoe Suede Blues show, barring a tour closer to the middle of the country. This also may well be the second to last time I ever see *any* of the Monkees live, barring an as-yet unannounced (and per Andrew Sandoval, currently unplanned) 2017 tour. It’s time to accept that all things end, whether they’re astonishingly long-lived pop bands or, well, everything else.

By all measures this was a successful trip–Melanie and I met more listeners than I can name here, handed out dozens of Zilch buttons (some of which may be spotted on a concert stage near you), and even got a chance to say thank you that I was pretty sure would never happen. And here’s the bit where I’m supposed to tell you about my grand epiphany, and how watching Peter Tork play the hell out of some blues standards made me a better person, more zen about my future, resolved to cut back on the junk food, or whatever. Alas, no.

I certainly ended the weekend in a better and more celebratory mood than I started it. But I’m coming to the reluctant conclusion that any period of celebration in my life will be followed by a moment of bitching about my past and/or worrying about my future. If the Blues are indeed about the truth, then the truth is that you can’t tie your life up into a pretty little bow until it’s done, and I’ve got way too many things left on the bucket list to be finished anytime soon.

However, what you can do is make the world better in whatever situations you find yourself, whether or not those situations were something you chose. You can build a network of friends and partners with a similar outlook. And you, in the untidy, illogical, often-cyclical way that life is, can seize moments to do good, whether it’s helping a nice Japanese lady buy a concert ticket like Melanie did, standing on the other side of the room from the meet and greet line to talk with your podcast listeners as they gush about their evenings and their favorite episodes like I did Friday and Sunday nights, or you can type up a quick Facebook post in memory of a fan who passed away, like Peter did one Sunday morning in 2012. That simple small act of kindness changed my life (and the lives of Fandom Lenses readers and Zilch Listeners) in ways nobody could predict.

All of us are human. All of us pick up scars (visible or not) as we go through life. We’re not perfect, we screw up, and sometimes we hurt others or ourselves. But you have to learn how to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, give and receive forgiveness, and try again to be a person who works toward a better world, using whatever tools work best for you and your situation.

And you know what? Maybe that’s what it really means to be a hero to yourself.

Next time: St. Louis.

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