Dedicated to my brother, Daniel Walker. (Who I just can’t quite call “Dan” or “Danno” without feeling weird–but I’ll keep trying!)
Prologue: 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.
*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)
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
After 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.”
“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.
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.
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. 😉
Part 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
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.
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.
For 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.
“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
This 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.
My pink Party Hat. Which will become relevant to the story.
I didn’t expect to take Melanie to the neighborhood grocery store, but there we were, grabbing sodas and snacks to take back to her hotel room after the show, and then… I remembered. We were in the spot where I was when I found out Anissa, the Frodis Femme who made me laugh, had died. Well, not exactly in the same spot. I got Cin’s message standing over by the eggs. But close enough. And I wouldn’t know Melanie if Anissa hadn’t died. Because Anissa died, and then PTFB (maybe even PT himself, though the logical part of my brain doubts it) posted a sympathy message and then I dove back down into the Monkee hole to process my grief and I met a cool lady who was writing a book about a TV show about a band and then I offered to help fact-check said book and we became good friends in the process and I brought her on to Zilch shortly after I joined the team and Cin and Mich and I named her a Frodis Femme and then she came down to see the Monkees play IN MY TOWN.
All because of what happened over by the eggs.
I shared all this with Melanie. There was a long, weird pause as we stood near the chips, dips, and root beer, pondering the connection between the loss of an old friend and the gaining of a new one. And because that was way too many feels to comprehend while buying a case of diet soda and some cookies, we promptly changed the subject, checked out, and hightailed it down the block to the Hard Rock to be there for the rest of the Zilchers who were coming to the meetup.
The official events of the evening started with a Zilch Nation Meetup, at a casino restaurant next door to the box office of the venue. Melanie and I hung out with a dozen local members of the podcast community, chatting away about Monkees and everything else. It shouldn’t surprise me anymore that there are so many Monkees fans, even in Oklahoma, but it does. I thought of the lonely, confused girl I used to be, and hoped with all my might that she knew what was occurring this evening.
The Zilch buttons Ken made were a hit, and we handed them out throughout dinner and to fans waiting in the line at the door. Thanks to the casino presale, I was able to get some awesome seats in the third row, just off the left aisle (this will become relevant shortly), and we were pretty much in the sweet spot as far as distance from the stage. In addition to Melanie, Jen, and I, my friend Tamara and her husband Dustin just happened to get the seats right next to ours and right on the aisle. As always, the pre-show playlist was lovely, including Love’s what I want from the Good Times! Bonus tracks, and what we were pretty sure was Neil Diamond singing Love to Love. Unfortunately the pre-show goodies also included the video normally played at intermission, which was a strong clue that we would be getting the shorter casino-friendly setlist, which indeed we did. Fie, FIE upon the Tulsa Hard Rock! I’ll think twice before seeing another show there, although the venue itself is quite nice with a good sound system and nice big TV screens.
No matter, even a compact 90 minute set provides plenty of time for good tunes AND good times. But I’ll get to that in due course. Here’s my recap of the show:
Listen to the Band: Nez still does it better. But not by as much as you might think. 😉
That Was Then, This Is Now: SOO…MANY….80s…FAN….FEELS… (Oh, and Wayne played an incredible solo, as is his habit 🙂 )
Saturday’s Child: The first song of the night featuring Micky on drums, I was struck by Rich and Micky’s skills in a way I hadn’t been before. Being closer and at a different angle than I’d been in a while, I had an excellent view of how Micky and Rich drummed in unison, with the former handling the basic beat and vocals and Rich handling the fancy stuff. This kind of performance should by all rights be a flam-ridden mess, but the two of them stay locked in unison song after song, night after night. It’s the sort of minor technical detail that we don’t think about in these shows, but yet more proof of just how much skill is up there on stage.
Your Auntie Grizelda: And then Peter did Grizelda, magnificently as always. If you were not persuaded by my #teamgrizelda soapbox speech in my last review, then you will never be. Onward. (side note—watching Peter sing Grizelda next to Melanie is almost as much fun as watching Peter sing Grizelda next to my husband. If only Kevin had come too… *sigh*
She: If it’s wrong that most of my attention was on Micky subtly testing the mic stand’s center of gravity for his traditional leaning trick, then I don’t want to be right. (at least he got some use out of those physics courses he took back in the day?)
Now, Micky’s obviously been working hard on the new songs, as this was even more solid than in Cleveland a few weeks ago. For whatever reason, he was over on our side of the stage, singing the first few verses. And for some reason he was looking in our general direction. And for some reason around the 1:15 mark, Melanie and I simultaneously reached up and doffed our pink Party hats (she was in the cowboy hat, I was in the fedora), just as Micky was singing about, well, Pink Party Hats.
And Micky cracked up mid-line and then POINTED RIGHT AT US.
You read that right.
Melanie and I (and probably Tamara too) made Micky Dolenz Laugh.
DURING “SHE MAKES ME LAUGH”.
I’m sure the rest of the song was quite lovely, but frankly I was dumbstruck in my seat, feeling rather like I did back in 2012 in Bay City when I looked up from my omelet at the exact right moment and saw a bedheaded Peter Tork amble in for a bowl of Granola. Because apparently I live a life now where stuff like that happens every so often.
A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You: I recovered from THAT just in time to hear Peter unveil a new-to-me joke! (“If you don’t recognize this song, you’re probably in the wrong venue.”). And so it was.
The Girl I Knew Somewhere: Don’t tell Nez, but Micky sings this better. Sorry, have heard them both do it multiple times, it’s incontrovertible truth. Jen and I sang along all the counterpoint lines, and not for the first time, I wish we’d known each other as kids. We were both lonely, awkward Monkee nerds who thought we were along in the wasteland of 1980s middle America, but we were actually much closer to each other than we knew. We’ve been making up for lost time in the several years since Tumblr brought us together, but if only… *sigh*
Also, I think I’ve mentioned, but Monkees Get Out More Dirt looks AMAZING restored. That blu-ray can get here any old time…
You Bring the Summer: Y’all are familiar with the new video, right? If not, this is required viewing.
Because the band did this song to the video, almost exactly in unison. They were maybe a second or so off at the end, but I can’t believe they even got this close. I don’t know if they use a click track or what, but truly magnificent for a song they played live for the first time like 3 weeks prior.
Shades of Gray:
Courtesy Paul Undersinger–actually from the Town Hall NYC show but so poignant I had to use it…
Thank the lord I got the near miss with the PTSD meltdown out of my system in Cleveland—this time I was able to enjoy this song for the wonderful poignant classic it is. Every time I’ve returned to the Monkees (and Shades of Grey) over the years, the song seems to have accrued another layer of meaning. I was terrified of what life would hold (or not hold) for me the first times I heard it, when I was on the brink of puberty. In those years, the song gave me a way to grieve the loss of innocence every kid that age has to grapple with in one way or another. I feel a gentler, less paralyzing version of the same uncertainty now, on the brink of my forties, enhanced by more losses and an increasing awareness of my own mortality. The latest verse in my “movie of the mind” for this song seems to relate to a growing tension between Monkees Fan Me and PhD Librarian Me. Now, if I learned nothing else in The Year of Our WTF, I learned that I need both the fangirl and the striver in my life. However, with the anniversary festivities inevitably ending soon, the balance point will probably shift—I feel it shifting already in some ways toward a new and different shade of grey. Now don’t panic, fair listeners, I’m not quitting Zilch or leaving the fandom or any of the things people assume I mean when I get in a pensive mood and start saying stuff like this. I’ve just always felt an obligation to squeeze as much joy into my life (and the lives of others) as possible on as many levels as possible for as long as possible. I didn’t fully understand what that meant till after Anissa died, but now I do. I have to put my energies where I can find (and make) the most joy and the most positive impact. 5 years from now I may well be spending much more of my time on things that are utterly unrelated to the fandom, but the Monkees will still put a smile on my face, even if it is, as times, the bitter sweet smile Micky and Peter exchanged at the end of Shades of Gray.
And that’s enough of my maudlin self-indulgence—but hey, at least I kept it way shorter than the first time I heard this damn song live. Yikes.
Back to the concert!
Papa Gene’s Blues: Still fun, still love the acoustic touches on this duet, still doesn’t compete with hearing Nez do it live. Three Different Times.
Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow): My memory is fuzzy enough that I don’t totally trust it, but Monkees Live Almanac seems to verify that I DID hear Davy do this one back in 2001. Whether or not I did, I haven’t heard it since. However, Peter took this one to a hilarious place, almost making us feel a little bad for the plight of the song’s protagonist.
Randy Scouse Git: the Usual, hold the “Royal Family” anecdote, with a side of “The Colors! The COLORS!!!”
For Pete’s Sake: The usual wonderfulness done in the usual manner. A little more apology for renting their instruments, though. 😉
Let’s Dance On: I liked it in Cleveland and adored it in Tulsa. Performed at full-blast like the rough garage rocker it is, Tamara and some other folks who were right on the aisle actually got up and started rocking out in the aisle. 🙂 The only sad thing was they immediately went into the next song, verifying (as we had already guessed) that this would be the shortened intermission-free set.
Mary, Mary: excellent as always, and I love seeing Micky on Drums on this one!
Circle Sky: more solid than in Cleveland (which was still pretty damn good), I still don’t know how Micky drums and sings this one. Yet another revolution of their—and my– fabuloofy wheel of karma.
Porpoise Song: I suppose hearing this song done live may get old one day, but I seriously doubt it. One of the best things Goffin and King ever did, and Micky’s vocal highlight of the evening. If I know in advance that I’m going to my last Monkees concert, I will cry at this one. It belongs right next to Shades of Grey as one of my personal anthems. Many, MANY years from now (seriously, no rush here), I want this played at my funeral.
Oh—and Micky kept his hat on while drumming the outro this time. 😉 Also, kudos to (we think) Peter, who manages to do those porpoise noises in his guitar, and to Melanie for pointing it out. 🙂
Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again? One of the luxuries of seeing these guys so many times in the last few years is getting to notice how capably this band handles more technically challenging stuff like the signature changes in this song. Peter and company make it look easy. And then they slid almost seamlessly into the songbook’s other unabashed hard rocker
(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone: Peter gave Micky some Kiss-esque tonge waggling during this one, making him remark “So gross!”. After he recovered from Peter’s scene stealing, he proceeded to attack the song in the usual proto-punk manner.
Words: Everyone’s still solid on the lyrics, and still a great duet from the two of them. My favorite version of this is still from the last time they played Tulsa, but this was excellent too.
Goin’ Down: No victims were plucked from the audience, a pity as I now make sure I remember the second verse before every concert after that near miss in Nashville. As in Cleveland, they picked this song to introduce the band, which made me sad to know the end was in sight.
D.W. Washburn: so glad this has become a setlist standard. It did not work at ALL for the 20-something Monkees, but the 70-something Monkees NAIL this “ode to the power of Alcohol”, as 35-years-sober Peter quipped.
What Am I Doin’ Hangin’ ’round?: After hearing him do it twice, I can definitively say Peter owns this song in the same way Micky owns Girl I knew somewhere. If Nez comes back after he finishes the book, I think he’s gonna have to arm wrestle Peter for it (and I think I’d put my money on Peter).
Daydream Believer: About halfway through this song, right after turning on my flashlight at Coco’s prompting, I turned around to see a sea of phone flashlights and screens glowing and swaying, a sea of stars in all our eyes, an effect captured so well in this video taken from the far side of the stage.
The power of the Monkees is no more or less than the power of friendship and community, a power that makes such trifles as fear and death look as insignificant as they truly are. This power wasn’t anything anyone planned, but there it is. And when it’s done right, as it has been over and over in these later years of the group, it’s one of the most beautiful forces in the world. High on that power, we all cheered and clapped enthusiastically as the band left and then swiftly returned for the encore.
Pleasant Valley Sunday: Not that I’ll ever forget Nez playing on this one (twice!), but Wayne takes it to some incredible places, as does the rest of the band.
I’m a Believer: No Shrek for the second time in a row—good Lord, maybe Micky DID hear we found the guy! But then that would imply he listens to Zilch or reads this blog, and both of those possibilities are too frightening a prospect to seriously consider.
And that was it. The end of my probable second to last Monkees show this tour. Maybe my second to last show ever, but every time I said that the last few years something else pops up. Jen had to head back to OKC, but Melanie and I didn’t feel like leaving. We lingered in the lobby for a while as Tamara’s husband Dustin bought some last-minute souvenirs, and Melanie and I even met some more fans of the show (including this tall guy who seemed REALLY familiar—oh well, I’m sure his name will come to me later). Every solo or group Monkees show I’ve attended since Zilch started, I’ve run into a few more fans. It’s exciting to know what I do touches so many people, but humbling to realize that this podcast has become so much bigger than us.
Maybe that’s a little bit like what it feels like to be part of the Monkees?
Anyway, neither Melanie, Tamara, Dustin nor I felt like heading home immediately, so we scoped out a quiet bar in a secluded corner of the non-smoking second floor of the casino, and spent the better part of an hour sipping drinks, decompressing from the show, and getting to know each other. Each show beings a different set of faces, a different town, and/or a slightly different vibe, but the connecting theme always seems to be good songs, good friends and, yes, good times. Just like the album. 🙂
The next day Melanie and I just hung out, the two of us. She’s a sucker for road trips (being the type of person who would drive from Dallas to Tulsa via Wichita Falls), so we drove in a big leisurely circle through some of my favorite bits of northeast Oklahoma, touring through the Osage nation to Pawhuska, cutting across to Bartlesville (with a brief stop at Frank Lloyd Wright’s only skyscraper), and then headed back home to record a few bits for Zilch (possibly the first time two Zilchers have recorded at the same microphone). Next was a dinner with my husband and mother and Law (as I suspected they would, JoAnn and Melanie got along immediately). Then, sadly, I had to drive Melanie back to the hotel since she was leaving early in the morning. Rush hour traffic was still pretty heavy the other direction, so I used that as an excuse to dawdle a half hour at the hotel before going home by the way of the grocery store. Kevin asked me to pick up some eggs.
The full implications of that didn’t hit me till I was most of the way to the grocery store.
Now I’m a grownup. I’ve got a PhD for heaven’s sakes! People who don’t pay much attention likely think I’m a normal human being. But if you saw someone take an extra moment by the eggs to glance upward, tip an imaginary pink party hat, and wink at the ceiling, now you know why. Because Melanie and I may have bought those lovely pink hats and decided to tip them at the appropriate moment, but I have no doubt in my mind that my smart aleck sister (perhaps assisted by a vertically challenged partner in crime) prodded Micky to look our way at that moment, helping us to make him laugh with out pink party hats.
As of now I have one more concert to go in the year(s) of the Monkees, November in St. Louis. Due to factors I’ll wait till later to share, I think this one will either be the hardest or easiest show of all to write about. But between now and then, I’ll talk to you on Zilch. 🙂
There is no obligatory throwback intro. That’s because nothing obvious sprung to mind around which I could frame this review. I could have talked about listening to She Makes Me Laugh as the plane descended over the Cleveland skyline, thinking of Anissa, who I was still grieving when i flew in to town for my first serving of Gazpacho and who IS the subject of that song for me. I could have written about the first meeting of Melanie and my fellow charter members of the Frodis Femmes, and the Instant Click that proved she was an appropriate new member of our sisterhood. I could have written about touring the Christmas Story house/museum/gift shop, gazing at the cornucopia of themed shirts, mugs, flagpoles, BB Guns, and above all Leg Lamps in every size, and wondering if that’s where Clevelander John Hughes got the idea to sell those dang ponchos. I could have talked about working the line for Team Zilch before the doors opened, handing out pink party hats, accepting compliments on the show, recording bumpers, and wondering exactly when I’d become revered by a (very) small minority of a (decreasingly) small minority.
But none of those moments seemed like a big enough theme to hang an essay on, so I sat there, chatting as the lights dimmed, and waited to see what The Monkees would tell me. They’re pretty handy that way. I just sat back, watched the utterly stunning remastered show footage, and screamed my head off alongside Cindy and Melanie as they launched into a new opener:
Listen To The Band
With the rediscovered Clarksville train ride concert playing on the screen, Micky and Peter nailed their duet opening. I know that Nez/Micky is the vocal pairing we all swoon over these days, but those two are nothing to sneeze at either, with Micky soaring to the top of his vocal range over Peter’s rock-solid foundation. HOME RUN, even though I’ve never thought of it as an opening.
Moving on to the traditional opening, it was sung in the traditional manner, with the traditional panache. Liked how they wove the LTTB closing into the Clarksville opening, though. One note on the video screen—Peter’s sweatshirt in the Clarksville train romp IS RED. Not orange like we thought for 50 years.
99% sure this is new to me, but it works well live. 🙂 Wayne Avers (glad you’re back!) played a barn-burner of a guitar solo, though Peter did join in on the fun there if memory serves. 😉
OK, there are times in life where I must take a stand, and this is one of them. I don’t care if you philistines disagree with me—IT IS NOT A MONKEES SHOW WITHOUT AUNTIE GRIZELDA. Obviously Peter’s knee surgery took, because that’s the craziest I’ve seen that man dance since he climbed the amp tower back in ’01. And that patter he does over the bridge must save him THOUSANDS in psychotherapy. In fact, as I watched Peter sashay around the stage, it occurred to me that it’s high time for us Auntie Grizelda fans to strike a blow for this obviously beloved song, not as a guilty pleasure, but as an iconic touchstone of pure, unadulterated Monkee Magic.
Here’s my Pro-Grizelda argument in a nutshell:
Auntie Grizelda is really a poignant protest song all about fighting for freedom against the snobbish, oppressive, and emotionally frigid older generation who are refusing to give way to change and creativity.
Seriously, i think it’s safe to say Andrew Sandoval isn’t frogmarching Peter on stage at gunpoint or something at this point in the proceedings. If Peter didn’t want to do the stupid number, he most likely wouldn’t do the stupid number. He certainly wouldn’t do it with such unbridled, cathartic joy, right down to the parrot sounds and therapeutic mocking asides he raps over the bridge. It’s Peter’s Mooging the Nightly, he just doesn’t get enough credit for it because
he’s been doing it in every show for decades, and
when Nez does essentially the same schtick with Daily Nightly or No Time, Lord Nesmith, the Right Honorable Baron of Sparklyshoes is hailed as being all “witty” and “creative” and “subversive”. (Aside: I love Nez. In a disturbing number of ways I am a far dumber and dorkier version of the guy. Please don’t hit. But really, folks…what’s the difference?)
Fans, both hardcore and not, LOVE this song. The second best memory of my husband at his first (and probably last) Monkees concert was him singing along cathartically with Peter, thinking of his own personal Auntie Grizeldas. (Every family has at least one…). I can verify that Melanie, who is one of the wisest and most insightful fans I know, appeared to love every second of it.
Snark is a time-honored and frankly necessary ingredient of the Monkees Fandom Recipe, lest the Good Times get too treacly. However, to mangle a famous quote by Samuel Johnson, he who is tired of Auntie Grizelda is tired of life. Therefore, I am hereby inaugurating the #teamgrizelda hashtag, for those who share my love of this song as a completely non-guilty pleasure. Go Forth and retweet your love of this song on its own terms!
Once again, Micky nailed this song, and once again Peter nearly stole it out from under him with various gestures and asides at key junctures. Oh—and Micky AND peter nailed the mic stand tilt!
She Makes Me Laugh
Before I get into my thoughts on this one, I’d like us all to take a moment to stare in awe at a universe where Micky Dolenz can say in 2016, “Here’s a song off our new album!”
Are we good?
Micky’s still learning the lyrics on this one, which is understandable. However, the band is definitely getting solid on it, and it was a crowd pleaser, with a strong round of applause from the audience.
A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You
After dispatching a smart-aleck in the front row yelling “Manchester Cowboy!” while Peter was attempting to introduce a song by his “dearly departed friend”, Peter (yes PETER!) launched into lead vocals on this song, and he and Micky, trading verses, knocked it out of the park. I hope they give Peter more of Davy’s traditional vocals—they have similar ranges, and Peter’s voice gets more rock solid every time I see him. And if you disagree with me, you can just surf on over to the next overly verbose and existential PhD fangirl Monkees concert reviewer in your bookmarks. :-p
The Girl I Knew Somewhere
It never ceases to amuse me that Micky is more solid on the lyrics to this tune than Nez (who got a lovely and warmly received shoutout) was on the gazpacho tours. Though in fairness Micky HAS probably sung it a few thousand more times than Nez has…
This isn’t one of those things that’s on my Monkees Live Song Bucket List, but it’s near the top of Cindy’s, right next to Oh My My. As Micky belted it out and Wayne shredded his solo into musical confetti, I watched my sister Cin chair dance in bliss.
Shades of Grey
The minute I interpreted Peter’s setup about the wayback machine and realized what was coming, my gut clenched. I knew it was in the setlist, but I hadn’t really thought about the implications of seeing it live for the first time till now. I saw the Davy fans around me reaching for Kleenex. An involuntary “Oh no,” escaped my lips in a murmur. As Peter started the keyboard introduction, I found myself transported halfway between Then and Now, images from 30 years ago battling in my mind with the real world sight of a young Davy and an old Peter singing the duet that I’d longed to hear live, never expected to hear live and was suddenly absolutely terrified to hear live.
When the world and I were young, just yesterday,
Life was such a simple game, a child could play
As Davy’s archived vocal track rolled out of the speakers and into my ears, my own wayback machine roared into gear, and I suddenly found myself experiencing
a Saturday afternoon in the fall of 1986. I was 9 years old, and a brand-spanking new Monkees fan. Mom was running errands. Dad was watching me and Daniel, as well as the football game. I’d been spinning my new album Headquarters non-stop all day. That’s probably why I missed the knock at first. By the time I got to the door, Dad was opening it up to reveal my new friends. At least I hoped they’d be new friends. After my best friend’s Mom died of type 1 diabetes and her Dad remarried and they moved to Texas, I needed to make new friends. But I was finding it harder to make friends than it used to be. The girls looked up at Dad as I poked nervously around the corner into the front hall. They asked if I could go ride bikes with them. I looked up at Dad, grinning hopefully.
It was the Rocksino in 2016. I forced myself to stay in 2016, in the now. Listen to Davy. Listen to Peter. Listen to the Band. Feel the tears starting to roll down my cheeks—yes, for the man who left us too soon, but mostly for the girl I used to be.
It was easy then to tell right from wrong,
Easy then to tell weak from strong
Back in 1986, the girls had just asked dad if I could go ride bikes. He just stood there.
From 4 years of experience I knew what was coming, and ran in front so I could try to break his fall as he pitched forward, already starting to tremble before the real convulsions of his seizures. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the girls back away in fear, or revulsion, or I didn’t really care much what. Then Me held on to Dad with all her strength as Now Me heaved herself forcefully back to
2016, as Peter and Micky both joined in to the chorus. My shoulders started shaking. I knew I had to keep my eyes open, even as the tears streamed. I had to stay in 2016. I would not have a flashback here, not now, NOT AT A FUCKING MONKEES CONCERT.
“I remember when the answers seemed so clear,
we had never lived with doubt or tasted fear…”
My throat caught in a sob as Peter started in on the second verse, his eyes looking suspiciously misty, his weathered, post-op voice adding a new, gloriously horrible layer of resonance that sent me careening back into
1986, where I’d managed to tip dad away from the concrete of the front porch to instead fall on a slightly softer kitchen floor. I tried to hold Dad’s limbs down as he convulsed, but he was too big to maneuver. I found myself on top of him, holding on for dear life in a sadistic parody of a bareback rodeo ride, trying to keep him away from the table legs. He had work Monday and wouldn’t want a bruise on his head. As his tremors calmed, he resumed his normal breathing pattern, and looked up at me with glazed eyes. A random, insane but ever-present thought flew through my 9 year old head, “God let them fix my heart but I’m not good enough to deserve it, so he made Dad sick instead. This is all my fault.” 39 year old me and her various psychotherapists had heard quite enough of THAT nonsense, and so I dragged myself with a LURCH back to
2016, where Peter and Micky were doing the chorus. The Monkees were and are my elixir. I was 39, older, stronger. My dad hadn’t had a seizure in 25 years, I would live to a fucking ripe old age and I WOULD NOT BE RULED BY MY PAST. I felt Melanie’s arm slide over my shoulders as I trembled. I felt stronger, more grounded. I could do this. But then I glanced at the monitor as Davy and Peter and Micky sang
It was easy then to know truth from lies, selling out from compromise
Who to love and who to hate, the foolish from the wise
Photo courtesy Scott Edwards
And I was
BACK in 1986, after helping Dad back to the sofa. I ran to the door to reassure my friends, but they were long gone. Oh well, it really wasn’t worth the bother, they all would find out eventually, and then they’d all run away. But the versions of Davy, Peter, Mike and Micky that lived in my head wouldn’t leave me. I knew intellectually they were almost a decade older than my parents. but even as a brand new fan I already knew the music and the show made it better, made me less desperate to die or to run away forever. If other kids didn’t want me, well, I didn’t want them. I had the Monkees.
Dad was fine, already starting to talk back to the OU football game. We didn’t typically talk about the seizures unless we had to, because what was there to say? The seizures were a family routine whose perverse banality I only appreciated years later. I went back to my room, shut my door, turned on Headquarters. Shades of Grey was next and 1986 Me and 2016 Me sang along in a bizarre time warp with
It was easy then to know what was fair
When to keep, and when to share
How much to protect your heart
And how much to care…
And I found myself back in 2016, waves of terror receding. And I hoped the Me of 1986 could somehow sense the band singing in front of me, the replica poncho in my bag, and everything else I had done and would do to give her the glorious, hopeful, healthy, friend-filled future that she couldn’t believe in during those dark days. I found myself shaking from catharsis and relief, as Peter, Micky, and Davy’s magnificent performance drew to a close. And I screamed out my triumph as much as my appreciation as the crowd cheered.
Papa Gene’s Blues
And in a transition that felt a something like that moment in Hamilton right after It’s Quiet Uptown where Jefferson and Madison rap “Can we get back to Politics? PLEASE?”, Micky and Peter riffed on the “Quiet, isn’t it, George Michael Dolenz?” line, making the assembled crowd (your neurotic author included) bust out in cathartic laughter. And then we launched into Papa Gene’s blues, confirming as we all guessed that there would be no Skype tonight. Having just rather violently and melodramatically discovered my theme for tonight’s concert, I was content to sit between two of my best friends on earth, and hear Micky and Peter do a lighthearted duet on a song I’d somehow heard Nez do live more times than I’ve heard them do it live. I’d worried this year’s events would feel forced and contrived after the twin shocks of Davy’s loss and the Gazpacho tours, but the 50th anniversary actually seems sweeter for all we’ve lost and gained and overcome the past 5 years. I have no more than I had before, but now I have all that I need, indeed.
Randy Scouse Git
Photo Courtesy Andrew Kruczek
And if that wasn’t enough…Micky put on the tablecloth (A REPLICA OF WHICH I NOW OWN) and cut to the chase, sans story. Excellent as always. 1986 felt 30 years ago again as Micky did his “The Colors, The COLORS!” freakout. Which is still apparently obligatory, as well as hilarious.
For Pete’s Sake
Well, after 50 years, Peter finally confessed that the Monkees didn’t play their own instruments. (The drums were rented, and he’d borrowed a guitar from Wayne). And then after reciting the tale of the palace revolt, Peter sang another setlist staple with another rock-solid performance. Rich Dart added some tasty fills throughout, as is his habit. 🙂
Johnny B. Goode
I’ll admit feeling a little sad that Micky didn’t do Don’t do It for his solo number (the topic of one of my first, small “tryout” appearances on Zilch back in episode 2 or 3), but he apparently removed the Red Bull from the tour rider, resulting in a much more reasonable tempo that Micky could even dance to some. (Side note—the guys were MOVING around stage more than I’ve seen in a good 15 years. Wayne’s solo, again, was awesome, and Dave Alexander contributed some tasty honkytonk work on the keys that would have made Jerry Lee Lewis smile from that wackadoodle Piano Pyramid they put him on back in ‘69.
Higher and Higher
Photo Courtesy Nicki Lock
You know how Cin was blissing out during Steam Engine? This tune was Melanie’s turn. I was thrilled to hear it live myself! But then, some, erm, *lubricated* gentleman started screaming out “you guys rock!” I tensed up, not looking forward to him potentially spoiling something Melanie had seriously been looking forward to (and a favorite of mine from his solo repertoire as well). However, Peter Tork is not only 35 years sober. he’s rather (in)famous for not suffering fools. He raised an eyebrow in his inimitable Peter Tork fashion, and drily retorted, “One of the things about getting old is you can’t hear people very well.” The guy bellowed something else, and Peter snarked back, “Steve Martin used to say at this juncture in his show, ‘Yeah, I remember my first beer…’ ”. As the crowd busted up in hysterics, the drunken gentleman was suitably chastened. (or ejected. Either way, not a peep from him the rest of the night.)
Higher and Higher was lovely (once he ordered the crowd not to clap along and we meekly obeyed), with Coco’s background vocals and John Billings’ rocking Bass solo particularly worthy of note. Melanie looked like she was in heaven. 😉
Let’s Dance On
So happy for Craig Cohen. 😉 Solid song, sung well, with the relevant romp from the pilot playing in glorious HD in the background and plenty of goofing around from Micky, Peter, and the rest of the band. They seem to have figured out the weird pacing issue they were dealing with in Nashville, because this was a perfectly organic act 1 closer.
Stay if your bladder allows! Among other things, we got restored footage of the original pilot opening credits, some less familiar Yardley Black Label commercials, and the uncut Daddy’s Song performance (black suit, white background. Without the strobing crosscutting, you can tell it was mostly filmed in only 3-4 long continuous takes. You can also see just how damn good a dancer Davy was. The remastered Teardrop City and Someday Man performances were also noteworthy.
Act two kicked off with a bang, and Micky back on drums for Mary Mary! This one’s easily one of my favorites with him on drums.
After a slightly wonky entrance, Micky settled nicely into the groove, with a little help from Rich Dart and John Billings.
And I was transported on a pleasanter trip to the past—Dundee by way of Cleveland and Tulsa. I wouldn’t have much new to say here if it weren’t for the fact that Micky made up for his struggles on Circle Sky by wailing so hard on the drums that his fedora plum flew off his head. See video. 😀
Not much to say about this, aside from the fact they did this just as amazingly as they have every time the past few years. And that Peter’s voice is the best I’ve heard it. EVER. I can’t believe I’ve been able to say that each and every time I’ve reviewed him for this blog. Yet another reason the #teamgrizelda hashtag’s time has come.
It’s a sign of how strong this album is selling that they’ve already added a second song to the set. Micky was much more solid on the lyrics for this one, but I suppose co-writing it helps. 😉 It’s gonna be hard with Micky and Rich doing an incredible dual performance on drums, but watch the animated cover art streaming down the video wall in the manner of the end credits of a Pixar film. I got the giggles when the spaceship took off and started flying around. Alas, said animations didn’t translate well to the video but this is still worth a watch.
After 4 years I’m running out of creative ways to say “The band played the hell out of this setlist staple”, but, well, the band played the hell out of this setlist staple. Micky was maybe a little heavier on the glam 70s antics than usual, though, and Peter got in on the act as well. The drawn out outro was awesome too. 😀
Micky’s got the words to Words rock solid again! Woohoo! Another great duet from Micky and Peter. 😀
Forget my random 30 year time warp during Shades of Grey—Micky’s dancing legs just teleported in from 1967. Cin and I sang along with the first verse or two, then sat there, jaws agape, as Micky sashayed across the stage with as much panache as his onscreen TV version. After a quick interlude to introduce the band (minus one—we’ll get there), he ended the song with flair. No audience participation this time, that may be gone from the set.
Glad to see this still in the setlist after falling in love with it in Nashville, and Peter contributed lovely banjo work as well as commentary asides. 😉 I’ve concluded it’s one of those songs that works best live. J The only thing that would make this song better would be Davy’s presence—I can only imagine what vintage Threekees antics he would have brought to the proceedings. 😉
Another song Peter inherited (from Nez this time). Apparently he was doing this one back in the ’80s, but, well, I was a kid/broke/in a state that didn’t get many Monkees shows in the 1980s, so this was new to me. All I’m gonna say is that Nez better hurry up and get his butt on tour before the ink dries on his final book draft and get his song back, because this might be my favorite live version of this one. And NO. I AM NOT KIDDING.
From the moment Micky and Peter yelled back my seat number from my flight to Cleveland at the screen, I knew they’d arrived at the only possible long term solution to the Daydream Believer Problem. Now, I don’t think that they should have done this from the start (we ALL had some grief to process), but from now on they need to do it this way, whether the Monkees tour for one more year or 50 (hey, researchers say they’re supposedly getting close to the Singularity! It could happen!) We sang as Micky and Peter conducted the crowd and we gave a rousing and collective FUCK YOU to fear, despair, and the Existential Abyss.
Photo Courtesy Scott Edwards
Not to belabor the point, but that spirit of acknowledging and then joyously overpowering the darkness is why I have loved the Monkees since I was 9 years old, and always will.
Pleasant Valley Sunday
The main show ender was marvelous, as always. This was when I realized for certain I wasn’t getting Heart and Soul, but I’ve got at least 2 more shows planned for this tour. (good Lord, what new stuff am I going to SAY?! Oh well, good problem to have. 😉 )
That was Then, this is Now
After a minute, Micky and Peter re-emerged for the encore, and introduced both the writer (Vance Brescia) and the song. As he and Micky traded lines, I watched the screen and was jolted back on a much more pleasant trip to 1986, as I saw video clip after instantly-remembered video clip from the MTV and Nick footage that helped me fall in love with the “real” Monkees just as hard as I’d immediately fallen for the cute 20 year olds in the beach house. It wasn’t Heart and Soul, but the trip was similar enough. 😉
And that was it. We inched out of the venue, right past Andrew Sandoval. I very nearly opened my mouth, but what do you say to a guy who curated your childhood as well as your midlife misadventures in rewriting your childhood the way it should have played? A guy who you would love to have back on Zilch after the Good Times dust settles to talk about how he FOUND all this STUFF? So I clammed up and kept the crowd flowing. Melanie was a little behind me in the crowd, and gave him a quick Thanks. 🙂
Even the saddest Monkees song is delivered with a dollop of ‘Yeah, but it’ll get better soon’.
This was a very different experience seeing the Monkees, after truly thinking I’d seen it all. 2001 was my first time, and I was overwhelmed simply by FINALLY losing my Monkees Virginity (Not like THAT) after 15 years of near misses, dumb decisions, and low cash flow. 2012 and 2013, well, that was all about the gazpacho. And in 2015, I was a worried fangirl, hoping the Twokees could carry the torch and rejoicing to learn they could. This show was different. My subconscious had other stuff for me to process. It was an old lesson, but reinforced in a new way from a new angle. The Monkees (group as well as much of their solo stuff) are the founding artists in a playlist on my phone I jokingly titled Audio Prozac. But their songs don’t numb the feelings. Instead the music holds my hand as I grapple with whatever crap I’m grappling with that day. I emerge stronger and happier in the skills that I need to squeeze every last damn drop of joy out of my life, both for myself and for my loved ones and for the kids who died for the medical knowledge needed for me to live a healthy, happy life writing emo 4000+ word essays about the Monkees. And I think that the ticket sales and record sales we’re seeing in The Year of the Monkees prove that their flavor of hard-earned joy is something the world is crying out for right now. So let’s let the Good Times roll. I’ll see you after the Tulsa show in *gasp* about 3 weeks. No clue what new things I’ll have to say, but I also think I know who’ll tell them to me. 😉
For all that it felt like the evening I bought Justus in a record store in Dundee (it was even gray and rainy), the circumstances couldn’t be more different. In 1996 I had scarcely thought about the Monkees in almost a decade. In 2016 they’ve been a constant in my life for the last 4 years, and in the last few months my Zilch duties have essentially sucked up all the time I didn’t give to my husband, my job, or my new website/podcast, Better Library Leaders. (Librarians, check it out! End plug). In 1996 I didn’t even know there was an album out—I found it by accident in the M bin while looking to replace the copy of Jagged Little Pill I’d left back in Oklahoma. In 2016, I (I guess I can reveal it now) was sitting in my home office with the drapes open, waiting to see if the UPS guy with my advance copy from John Hughes at Rhino would beat the garage door repairman to the house.
UPS came first. Also, i will be eternally grateful my garage door broke down (inexpensively) and made me stay home to wait on the repairman.
I held the package in the doorway for a moment, fighting the urge to rip it open right then. Instead, I went back to my office, opened the end of the package carefully and turned to the framed photo of the Frodis Femmes on my bookshelf. I grabbed the CD blindly, made sure it was facing the right way, and pulled it out facing away from me. It’s so dorky and stupid, but my old friend Anissa, the one who made me laugh for years, deserved to see this miraculous album cover before I did. And then I stared at the album myself for a long moment, feeling a distinct sense of “Anticidread”. The songs we’d heard were uniformly solid, but what if the rest were duds? Would it feel like a real group project? How would Love to Love represent Davy? I’d tried as hard as I could to only wish for an album that didn’t suck, but in my heart I knew I was hoping for one more miracle.
Ultimately, there was nothing else for it. I opened the case, removed the booklet and the CD, stuck it in my computer, and hit play. Here’s what I heard, and thought.
Much of this is redundant to my Zilch comments (you’re essentially reading a tidied version of my roundtable notes), but there are some things I didn’t get a chance to say.It’s also a bit rough, because it’s been a long week. Here goes.
Good Times: I can’t believe this was an incomplete track! Also, when we think of Harry Nillson Monkees tracks, we think of these sweet-tart creations that have a dark undertone to them. This one’s just flat-out unabashed fun! And I can’t tell you how great it felt to get a new track with Eddie Hoh on Drums! I just wish he’d been around to hear it. Love his work on it, somehow soulful and funky at the same time.
You Bring the Summer: I’m gonna tattle on Iain Lee here. Right around the time this album was announced, he sent me an IM. He’s friends with Andy Partridge, who apparently called him and played the demo of this song to him. He told me that he was in the middle of a shopping mall, listening to this song, and weeping like a little kid. Once I heard this tale, from a guy who makes me look like a casual fan, I knew we were gonna be ok on at least this one song. I particularly like the whole Brian Wilson good vibrations psychedelic changeup on the outro—Especially when Peter and Nez come in on the refrain. It’s like that moment in Milkshake off of Stranger Things have happened, but times ten. That trio was unlikely in the early 90s. by 2016 it seemed all but impossible. And yet, there it was.
She Makes Me Laugh: what stands out to me listening to the song in the context of the album is the Banjo bits on the verses. They’re subtle, but are just one of those touches that say “Hi! I’m a Monkees Song! I can include banjo non-ironically while still not sounding like Mumford and Sons!”
Our Own World: It was cool to have the chance to sit with these songs for about 4 days before reviewing them, because this one really grew on me with multiple listens, and the tune got stuck in my head for about 2 hours on Friday. I’d that isn’t a sign of a good song I don’t know what is. Looks like Peter and songwriter Adam Schlesinger contributed the keys on this one, and that’s really what this makes the song so catchy, beyond Micky’s performance, which is one of the best on a uniformly solid album. Also some of the best harmonies on the whole thing. Finally, I dig Adam’s guitar solo.
Gotta Give it Time: This is the second of the hybrid songs, started in 67 and finished now. Can I confess I’m not big on Jeff Barry as a general rule? I heard Iain say on his radio show or something that he thought Nez sounded bored on the backing on this one, I think that’s a little harsh, but something about this felt a bit filler. A fine album track elevated by an energetic performance from 2016 Micky, but not a highlight of the album for me.
Me and Magdalena: I’m not sure what I can say about this beautiful duet that hasn’t been said, except this—I think in some ways this is what Justus SHOULD have sounded like. And I defy you to listen to Nez’s solo verse at the end without getting misty eyed. It was the first of two times I wept listening to a song from this album for the first time. There were tears. At work. Streaming world café. Thank goodness I have a door.
Whatever’s Right: The Vintage Boyce and Hart track for this album, it’s very Boyce and Hart, mostly in a good way. However unlike Gotta Give it Time it was totally recorded in 2016—and it says something that I wouldn’t have been sure had I not read the liner notes. It’s got this cute 50s/early 60s semi-doowop vibe that would almost fit on the Grease soundtrack—or maybe as the flip side to That Thing You Do! (see what I did there?). And Bobby and Coco are a hoot on the background vocals! Another thing that hasn’t changed in 50 years is that Peter’s organ work is a highlight, ditto Mike Viola’s perfect guitar! He’s a gem and adds some great touches throughout the album. All that said, this is another one that feels a bit like album filler, maybe it’s the brevity. HOWEVER, even the “filler” on this album is still better than a good 90% of their post-Head output.
Love to Love: I’m a little afraid this will come out the wrong way given who sang lead and why the song was included, but I really expected them to do something more involved to this song. Not that I don’t like the new backing vocals, I do, but to my relatively poor ears it’s exactly identical to the missing links and music box versions aside from that. I’m also sad they couldn’t get Nez in the studio that day to be in that harmony mix. I had really expected this song to be the last time we heard all four Monkees sing together, and I’m a little sad it wasn’t. All that said, I do want to mention one thing about the CD booklet. Next to the lyrics of each song, there’s a little quote from somebody involved with the project. Peter got the pull quote for Love to Love, and it’s a poignant reminder of the bittersweet aspect of this album.
Little Girl: This is going to freak people out, but this is the song that made me think the most of Justus, specifically I Believe You. I’m not sure the lyrics work well for Peter in the same way I had some initial misgivings about She Makes me Laugh, but Brian Young’s funky drums are a big help, and Mike Viola contributes some nice backing vocals. But even though this was another one that doesn’t shine as brightly in the bigger picture of the album, it ALSO got stuck in my head at one point in the last few days. Ergo, it can’t be that bad. 🙂
Birth of an Accidental Hipster:
You got to understand, the Psychedelic stuff is my JAM. Daily Nightly was on the first episode I ever saw, and I think it hooked me as much as all the surreal stuff with Mike Nesmith as a dress. Porpoise Song, Mommy and Daddy, Randy Scouse Git, Shorty Blackwell, Writing Wrongs, Can you Dig It, Even the Instant replay You and I in some ways are what are MY Monkees. The different movements, the whole swirly psycho jello thing, this song is a love letter to that side of the Monkees. The second time I wept when listening to this album was the verse where Nez sings:
Old Friends say
Oh he’s lost his way
But they can’t see
What I can see
Oh, I’ll never come back
I’m heading out in the sunshine, baby!
I know Nez didn’t write the song, but it just seems to evoke so much of the Gazpacho era, at least to us Nezheads watching from afar. In any case, long-time readers of Fandom Lenses can see why I got the feels there, because that verse is as perfect a description of my journey in the past four years as anything could be. Ken thinks it’s a song about death, but I read it more as a song about REBIRTH, or rather a reconnection and re-integration with a part of you you’d let drift away. But again, that’s me reading my own positionality into the thing. However you slice it, it’s about transformation, and the music is the elixir that causes the transformation. It’s perhaps the most stereotypically 60s sounding song, yet also the one on the album that feels the most like it’s grounded in 2016.
Oh yeah. Mike Viola. Guitar. INCREDIBLE.
Wasn’t born to Follow: I am a proud Carole King Fangirl, so I was glad to see a Goffin/King tune represented. Peter’s right in the liner notes, this one does have a nice bit of Dylan in it. It’s another blend of 1968 instrumentals and 2016 vocals, and it was neat to see names in the liner notes that I’d learned more about from my chat with Jay McDowell a few months back, like Mike Deasy and Earl Palmer. This was a third example of a song that I thought didn’t work well for me, till I listened a few times and found myself randomly humming it. I don’t know that Peter could have done this one in 1968, but his 2016 voice suits it to a tee. It’s very Early Morning Blues and Greens in that way.
Also, does anyone else thing the melody sounds a tiny bit like a folk version of Macarthur Park? Or am I just weird?
A few moments after I finished playing this one to take notes, I heard Kevin whistling it in the next room, so there’s that too. Carole King is amazing.
I know what I know: The first thing I need to point out, is that this is a Michael Nesmith song in which there is exactly ONE WORD with more than two syllables. It’s an exercise in complexity via simplicity, and not just in the lyrics. I actually didn’t like it all that much in the version you can find on Videoranch, but Adam Schlesinger transformed it in a similar way to how Nez rethought Rays for Movies of the mind. All the synths are gone, and it’s just Nez in full-on Don’t call on me/Tropical Campfires crooner mode. No fancy words or fancy arrangements, just the man honestly honestly and earnestly singing a love song. Adam Schlesinger’s on all the instruments, most notably a gorgeous flowing Piano line and a captivating instrumental break on the Chamberlin.
I was there and I’m told I had a good time: They made us wait for it, but the final track on the standard album (and possibly the final song ever on a Monkees album) features drums by one Micky Dolenz. I’ve heard it compared to Randy Scouse Git by others who heard the album, but I think No Time’s the better analogy. Micky has a tendency to take quips and, um, run them into the ground, but in this track we discover that he has a nicely self-aware sense of humor about that habit! Also, the chatter in the back of the room was a cute touch, somewhat reminiscent of Don’t call on me, and I would love to know who was in that. Also, this appears to be the snippet of drumming that was posted on the Monkees’ facebook a while back, so it’s good to put a song to the video. Very tribal, loose, and fun. Adam Schlesinger’s Bass holds the track together in the grand Chip Douglas tradition, and Mike Viola provides a tasty, deliberately rough and ragged guitar line. And Micky’s line at the end was a gem. Overall, I’m not sure it’s a better last song by the Monkees than was It’s Not too Late (it’s certainly not as retroactively poignant), but that was gonna be a high bar to clear. And who knows? After hearing this I’m actually not totally convinced these guys are done yet.
When word of this album came out, we were excited but also, I think it’s safe to say many of us felt some, um, trepidation about this album. We all love the Monkees’ music in general, but their post-1968 output has been a little mixed (she says delicately). As a child in the 80s I owned Pool It, but I played it maybe a tenth as often as Pisces. Ten years later I loved Justus immediately just for the sheer fact it existed (the fact I didn’t know it was coming out till I bumped into it at a record store helped), but I liked the album a little less every time I played it. However, if the Monkees have taught us nothing else, they have taught us that the unexpected thing always happens. In a rational universe the 20th and 30th anniversaries should not have happened. The Threekees shouldn’t have had their best tour ever in 2011. DAVY JONES SHOULD NOT HAVE DIED ON LEAP DAY 2012. Nez shouldn’t have come back for a project, not once, and certainly not FOUR TIMES counting this album, with the promise of more concerts later this fall. And this album, this insane, hybrid thing that features songs from Boyce and Hart and Ben Gibbard sitting right next to each other, should not be the best album they have put out since Head, if not Pisces.
And yet, all these things are true. Even the worst songs are listenable and the best songs approach some of the peaks of the Headquarters and Pisces era. A lot of things get called miracles that shouldn’t be called miracles, but Good Times is damn close to a miracle. Go Buy It, folks.
This year I think we’re going to keep it short. First, I finished the PhD. I hope you’re OK with me only dedicating half of it to you, but, well, as mentioned in my last letter an unexpected friendship arose. It’s been a fun 12 months of meeting lots f neat people and doing lots of cool things, thanks to me subbing for you as guest podcast host and group admin over at Zilch Nation. (and Yes, it’s now “Zilch Nation”. WEIRD.). There’s probably more coming, with it being The Year of the Monkees and all.
Finally, this song is for you. It pisses me off something fierce that you aren’t here for it, but then I remember that you two were no doubt sitting in that studio making snarky remarks.
Mich, Mattie, Cindy and I were driving to the cemetery to bury our Best Frodis Femme Friend Forever, Anissa. Aside from a brief moment of tears the afternoon I arrived in Ohio, I had kept it together. After all, I was the one who drifted away into a looser friendship for a decade, the one who felt the need to throw myself into accomplishments to keep my demons at bay. The only thing I had figured out in the past few days since I learned of Anissa’s death was that I had screwed up colossally. I wasn’t sure how it happened, but the very actions I had taken to keep myself from wasting my life had actually caused me to waste my life on a deeper, more important level. I knew step one was to be present for Cin and Mich, to hold them as they cried and to be the strong one. This wasn’t my first time to bury a friend, after all, though I was pretty sure my friends didn’t know that and it didn’t seem like the time to bring it up. The first time I saw a dead body was my friend Jenny. She was 7. I was 4. Her heart defect killed her. My heart defect was successfully “corrected”. I’ve been trying to earn that quirk of fate ever since. Anyway, I got through Jenny’s viewing at an age when most kids were still grappling with the mortality of goldfish, and so now I would be strong and stoic and help my friends through Anissa’s funeral. It was the least I owed them. The car radio was blaring Monkees, of course. I was staring out the window on the way to the cemetery, pretending to look at the beautiful countryside outside Columbus. And then, the stereo caught my attention as Cin’s Random MP3 shuffle turned to Sometime in the Morning. As the song played out, I was getting closer and closer to losing it. For the first time it felt like Carole King’s lyrics were describing my unlikely friendship with my sisters in general, and Anissa specifically. Determined NOT TO BE WEAK, I gritted my teeth through the second verse, bracing myself for the bridge.
Now in her childlike eyes
You see the beauty there
You know it was always there
And you need no longer wear a disguise…
And at that last line I lost it. Cin squeezed my hand as I wept, and I let her. More to the point, I realized that if I was going to make anything positive come of Anissa’s death, and of my life, I would have to shed my protective shields and camouflage. Of course, at that time I thought it would be a simple matter of digging up some albums and seeing if there were any Monkees fans still puttering around online in the wake of Davy’s death. Heck, maybe I’d even start a blog or something. Let’s just say I did not yet comprehend just how deep the rabbit hole of radical vulnerability would take me. Continue reading →
This year, just a few days after my last letter, I joined the Zilch! podcast. I became a cohost in large part because I’m pretty sure it was what you would have done, but also it was one of those “sparkly shoes” opportunities that I just don’t turn down anymore, spare time permitting. Because of that decision my life has changed irrevocably. I’ve done things now I never would have expected a year ago because of it, like interview members of the support band, mingle with various fandom notables, and even get shared by multiple Monkees’ social media. I have listened to New Monkees music of my own volition (Cin was right, for the record). I got Mich on the show as a guest. I’m working on Cin, who for the record is doing MUCH better than she was a year ago. You’d be proud of how they’ve both changed in the past three years, I think. God knows how lucky I am to call them my sisters, and I hope they know it too. All of our lives have gotten busier and more abundant this past year. I’m less than a year from finishing my PhD, and though I’m not sure what I’ll be doing with it, I am sure that the lessons I took from 2012 and what came after will dictate my decisions as much as anything I picked up in coursework.
However, the things I’ve learned and done this past year haven’t been the sorts of things that are easily bloggable. Much of it has been internal work of rebalancing the Fangirl and the associate library director. Also, what time and creativity I’ve had to give to fandom has mostly gone to Zilch–both the podcast and the vibrant discussion group on Facebook. Also, and most of all, there was Zak, something I’ve tried to write about half a dozen times here but find I can’t—at least not in a form that feels appropriate for the glorified diary that is Fandom Lenses.
Here’s the very short version of the Zak story which contains everything I’m willing to say about another person’s experiences in a public forum: Because I joined Zilch, and connected up with Zak and his family, I was able to pay forward debts I have owed to the Monkees–or at least The Monkees(tm)–since I was nine years old. You know what those debts are (Lord knows you suffered through beta reading some deeply horrible fanfic where I was trying to process them). Any sufficiently thorough reader of my essays here can do the math as well. Anissa, you were one of the people who created the conditions that allowed me to maybe help a kid out a little bit at a scary moment, and finally set down some of the baggage related to my *ahem* scars. Not to say I won’t have to compensate for certain physical realities for the rest of my life, but, again, I guess that’s how it goes sometimes. As you know, of course. *sigh*
On a related note I am no longer able to abide anyone who says Micky Dolenz is not good to his fans. It’s at least as visceral a feeling as I get when Peter gets accused of lacking empathy.
OKAY! Enough of the Feels, on to a more immediate matters. Beyond this annual letter marking the day you left us, I’m not sure that I have much more to say here. For that matter, I’m not sure how many more of these missives I’m going to be moved to write (This year, honestly, was mostly so I could tell you about Zak, because I knew you’d Get It). I don’t have all that much to say about the fandoms that I’m not currently doing a podcast for, and most of what I have to say gets said in the context of Zilch or in gossipy IM sessions with friends. By this time next year I’ll be done with the PhD, and probably taking some giant steps in my professional and social lives. It’ll also be the 50th anniversary, and I think there’s a better than even chance that things will go nuts in the fandom (And on Zilch) one more time. More to the point, I’ve pretty much integrated compassion and silliness in my life, which means I don’t feel as moved to use those forces to explore pop culture in 3000+ word blog posts.
Speaking more broadly, it’s time for me to do less stuff, and to delve more deeply into what I do take on. I can bleat all I like about “fulfilling my potential” or “making my life worth the miracle”, but busyness for me is mostly just how I hide from things I don’t want to face, and boy are there a lot of those demons. I’ve taken to calling that overachieving impulse of mine “May 11th thinking”, actually. I’m not a kid anymore—the biggest proof of that is how fearlessly silly I’ve become in the past 3 years. Fandom Lenses is no longer how I make sense of what was probably a (hopefully premature) mid-life crisis. I’m proud of what I wrote here, but my life in the fandom has changed. I need to focus more on making friends who are here in Oklahoma. I need to give more time to Kevin. I need to give more time to Zilch. I need to take what I’ve learned from the students I’ve talked to for my dissertation and figure out what their experiences portend for my field. I need to make space for stillness and to take care of myself.
I wasn’t sure when I started writing this post, but I suspected this letter would also serve as an official announcement of the probable end of Fandom Lenses, at least for now. And so it seems. Although you shouldn’t expect much new content here, I’m keeping this page up for the foreseeable future. It’s too much a part of me to let go. (I do apologize again to whomever Jessica Pacheco might have working on her Search Engine Optimization. I seriously didn’t mean for that essay to become the top google result for her name…)
Anyway, tell The Midget I said hi, and thanks for any role he may have played in getting that book chapter accepted. One Manchester-affiliated conference or book editor giving me a major career boost is chance. A second one has me giving a serious side-eye to my collectibles shelf. 😉