Someone pointed out the other day The Monkees are on tour. I imagine they are making a lot of people happy.
Several years ago, Monkee Peter Tork played Down Home in Johnson City. I interviewed him, and, until I actually met Tork, I was as giddy as a school girl.
Let’s just say it is better not to meet your idols. They are all too human.
When I think about Peter Tork and that interview, I think about Jimi Hendrix.
Hendrix opened for The Monkees during their 1968 tour (I can’t imagine a more out-of-sync lineup). Tork said the teeny boppers in the audience kept screaming “We want The Monkees” while Hendrix was playing. He lasted about seven shows before he packed it in.
Of Hendrix, Tork said, “He was a sweetie pie. He was driven as hard as any entertainer I’ve ever known of. He was brilliantly talented. He loved to play, and I think he died early because I think he thought his day was done on some unconscious level. I think he thought he’d said everything he had to say. I learned music from him in bits and pieces. I never knew him not to be a gentleman and sweet and personable. It was a joy to know him.”
At the time we talked, Tork seemed to be at odds with The Monkees experience. Of their fame, he said, “Nobody listens to me, but it’s all about nothing much. It wasn’t worth nearly as much as it looks like. It didn’t cost me more than it was worth. These things are just worth it if you have to have them. This was not a 98 percent value; it was more like a 55 percent value — well over worth it.”
He talked about Stephen Stills (Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills & Nash) and the part he played in getting Tork the TV gig:
“Steve, he lost out on the chance to be in The Monkees. The reason I got the gig was he urged me to go try out for it. Steve’s consolation prize: You get to be a founding member of Buffalo Springfield.”
Tork and Stills had been friends in Greenwich Village in the early 1960s, even playing in a band together. “We were the kids that looked alike,” he said. “Did you ever see the Monkees movie ‘Head?’ ” he asked. (No, I hadn’t.) “There’s a sequence where each of the four of us is alone strolling along; I’m strolling along through the glaciers.
“This was a post-production shoot. They initially hadn’t thought of this. ‘Come back, we’re going to do some strolling through nature shots.’ I had grown a beard and gotten very fond of it. So I cut my hair as Stephen Stills did. It was really an homage to him, honestly enough. I don’t think he’s thanked me for it to this day.”
Why Stills should thank him for a haircut or an “homage” in a widely panned movie is beyond me, but Tork talked about Stephen Stills a lot. He admitted he wondered what might have happened if not for The Monkees. Unspoken but obvious was his desire to be taken as a “serious” musician. It seems to me Mike Nesmith, Mickey Dolenz, Jones and Tork made a Faustian bargain when they signed on to do the sitcom. They got the fame and adulation, but as Tork said, it was all about “nothing much.”
Perhaps the current tour means they’ve come to terms with the past and can accept they made a lot of us happy for awhile in the 1960s and still have the power to do so.
Jan Hearne is the Press Tempo editor. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.