Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cheer Up Sleepy Jean: The Deep Philosophyical Underpinnings of the Monkees

by Juliet

I know what you’re thinking. This blog post should have been in the religion section.

No? All right, maybe you're thinking that Juliet is FAR too young to have listened to The Monkees as a child. And you're right, of course -- they were before my time.

But I’ve always been out of step. When my older sisters went on to listen to Abba and the Bee Gees and the Eagles and Journey on the stereo, I inherited the Close-n-Play record player along with their discarded albums -- the Monkees among them.

(I still insist I am a better person for having skipped right over some of the hits of the late 70s. If I never have to hear Hotel California EVER again in my life I'll die happy.)

But The Monkees...these guys were a revelation. The spoke about Real Issues, like suburban angst. I give you Exhibit One: Pleasant Valley Sunday. Just listen to those lyrics for a moment. Rows of houses that are all the same, and no one seems to care.

This was heavy stuff for someone who happened to live in such a house.

Later one of my sisters, in a fit of pique and older-sibling piousness, pointed out that The Monkees were a soulless group put together by corporate forces to make money. It didn’t matter.

I closed and played the Close-n-Play and listened, glassy-eyed and mouth agog, to
Zor and Zam. Remember that one? There are these two kings, see, the King of Zor and the King of Zam, and they called for a war...But nobody came.

I’ll give you a moment to really think that one through. What if everyone saw through all the war stuff and just didn't go? My best friend Diane and I pondered this for days. We couldn't believe no one had thought of it before. We could have saved the country from the debacle of Viet Nam, if only we'd been older and had our Monkees albums tucked under our arms.

Of course the Partridge family had David Cassidy, and he was cute, so I watched the show without fail. But their music somehow lacked the…gravitas of The Monkees. (Recently I was told the Mondrian-inspired Partridge family bus was bought by porn producers. Can't wait to see what they do with it.)

The Beatles were classic, of course, but even my sheltered twelve-year-old mind could tell they were often referencing drugs and/or sex, which made me uneasy. The Monkees kept it in the comfort zone. They spoke about middle class ennui and the stultifying air of the suburbs. They spoke about how we should all have fun and be nice to each other. They spoke to my soul.

Years later I confided the secret Monkees fetish to my then-husband, and he decided this accounted for my absolute lack of sense when it came to anything political. I insisted people should grow up and be polite to each other, and then at least we'd have something to build on. He pointed out that the world was motivated by money, pure and simple. The marriage didn't last all that long.

Ah well. Guess I'm just a Daydream Believer.


Terri Thayer said...

I was too old, um, too cool, to like the Monkees.

However, a few years ago, I found out that Davy Jones was living in rural Pennsylvania on a horse farm. So when I was writing my stamping mysteries set in PA, I had to model a character after him. It was great fun, giving this tiny old Brit some crazy lines. Not as crazy as his real life, no way. That wouldn't have been believable.

Unknown said...

I adore the Monkees. Adore. I watched the TV show and was much more of a Davy Jones girl than a David Cassidy girl. :) It was the accent.

L.G.C. Smith said...

Oh-ho-ho. The Monkees were my first experience of being a fangirl, and I was a tiny child, I tell you. Tiny. Way too young for such heady stuff. I liked Micky the best, though I can't remember why. Probably because my sister claimed Davy the instant she laid eyes on him. The Monkees records were my first. I remember Beatles songs from earlier, but they were just too grown up for me.

Your analysis of the Monkees' appeal rings true for me. A lot of their songs are excellent pop songs. I'm A Believer? Total classic. But there was enough of a hint of social awareness in some of them to pique a child's interest without throwing her into the mire of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll. Plus, they were so CUTE!

And I'm thrilled to find another hater of "Hotel California." It's depressing, whining, and interminable. Few songs in my experience have inspired such an enduring antipathy.

Juliet Blackwell said...

Terri -- I love that he became a character in your novel! That's priceless!
Lisa -- I went for Mike. The smart one. Actually, I went through moments of love for each one, but I did care for David Cassidy. Which is a really frightening thing to say at this point, since he's freaking *scary* now.
LGC-- Hotel California Haters!!! We've got the beginnings of a club! And it sound like you and I would have gotten along very well as children ;-)

Gigi Pandian said...

The best episode ever of Scooby Doo was the one when Davy Jones was a guest star on "The Haunted Horseman of Hagglethorn Hall" (yes, I had to Google it to get the title right). Davy Jones sang to the moat monster to placate him!

Sophie Littlefield said...

i have to admit that this particular fetish of yours goes right over my head! But I do adore your passion, J...

Sophie Littlefield said...

oh and i also hate hotel california. and pretty much everything from that era, actually. ENOUGH already - aren't there any fresh young artists that would appreciate a little play?

Mysti said...

My brothers tortured me relentlessly (by kidnapping my favorite stuffed animal) in punishment for liking "the dumb" Monkee most, Peter Tork. Hah. He was *not* dumb. Neither was Harpo.

Good 70s: Zepp, Jethro Tull, Talking Heads (nether end of the 70s for that last one)

Rachael Herron said...

Wow. I have never looked at the Monkees this way, but you totally convinced me. I'm now kind of in awe of them.

Adrienne Bell said...

I *loved* The Monkees when I was about 10y/o. They were in deep syndicated reruns then. They had some crazy good song writers.

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