The Monkees Reflect on Becoming Real Musicians and Their Psychedelic Movie 'Head'
By: Claudia Schou
Dedicated Monkees fans can take in The Monkee Experience with three of the original members--Michael Nesmith, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork--as they embark on a 24-city musical tour called "Midsummer's Night with The Monkees," making a stop on Tuesday night at the Terrace Theater in Long Beach. Wildly popular in the late Sixties, the "Pre-Fab Four" (as they were known) were American Television's answer to the Beatles. Legions of teenie boppers pasted the foursome's magazine covers to their bedroom walls and were hooked on bubble gum pop classics such as "Last Train to Clarksville," "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone" and "I'm a Believer."
While Monkeemania was at its height, the members were learning how to legitimize their sound. On their latest tour, the trio will perform songs from Headquarters, the first album in which they wrote and produced their own music as well as deep cuts from their first five albums (including some performed for the first time since the 1960's) and fan favorites from the soundtrack to their cult film classic Head. OCWeekly recently caught up with bassist Peter Tork (a former Orange Countian) and drummer Micky Dolenz.
OC Weekly (Claudia Schou): What are your memories of living in Orange County in the late sixties?
Peter Tork: I hung out and sometimes played at Sid's Blue Beet in Newport Beach and I worked as a busboy at The Golden Bear in Huntington Beach. Orange County was a wonderful place to be back then. In our concert, we show a clip of Micky saying "I'd like to buy six blocks and plant Orange Groves in Orange County." Are there any orange groves left in OC now? There certainly were at the time. Working as a bus boy making modest wages I was able to get a room in downtown Huntington and make a life for myself without a car. I was living there when I got the call for The Monkees audition. It was an exciting time.
Micky Dolenz: I grew up in San Fernando Valley and there used to be a lot of orange groves there. I remember as a kid my favorite orange grove was bulldozed and a building or a track of homes went up in its place. I used to joke about how, when I got rich and famous, I would tear down the buildings and plant orange groves.
As a comedy troupe and teen idols, what were some of the challenges in getting people to take your music seriously?
Micky: I guess it was the same challenges the Beatles or Elvis had in getting their fans to take their music seriously. You're open to criticism and up against what I call the "Hip Wazi" music aficionados. The Monkees were cast as a group that could perform music--and we all had musical backgrounds. Peter went to a conservatory, Mike and I were previously in bands and Davy performed musicals onstage. When I was 10 years-old, I learned how to play guitar and then Spanish guitar. I enjoyed listening to The Kingston Trio. My audition for The Monkees was "Johnny B Good." I learned drums for show, but I could read music, so it was not like I was starting from scratch. Even though we were contributing and writing songs for the show, the record company had other plans. There was a point where we just wanted to have some input. Before that we had little input.
Reflecting on the TV show, Micky once said: "Expecting the Monkees to go out and function as a real band was like expecting Starsky and Hutch to go out and catch real criminals." Can you elaborate more on that?
Micky: (laughs) I don't remember that particular quote. I think I said it "was like Leonard Nimoy really becoming a Vulcan." It's been a long transformation. The producers expected us to play. You had to play an instrument to audition for the show. If you use the word "band" you won't get there. "The Monkees" was about a band that wanted to be famous. It's like interviewing a cast member from "Glee" and asking what it's like being in a glee club.
What was the transformation like going from pre-fab band to real musicians?
Peter: Try to find a band like that today! We've grown to think of ourselves as a group in a lot of ways. When I quit the group after the TV show the other three members went on as The Monkees and then we reformed in the '80s. I think of us as an entertainment group with a musical catalog that people identify themselves with. On this tour, Micky sounds as great as ever, Michael sounds like the Michael of old and I am singing better than ever. We go up on stage and we joke and play these songs. It was a different experience for The Monkees because we were selected to be a response to Beatlemania. Each of us wanted to be like The Beatles. All I ever wanted t do is play music in a group.