Nostalgia, The Monkees and RIP Mike Nesmith

Nostalgia.

That was to be the theme of today’s post as it’s something many of us feel acutely at this time of year. When I started this retrospective music blog nearly six years ago, I hadn’t yet realised that writing about old Christmas songs can really pull at the heart strings. You remember happy Christmases with your family as a child, you remember happy Christmases with your friends as a young adult, and then happy Christmases with your own children when they came along. (Link to previous festive posts here.)

From this end of the conveyor belt of life it’s all a bit different – Many of the people in those memories are no longer with us and this year DD will be with her boyfriend’s parents on the big day, which seems only fair after having bagsied them for two years in a row because of last year’s sudden change in ‘the rules’. I am still hopeful we might have grandchildren some day, which would really perk things up around here, but of course a grandchild is not just for Christmas so I’ll have to be patient on that front.

But back to nostalgia, defined as, “the pleasure and sadness that is caused by remembering something from the past and wishing that you could experience it again”. Looking at various examples of its use in a sentence, nostalgia can be either a good thing or be somewhat crippling, as in reality we can’t go back in time. Best to just remember it all as it was and enjoy the memories.

It soon became apparent that my first musical memories were from 1966 when I was aged six. I was already aware of the Beatles, and of many of the singers who appeared on the prime time shows my parents watched, but when the Monkees television show (also called The Monkees) hit our screens that year, I was immediately smitten. Their scheduled slot in the UK was teatime on a Saturday, so perfect for family viewing. I was therefore saddened to hear of the death of Mike Nesmith last night before going to bed, the third Monkee to leave us.

(Theme From) The Monkees by the Monkees:


I have written about both Davy Jones and Peter Tork around here before, and now it’s going to be Mike Nesmith. Let’s hope it’s a while before Micky Dolenz puts in an appearance.

Anyone who remembers those days will know that Mike was the tall Monkee with the woolly hat and the Texan drawl (although at age six I wouldn’t have known what a drawl was). He was one of the older Monkees and was primarily a musician rather than an actor. The show ran for two seasons, between 1966 and 1968, and followed the adventures of four young men trying to make a name for themselves as a band. Ironically, because of the success of the show, they became one of the most popular bands of the 1960s, but got increasingly frustrated at the control exerted over them by the show’s creator. They were acting out their roles and were never expected to actually play their own instruments or write their own songs. In time that changed however and some of their own songs, many written by Mike Nesmith, proved to be the most popular of all.

Mike Nesmith 1942 – 2021

It sounds as if Mike hadn’t been well for some time but he had been well enough to head out on one last Farewell Tour which ended only last month. He was no longer the young man in the woolly hat, and had to stay seated for the first few shows of the tour, but made it through to the bitter end. A fitting conclusion perhaps to his life.

My favourite fun fact about Mike Nesmith is that his mother invented Liquid Paper (known to others perhaps as Tippex or correction fluid). She went from being a ‘single mom’ to being the owner of a multi-million dollar company. As someone who went through a lot of Liquid Paper working in offices over the years, I thank her for helping us keep our paperwork looking tidy. I’m guessing in these days of paperless offices, it is no longer needed.

Since starting this blog I’ve made a lot of new song discoveries and one of my favourites is Different Drum by Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys. It was written by Mike Nesmith back in 1964, long before his years with the Monkees so thank you Mike for that amazing song. Time to hear what it sounded like in your hands.

Different Drum by Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys:


So, ‘What’s It All About?’ – I suppose it was inevitable that if I started to revisit the music of my youth, there was a fair chance many of the associated artists would already be no longer be with us, and many more tributes have been written around here over the last few years. The upside however is that you get a chance to revisit their back catalogue of songs and enjoy listening to them all over again. Keeping nostalgia in check is a tough ask at this time of year for those of us no longer in the first flush of youth, but there is definitely a pleasurable side to it too.

Until next time… RIP Mike Nesmith

Different Drum Lyrics
(Song by Mike Nesmith)

You and I travel to the beat of a diff’rent drum
Oh, can’t you tell by the way I run
Every time you make eyes at me Wo oh
You cry and you moan and say it will work out
But honey child I’ve got my doubts
You can’t see the forest for the trees

So, don’t get me wrong it’s not that I’m knockin’
It’s just that I’m not in the market
For a boy who wants to love only me
Yes, and I ain’t sayin’ you ain’t pretty
All I’m sayin’s I’m not ready for any person
Place or thing to try and pull the reins in on me
So Goodbye, I’ll be leavin’
I see no sense in the cryin’ and grievin’
We’ll both live a lot longer if you live without me

Oh, don’t get me wrong it’s not that I’m knockin’
It’s just that I’m not in the market
For a boy who wants to love only me
Yes, and I ain’t sayin’ you ain’t pretty
All I’m sayin’s I’m not ready for any person
Place or thing to try and pull the reins in on me
So Goodbye, I’ll be leavin’
I see no sense in the cryin’ and grievin’
We’ll both live a lot longer if you live without me

Peter Tork, The Monkees and “Shades of Gray”

Saddened to hear the news that Peter Tork of the Monkees has died. Since starting this project, where I journey back in time reminiscing about the music of my youth, it has become apparent that it all started for me at around the age of six, which in my case was 1966. Coincidentally that was when the Monkees first made an appearance on our black and white television screens, and although I was aware of other artists who popped up on the prime time slots watched by my mum and dad, the Monkees belonged to me.

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Peter Tork, RIP

I am sorry Peter, but the Monkee I was most infatuated with at age six, was Davy Jones, and one of the first posts I published on this blog was about him (link here). But you Peter, were the Howard Donald of the Monkees. You weren’t the cutest or the zaniest; you had a bowl haircut, didn’t wear a hat and were the oldest of the group; but like Howard of Take That fame, in time you became my favourite Monkee.

Despite being an accomplished Greenwich Village folk musician when you got the role in the sitcom that would change your life, at the start you weren’t even allowed to play your own instruments. That would change with time however, and you became the man in charge of keyboards and bass. You didn’t get the role of star vocalist very often, but here is a lovely song where you did share lead vocals with Davy Jones. Shades of Gray (American spelling of grey) is also very apt for this post, as it starts off with the lines:

When the world and I were young
Just yesterday
Life was such a simple game
A child could play, (yes, that would have been 1966 for me)

and ends with the verse:

But today there is no day or night
Today there is no dark or light
Today there is no black or white
Only shades of gray, (oh yes, as our politicians can testify, how complicated life has become in 2019)

Shades of Gray was another of those great ’60s songs written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. It was recorded by The Monkees for their 1967 album “Headquarters” and was the first song on which the group played all their own instruments.

But here is another great song from that era, the clip this time in colour, where the boys are wearing those iconic dark red shirts with the silver buttons. Of course back in 1966 we wouldn’t have known their shirts were red, would we, because we watched telly in black and white? But here is where I beg to differ. Our local football team, Aberdeen FC played in red, and whenever their matches were aired on television, the grey of their shirts matched the grey of the Monkees shirts. At age six I was obviously pretty good at working out what the colours should be, based on the shades of grey of the various team shirts. Living in a football loving household meant you developed all sorts of useful skills of a televisual nature.

Last Train To Clarksville by the Monkees:

Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart wrote Last Train To Clarksville as a protest to the Vietnam War but had to keep that quiet in order to get it recorded. It is about a guy who gets drafted, and the train is taking him to the army base. He knows he may die in Vietnam, and at the end of the song he states, “I don’t know if I’m ever coming home.”

Peter Tork was one of the many artists of my youth to have been born in 1942, right in the middle of a World War, but yet a vintage year for the birth of future musical legends (what was that all about?). Unlike in 2016, when I started this blog, I haven’t actually written any tributes so far this year. Cross fingers there won’t be too many more, but considering the span of time I write about here, I suspect there will be. A great chance to revisit the music though, and I have a feeling that a lot of people who had all but forgotten about the Monkees, might have had a sneaky peek at an old clip of Daydream Believer yesterday – I know I did.

the monkeesUntil next time…

Shades of Gray Lyrics
(Song by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil)

When the world and I were young
Just yesterday
Life was such a simple game
A child could play
It was easy then to tell right from wrong
Easy then to tell weak from strong
When a man should stand and fight
Or just go along

But today there is no day or night
Today there is no dark or light
Today there is no black or white
Only shades of gray

I remember when the answers seemed so clear
We had never lived with doubt or tasted fear
It was easy then to tell truth from lies
Selling out from compromise
Who to love and who to hate
The foolish from the wise

But today there is no day or night
Today there is no dark or light
Today there is no black or white
Only shades of gray

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

But today there is no day or night
Today there is no dark or light
Today there is no black or white
Only shades of gray
Only shades of gray

Davy Jones, The Monkees and “Daydream Believer”

Day two after news broke of the death of David Bowie (Jones) and the media still awash with tributes and commentaries about the icon.

Got me to thinking about that other David Jones who also died prematurely in his sixties – Davy Jones of The Monkees. My first big crush. Their television show (also called The Monkees) ran from 1966-68 and I was an avid viewer. Bright clothes, great pop songs, psychedelic sets and anarchic, slapstick behaviour – What not to like for a seven-year-old. Their scheduled slot was teatime on a Saturday night so perfect for family viewing.

davy jones

They very cunningly managed to highjack Neil Diamond’s best songs from that era and made them their own, no doubt contributing handsomely to Mr Diamond’s royalty cheques. My favourite was this one however from November 1967 and not a Neil Diamond song as it turns out – Daydream Believer. You only have to hear the first few notes on the piano to recognise what is about to come and boy are you in for a treat (starts at 0:20).

Daydream Believer by The Monkees:

Again, it makes me sad to think of those days nearly 50 years ago watching the impossibly cute Davy Jones leading the rest of the boys with his tamborine in hand. His diminutive size meant that he never really seemed to grow old and was a very handsome man right up until his death. After a spell of acting as a youth (Ena Sharples’ nephew in early Coronation Street) he became an apprentice jockey, but after taking up the role of the Artful Dodger in the West End, his show business path was set. He contined to have a lifelong love of horses however, and died aged just 66 after being out riding.

The Monkees never really did reunite properly although there were a few mini reunions over the years, the last being in 2011 to celebrate their 45th anniversary. The main reason was that they could never get Mike Nesmith on-board. His mother had invented and patented correction fluid, “Tippex”, so he inadvertently became a Tippex millionaire who didn’t really need the money and preferred to concentrate on his own projects – Very Rock ‘n’ Roll!

So from one David Jones (a Londoner turned Berliner turned New Yorker) to another David Jones (a Mancunian turned Angeleno turned Floridian) in two blogs. And both dead by the age of 70 – Far, far too young.

index

Daydream Believer Lyrics
(Song by John Stewart)

Oh, I could hide ‘neath the wings
Of the bluebird as she sings
The six o’clock alarm would never ring
But it rings and I rise
Wipe the sleep out of my eyes
The shavin’ razor’s cold and it stings

Cheer up, sleepy Jean
Oh, what can it mean
To a daydream believer
And a homecoming queen

You once thought of me
As a white knight on a steed
Now you know how happy I can be
Oh, and our good times start and end
Without dollar one to spend
But how much, baby, do we really need