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The Monkees: Image -vs- Reality

Hey, Hey

You always remember things you loved from childhood with a little extra kindness, even if maturity and hindsight suggest they really weren’t as great as you may have thought them to be. Days of being bombarded with Monkees songs, as a way of marking the passing last week of singer Davy Jones, put me in a strangely reflective place, and touched off a nice little emotional war inside my head between my sentimental and cynical selves.

The band was a test tube baby created by Madison Avenue and the music industry. Brad Markowitz @ The Smack

My world weary, media savvy side looks at the whole Monkees phenomenon as a storm cloud that preceded the deluge of pre-packaged marketing creations foisted on generations of teeny boppers from Bobby Sherman to the Backstreet Boys to Justin Bieber.

The band (if you could call the Monkees a band) was a test tube baby created by Madison Avenue and the music industry, a marketing device purely concocted to drive the ratings for a TV show. The whole concept was an attempt to surf the wave of Beatle Mania in general and to ape the style and wit of Richard Lester’s brilliant Fab Four film, “A Hard Day’s Night” in specific. That ground breaking film, which laid the groundwork for everything from music videos to reality show television, was the obvious blueprint for “The Monkees.” The four engaging guys with prototypical personalities (Deep Thinker, Joker, Heart Throb, Puppy Dog), the on stage uniforms, the breezy, self deprecating attitude, the surreal camera tricks, etc.

Real or Memorex?

The difference, of course, is that the Beatles were a real band with genuine personalities which were amplified by the movie rather than created especially for it. Oh, yes, and they had actual talent. It’s easy in this light to dismiss The Monkees as pale imitators and their show as a calculated bunch of imitative drivel. It’s hard to miss the irony of the lyrics from their theme song: “We’re the young generation, and we’ve got something to say.” The Monkees, in fact, had NOTHING to say, other than, “Watch us, we’re cute,” and, of course, “Buy the products advertised on our show.” The whole thing is distressingly similar to the story line in “Hard Day’s Night” in which George Harrison gets kidnapped by a sleazy ad executive and forced to answer a crass questionnaire about what styles the Beatles favor. “Now you’ll like these. You’ll really “dig” them. They’re “fab,” and all the other pimply hyperboles…”

On the Other Hand

But then again, maybe there’s another way to view The Monkees phenomenon — as a clever, self-referential parody that may have been as much of a road map to “Spinal Tap” and Sascha Baron Cohen as “A Hard Day’s Night” was to The Monkees. After all, it wasn’t just a show about a rock band. It was a show about a rock band trying to make it as a rock band. If you look closely enough, you can see little, veiled digs at the music industry’s shallowness, the glam world of Hollywood, and the hypocrisy of society — all artfully buried in the silly, comedic plots.

Or, maybe I’m just looking TOO closely. In the end, it probably doesn’t matter whether they were imitators or innovators, clever or crass, artists or posers. The fact is, when I was a little kid and The Monkees were on the air, I never missed an episode. I liked them. I liked the music. I wanted to live on their beach, play guitars with them and hang out with their pretty girls. I wanted to BE them. Part of me still does.

1 Comment on The Monkees: Image -vs- Reality

  1. I’ve just listened to a couple hours of music from The Monkees and the debate about organic or manufactured music seems lost to the ages for me. This is just great music. I don’t think you can fake that. Listen to “Shades of Gray.” My God, they were great. Pop, infectious, yet occasionally deep like “Last Train to Clarksville.” Long live The Monkees!

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