This popped up in my inbox the other day, and, oh Ticketmaster, you don’t know what you’re asking. How do I describe for other Monkees fans – or for anyone, for that matter – how the concert was? How do I describe how any of this has gone? Begin at the beginning. It’s a very good place to start.
I have loved the Monkees with a deep and utterly committed passion since 1986. Even before that, I knew who they were and watched the television show when it was on in reruns here and there. But in 1986, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, and Davy Jones reunited for the 20th anniversary of their beginnings, went on tour, and my life changed. Since then, The Monkees have always been a part of it. The 1986 reunion concert, the television show, their music, more concerts, birthday cakes, 8th grade art projects, posters covering my teenage bedroom…my fandom is as much a part of me as my size seven feet or my surgery scars.
So when Davy Jones suddenly died February, 2012, I was quite devastated, in that curious and unique way when beloved stars die; like losing someone in your life who is both a stranger and a childhood friend. It’s a loss that certainly isn’t personal but is also very personal. And with that loss, I felt that The Monkees were also, effectively, over. For the previous 26 years, The Monkees had performed and functioned as a threesome: Micky, Davy, Peter. How could they go on without the heart of the group, the Manchester Cowboy?
But with an enigmatic Facebook post that summer from Michael Nesmith, the fourth and mostly long-absent Monkee, they did go on. Mike was not part of the 1986 reunion that brought me into the fandom. Scheduling issues, work with his video production company, and maybe personal politics kept him away, although he did join the others for a one-off concert date in Los Angeles, and an event here and there. But suddenly, this man, who I had ceased to consider as part of the touring Monkees, was joining Micky and Peter on stage. As a Monkee. For an entire tour. This was mind-blowing to me. I bought tickets for the Chicago date in November, 2012 as soon as they went on sale. That night was an ecstatic celebration of one of the most important parts of my childhood. It was a renewing of something I thought was lost to me, with the death of Davy Jones. And it was a reacquaintance with a man who was suddenly a Monkee again. Michael brought The Monkees back and gave them new life. What a gift.
And then he went on tour with them again in 2013. And again in 2014. He also toured in those years with his own solo show, Movies of The Mind. I was so fortunate to see all of this. The Monkees came roaring back into my life, a vibrant going concern once again. This new configuration, with Mike on stage and involved, was intoxicating and wonderful. By just being present, Nez gave The Monkees a wealth of material to perform live that I had certainly never heard nor expected to hear on stage. And his sensibilities and musical style gave the live shows a new flavor and energy that was totally exhilarating. Before 2012, I had seen the Micky, Davy, and Peter combination of The Monkees several times, and these Mike shows were very different in tone and feel. There was a seriousness about the music and performing that the previous shows didn’t necessarily have. Don’t misunderstand me: I adored Davy and always will. I support the horses he left behind; he was my first pretend boyfriend. Meeting him in 1987 on his book tour was easily the highlight of my life for years, and I love him like no other celebrity. But these new tours with Michael felt very differently musically, and I can’t deny that. Michael brings a depth to The Monkees music through his prolific and intelligent songwriting and his masterful performance. It’s been a different Monkees.
And now, in 2016, the 50th anniversary of the 1966 television premier of The Monkees – and the 30th anniversary of my own fandom, Michael Nesmith has said his goodbye to performing as a Monkee.
It’s a lot to take in. When I bought tickets for the September 16 show at The Pantages Theater in Los Angeles, I knew only two things: one, that I needed to see The Monkees again on the 50th Anniversary Tour – I’d seen them closer to home, with my SamePageCast partner, Craig, in Hammond, back in June – and second, that if Michael was going to join them at all in 2016, it would be in California. Something told me that I needed to be there if that happened.
On August 19th, Michael announced via Facebook that he would indeed be joining Micky and Peter, for what would be the last time:
The show is set for September 16th — which I believe is almost a perfect match for the fifty year anniversary of the TV show — at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles. I am bringing Gretsch, my beautiful, intelligent blonde to help me, and it looks like I’ll make it once again.
I expect it will be fun, and a great way for me to sign out. I see the specter of the multiple Sinatra retirement/farewells — and this seems like the perfect time for me to step off, sit down and shut up.
Hope I see you there. No, I don’t have any tickets. What a long strange trip it’s been said TGD — and it looks like I’ve made it to the end.
Through a series of wonderful and crazy events, Craig and I were invited to come to LA and see the show with the generous Pat Francis of The Rock Solid Podcast. It was quite an amazing trip, culminating in our appearing on Pat’s show to talk about The Monkees’ musical catalog. That alone would have been enough for one lifetime, but the Pantages show… that show.
I can’t describe in words the feeling in the theater when the three Monkees walked on to the stage. I know that, like when I left the Joyce Athletic and Convocation Center at Notre Dame in November, 1986, my life has been changed. I didn’t know then how central and important The Monkees and my fandom would be to my life. They brought me through trauma and abuse; they lifted me up and gave me something to focus on and laugh with. They taught me 5/4 time and key changes and informed my musicianship. They helped me finish grad school; they introduced me to Craig and SamePageCast. And with the show at the Pantages on September 16, they’ve changed me once again.
You can hear a full run down on the setlist and our overall impressions in an episode of the podcast, but here’s what I didn’t get around to saying: Michael’s last show was as much about facing my own life and mortality as it was the final performance of a man who is busy with other projects. Davy’s death four years ago was a shock and a reminder that life is too often very short and ends without pomp and circumstance. In the four years since, I’ve suffered some loss and sad endings in my own life, and have begun to face the fact that childhood is long over and was not what I thought it was. Perhaps 42 is late to come to this, perhaps not. But for me, this period of truly becoming an adult has been the some of the most bittersweet and difficult growing of my life.
As I watched Michael take the stage for his final solo number, Tapioca Tundra, the emotions that welled in me and spilled over, smearing my eye makeup and blurring my vision were complex. Gratitude for this man who allowed me four more years of living the best parts of my childhood. Grief for the little girl who was denied her innocence and freedom. Sadness for the too early loss of David Thomas Jones, a man who loved his audience. Love for the people in my life who accept me as who I am now, despite my trauma and pain. Selfish regret that I’ll never see The Monkees like this again.
Michael told a story before he started the song, about the writing of it back in 1967 after The Monkees’ first live performance together. He said, “we all agreed that there was something else on the stage that night with the four of us…it was you.” It brought a refrain from the song into sharp relief, and gave it meaning it never held before:
It cannot be a part of me for now it’s part of you.
He sang it with emotion and vulnerability and a touch of yearning. The connection and love in the theater was palpable. We didn’t get to say goodbye to Davy, but we were, all of us, sharing one last moment with Michael. Like what he did for us in 2012, he gave us an incredible gift. For now it’s part of you.
And now, perhaps, my story is also part of you. The story of a little girl who was hurt irrevocably in her childhood, but saved by a television show and a band of four funny, handsome guys and their music. A girl who was given the past four years to relive the joy that they gave her, when she never expected to feel that again. A girl who has grown up, left childish things behind, but will never lose the childlike sense of wonder and hope that four strangers on a stage could bring her.
Thank you, Michael.