By Kathleen Vanesian
By Amy Silverman
By Robrt L. Pela
By Jim Louvau
By Kathleen Vanesian
By Benjamin Leatherman
By New Times
By Becky Bartkowski
Let's think back to the summer of 1986, when it was only 20 years ago to the day that the Monkees first said, "Hey, hey!" Concertgoers at the Jones Beach Theater in New York were doing their customary hanging out in the parking lot before the show. But this was not your ordinary rock-concert crowd. When have you ever seen people blasting the soundtrack to Head or Instant Replay in public? In broad daylight, no less! For many years, Monkees fans were resigned to getting odd looks when their secret passion for Davy Jones, Mickey Dolenz, Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith was revealed. But when MTV began rerunning The Monkees TV series several times daily, it started a ground swell of renewed interest. Seven of the nine then-reissued Monkees albums on Rhino charted respectably. An Arista best-of collection, which also included three new recordings by the group, went platinum. One of the new numbers, "That Was Then, This Is Now," became a Top 20 single. And Davy, Peter and Mickey's reunion tour (Mike Nesmith declined to participate) turned out to be the year's highest grosser. Not bad for a group that had been dormant for nearly two decades.
Even the group's harshest critics had mellowed enough by the band's 20th anniversary to admit that the Monkees had created an armful of great records. And beleaguered fans could now hold their heads up high.
MTV wasn't so understanding when the zany lads snubbed a promised "Super Bowl Tailgate Party" performance the following year. Immediately, the music channel yanked the reruns off the air. Monkees record sales plummeted; it was 1968 all over again. The trio made one last attempt at cashing in on their former selves in 1987 with a tour and an album, Pool It!. Neither did well; most considered the Monkees story a closed book.
But the people at Rhino records are trying to wrench the cover back open again; label founder Harold Bronson purchased the rights to every show, movie and recording the band ever did, even the Monkees' groovy, guitar-shaped logo. In September, the company began reissuing the group's original nine Colgems albums on CD--three at a time in two-month intervals. This week, the second set of titles hits the racks: the Head soundtrack, The Monkees Present and More of the Monkees. Once the remaining albums are out in January 1995, Rhino Home Video will make available all 58 TV episodes, the band's full-length feature film, Head (co-written by Jack Nicholson), and the rarely seen 1969 TV special 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee.
Then Rhino will go out of business. Only kidding!
With the exception of Davy playing himself on the Brady Bunch Live shows, Mickey Dolenz has been the only visible Monkee of late. In 1991, he released the daringly titled Mickey Dolenz Puts You to Sleep album, a collection of lullabies for children. Last year, Hyperion Books published I'm a Believer, his take on the Monkees' saga. Currently, Mickey can be seen on Broadway, playing fast-talking disc jockey Vince Fontaine in a revival of Grease that hits the road in a few weeks. How odd it must be for Dolenz, 49, to split his time between portraying a Fifties character in a Seventies play, and rekindling memories of the Sixties in the Nineties for people in their 30s and 40s.
Given the exhaustive self-examination that goes with writing your memoirs, Dolenz has already probably jogged his memory on the subject of the Monkees as much as he's going to. Consequently, many of his accounts on this phone interview from his Manhattan hotel room sound like verbatim quotes from his book. (If you'd like to learn more about the Monkees, wherever possible, we'll list the pages of I'm a Believer where you can hear the same information in greater detail.) Even if people think they've heard all there is to hear about the Monkees, the story will continue being told and retold because it's the only rock 'n' roll fairy tale of its kind. Here was a group that wasn't real, came together through a casting call, sold more records than the Beatles and Elvis combined during its first year of nonexistence, fought its creators to become real and then recorded the rest of its albums independent of one another. Confused? Join the club. The Mickey Monkee Club!
"The whole metamorphosis of the Monkees was very unusual," explains Dolenz. "To this date, I don't think there's been anything like it except maybe Spinal Tap. If you appreciate that The Monkees was a television show first and foremost about a rock group, the fact that we actually became a group is really bizarre. In my book, I say it's like Leonard Nimoy becoming a Vulcan. The line between fantasy and reality disappeared." (Turn to page 91 for the "Vulcan/Spinal Tap" comparison.)
In late 1965, two young Screen Gems producers, Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, set out to create a comedy show based on a "Marx Brothers Meets the Beatles" premise. "They were looking for four guys who were gonna jump out of the screen at you," recalls Dolenz ("Auditions," pages 61-68). Mickey was called back several times while the applicants were whittled down from 470 to 30 to, finally, four.