Davy Jones has died from a heart attack. He was 66.

One of my first obsessions with any television show was “The Monkees.” I think it was either VH1 or MTV (or both) that showed them incessantly at one point in the 1980s after it was found that Baby Boomers were finally old enough to feel and crave nostalgia. The show was perfect fodder for a child whose father was rearing him on The Beatles, combining fun and kitsch with genuinely great songwriting.

Of course, I was too young at the time to know or even listen to the cynical explanation of The Monkees as a crass commercialization of sixties culture. As I got older, the uber-cynical part of me actually embraced The Monkees through what some would see as the contrarian view that the project was no more manipulative or exploitative than most other acts from that era. If anything, one could argue they were in a very real way a bit more transparent than many of their “legitimate” contemporaries, in that while Mickey Dolenz aped being able to play the drums, they didn’t pretend to be anything they weren’t.

Then there was “Head.”

I actually didn’t see “Head,” The Monkees’ move to the big screen after the cancellation of their television show, until I arrived home at some absurd hour one weekend when I was 19 and turned on Turner Classic Movies. I’d never heard of it, even, and as I watched I kept mumbling to myself (in-between continued solitary imbibing) “what on Earth?” I woke up the next morning determined to see it again, but sober. It took eight years but it finally happened.  I adored how absurd yet honest it was. The film, co-written and co-produced by Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson, alternately lampooned and grappled with The Monkees’ role as corporate pitchmen with dadaist humor that went off the rails of the narrative but never became pretentious. It was self-aware but gorgeous, as shown in the video above (“The Porpoise Song.”).

It also highlighted the oft overlooked talents of the group, especially Davy Jones. What an incredible performer he was: charismatic, engaging, genuinely likable. He was such a small guy physically, but carried such a tremendous presence with him. And that voice! One of the things I’ve always felt but don’t think I’ve ever seen expressed is how earnest and believable he was when singing those songs. Of course it helped that he had people like Neil Diamond writing them (though fellow Monkee Michael Nesmith also wrote some tremendous stuff for them), but only Davey could have made the whole thing work.

The news of Davy Jones’ death legitimately bummed me out when I read it. So long, kid.

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3 Responses to So long, Davy Jones

  1. Chuck Miller says:

    And now the baby boomer icons of our generation start to fall, one by one… when you think about it, The Monkees was created in how television producers saw the Beatles – if the only thing they ever saw were movies like A Hard Day’s Night and Help.  And then, over time, the Monkees continued to evolve with the times, going from a knockabout comedy show to a surreal excursion into the Summer of Love and psychedelia.  Fun stuff.  BTW, “The Porpoise Song” was a Gerry Goffin / Carole King song, not a Peter Tork song.  But great blog post all around, Kevin…

  2. Bob Thayer says:

    The news of his passing is very sad. I, too, was a child of the resurgence.  When MTV reran the series in the 80’s, Rhino Records reprinted all the albums and they even went on tour in 1987 (with opening act Weird Al), I ate that up! I owned every album on vinyl, and most were originals (not Rhino reprints). I always gravitated toward the Nesmith songs like “Papa Gene’s Blues,” “Tapioca Tundra,” and “Never Tell A Woman Yes” but I loved the more surreal sounding stuff like “Shorty Blackwell” and “The Porpoise Song”.

    My favorite one sung by Jones has to be “Star Collector”.

    RIP, man.

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