Take the last train to Clarksville,
now I must hang up the phone.
I can’t hear you in this noisy railroad station,
I’m feeling low.
Oh, no, no, no
(oh, no, no, no).
And I don’t know if I’m ever coming home.
Davy Jones died yesterday. Not terribly old, when on thinks about how long ago the late-60s really were. That it was barley twenty years past the Great Big War, and that we are now better than forty years past those mod-flowery days is completely blurred by how much closer those sixties people seem to us than to Bogart and the trenchoats and fedoras and Chesterfields of the previous era.
It is not quite ironic to say The Monkees were important, or even that the were, in fact, important, but there is something weird about it. See this chewed up piece of dusty-rose Hubba Bubba on the bottom of your desk, kid? Well, that thing is the cultural pivot. But there it is. Bowie is Bowie, at least in part, because he didn’t want to be confused with young Mr Jones. Meaning that arguably the most revered, innovative, “serious”, thoughtful, character in popular music (who else you gonna nominate. Dylan? OK. Who Else?) is influenced at this profound, metanarrative level. Could a guy named David Jones have evolved into the Thin White Duke without having first become David Bowie?
In the winter quarter of my sophomore year of college, we got cable, and a station ifrom San Francisco started playing The Monkees at 3 o’clock on weekday afternoons. All five of us who lived there, plus whoever we could evangelize or bribe with the promise of bonghits would convene and crowd around the tiny television. Pretty soon we ran out of episodes, though. There is one episode I remember, in particular, where Dolenz, I think, goes to jail, and inside he meets a gangster who looks exactly like him. At some point, someone, Dolenz as gangster, I think, but, you know, it is the hazy mists of Santa Cruz antiquity, is informed he is done, washed up, and he gives the line “I’m not a has been. I’m an am is.”
I was also thinking about how the Monkees are both a Beatles analog and a Sex Pistols analog, and I guess I had never thought explicitly before about the idea os the Pistols being a Beatles analog. I know. Meaning Davy=Vicious=McCartney. So, I guess my conclusion with this little scribble, is that without Davy and the Monkees we wouldn’t have quite the culture we know. David Bowie, the other Davy Jones, would certainly done something, but who can say what it might have been. Johnny Lydon might have led a coup on the Windsor crown if he hadn’t had punk rock to save him. Without the permission the Monkees gave to not need to actually play an instrument to be in a band, or the permission the gave, hell the encouragement they gave, to just form a band because it was cool, not so much because you were ever going to actually play a song.
I think the Monkees, being sort of an extended, diluted version of Help! and Hard Days Night, and in conspiracy with these movies, sort of created for pop culture audiences at large the picture of what the lifestyle of a pop band is in the same way the abstract-expressionists created the idea of what the lifestyle of a 20th century artist is. This ideal of all living in the same house, driving the same car, breaking into song at the end of each episode. It is sort of the default way I think of rock bands, these bands of floppy haired brothers sleeping late and living off the land. And girls. As opposed to the itenerant labor/hired gun persona of the jazz man, living alone, playing alone, packing his horn, going home.
I could probably develop this into something more coherent, but by then someone else would be dead, and upon reading it some months in the future after it has been thought through and worked out, you would say “Fine, but why is he writing about this now.” I was just thinking about Davy Jones. Davy Jones died yesterday. That bubblegum meant something.
I leave you with this, something a man in New Orleans once said to me: Just because it is the flavor of the month, doesn’t mean it isn’t delicious.