Staying in Focus: From the Footsteps of the Beatles to Rocking with the Monkees

IMG_2318What a summer for escaping to the past, musically speaking! While in Liverpool, England, we toured the boyhood homes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, visited Penny Lane and the Cavern, and toured The Story of the Beatles Museum. Then, last night we rocked with the Monkees – Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork and Mickey Dolenz. (Sadly, Davy Jones passed away last year.)

The two bands could not have been farther apart in the beginning. The Beatles were all singers, songwriters, musicians. They found each other and formed their camaraderie by choice. The Monkees were formed through auditions for a comedy TV show about four young men trying to break into the world of rock and roll. Their individual backgrounds were quite different. Davy Jones had a background in musical theatre, Mickey Dolenz was a child actor (Circus Boy), Peter Tork was folk singer/musician and Mike Nesmith , a singer/songwriter/musician.

But somehow, despite being loudly criticized as a “manufactured band,’ they were able to meld their talents, fought for control of their music and the right to play their own instruments. Mickey learned how to play the drums and his voice added a distinctive sound to many of their hit songs. Davy was already an accomplished vocalist, and Mike and Peter, already musicians, added their talents in singing, song writing and  playing instruments.  Mike’s country sound also added a distinctive flavor to their music. He is credited with  being a pioneer of country rock.

What emerged was a phenomenon, never duplicated as far as I know. And to those critics, including some classmates I had in 8th grade,who, not able to play a single note themselves, sneered at the band that “wasn’t real”, I say that a long time ago the four pinocchioes became real boys, who grew into real musicians, who can still rock the house 47 years later to a crowd that included as many youngsters as there were gray and silver-haired original fans. Can they top that? I think not.

At ages 68 to 71, they played and sang with gusto, made us laugh with their Monkee antics (Mike’s imitation of  a Moog Synthesizer nearly did us in!) and took us back to another time…as did walking through the homes of John and Paul, a few weeks earlier, and imagining them there, writing those legendary songs.

I have to admit to getting a bit misty-eyed when it came time to sing Daydream Believer.” With  Davy’s image on the stage-sized video screen hanging behind them, Mickey explained they were uncertain at first as to who would sing the song. Mike suggested that none of them could, because the song no longer belonged to them, but to us. So the entire audience stood up and sang the song together. I looked up at the video at one point and saw Davy’s young face, singing with all his heart, and I thought, that was my youth. I was there. . .

This brought to mind the words of a song by the Moody Blues called Vintage Wine

                                 I remember the taste of the vintage wine
                                             from 63 through to 69
                             and I’m proud of the things we believed in then
                              if Ihad the chance, I’d go around again
                              oh, I tell you, we were young and free
                              oh, I tell you, because I was there you see…

Last night we sang the songs we will never forget with a band we will always remember. Thank you, Papa Nez, Mickey, Peter and Davy.  And thank you John, Paul ,George and Ringo. Thanks for the taste of the vintage wine. Thanks for the music.


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