Confession of a TV Addict #13: Remembering Peter Tork and The Monkees


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Before the advent of cable and MTV and music videos, there was The Monkees. Now I know some of you are going give me flak about “The Pre-Fab Four”, how they weren’t a real band, just a commercialized, bubblegum TV concept, so let me put this in perspective… if you were an eight-year-old kid  like me back in The Monkees’ heyday, you watched the show every week, bought the records, and actually enjoyed them! That’s where I’m coming from, and that’s why I’m writing this tribute to the late Peter Tork, who passed away today of cancer at age 77.

Peter Thorkleson was born in Washington, D.C. on February 13, 1942, and as a child loved music, learning to play piano, guitar, bass, and banjo early on. After college, he shortened his name to Tork and hit New York City, becoming part of the burgeoning Greenwich Village folk scene. He…

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Rockin’ in the Film World #12: The Monkees in HEAD (Columbia 1968)


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The Monkees (Davy Jones, Mickey Dolenz, Peter Tork, and Mike Nesmith) brought rock’n’roll to TV with their mega-successful 1966-68 musical sitcom. Inspired by The Beatles’ onscreen antics in A HARD DAY’S NIGHT and HELP!, producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider cast four fresh-faced youths (Jones was a Tony nominee for OLIVER!, Dolenz had starred in TV’s CIRCUS BOY, Tork and Nesmith were vets of the folk-rock scene), hired some of the era’s top songwriters (Gerry Goffin & Carole King, Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart, Neil Diamond, Harry Nilsson) and session musicians (Hal Blaine, James Burton, Glen Campbell  , Carol Kaye), and Monkeemania became a full-fledged teenybop pop phenomenon.

Detractors (and there were many) in the music biz called them ‘The Pre-Fab Four’, looking down their noses at The Monkees while looking up as hits like “I’m a Believer”, “Daydream Believer”, and “Pleasant Valley Sunday” climbed to the top of the…

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Shattered Politics #26: Wild In The Streets (dir by Barry Shear)


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I am really not looking forward to turning 30.

Seriously, the great thing about being in your 20s is that everything is set up to specifically appeal to you.  Everyone wants your attention, your money, your tweets, your ideas, you love, and everything else.  And, yes, I understand that most people neither like nor respect my generation but oh well and whatever.  Trust me, the generation coming up behind mine is a hundred times worse.

2008 was a great time to be a politically knowledgeable millennial.  Everyone running for President was desperate to get our vote and they were willing to promise us anything.  And, since my age group voted overwhelmingly for Obama, all of the old elitists in the national media briefly fell in love with us.  (The genius of Obama’s 2008 campaign was to tell us that we were the people that we were waiting for.  Technically, it’s a bit nonsensical but never doubt what you can accomplish by appealing to the ego of the electorate.)

Of course, over the past few years, my generation has essentially been fucked over by both political parties and, since we dared to complain about it, nobody likes us anymore.  But, oh well and whatever.  American culture is basically built around our whims so we really don’t need anyone else’s love.

And, if all this sounds a little bitter or angry, I would point that young people and old people have been at war since time began.  Generational conflict is nothing new.  And if you need proof of that, I suggest watching a film from 1968 called Wild In The Streets.

Wild in the Streets tells the story of Max Frost (Christopher Jones), a rock star who lives in a gigantic mansion with his band and his groupies.   When Max is asked to perform at a campaign appearance for senate candidate Johnny Fergus (Hal Holbrook), he agrees to do so because Fergus supports lowering the voting age.  (When Wild In The Streets was made, you had to be 21 to vote.  So, if your birthday fell on election day, you could cast your first vote and then go have your first legal drink.)  However, at the rally, Max announces that he wants 14 year-olds to have the vote and then performs a song called “14 or fight!”

Max’s song is such a sensation and leads to so many protests that, in a compromise, the voting age is lowered to 15.  Johnny Fergus is elected to the Senate and, before you can say “Blue dog,” promptly starts to ignore the will of the people who supported him.  So, Max arranges for his girlfriend Sally (Diane Varsi) to be elected to the U.S. House.  After spiking the water supply of Washington D.C. with LSD, Sally gets a bill passed and the age requirement for holding political office is lowered to 14!

Of course, in the next election, 24 year-old Max Frost is elected President of the United States.  Soon, anyone over the age of 35 is being sent to re-education camps where they are force-fed LSD.  Max is so ruthless that he even sends his own mother (Shelley Winters) off to re-education.

And, with all the old people gone, everything is perfect for Max.  Except for that fact that 10 year-olds are now demanding the vote…

In many ways, Wild in the Streets feels like a film that could have only been made in 1968.  From the psychedelic direction to the costumes to the hair to music, everything about this movie screams late 60s.  But, at the same time, it’s still a genuinely amusing satire, largely because generational conflict is timeless.  We all think that those older than us are clueless and that those younger are spoiled.  There’s a lot of things in your life that can control.  Sadly enough, getting older is not one of them.

Wild in the Streets is a fun and amusing time capsule.  See it now before the younger generation comes of age and totally fucks up the world.

What Lisa Marie Watched Last Night: Head (dir. by Bob Rafelson)


Last night, I turned over to TCM and I watched the 1968 film Head.

Why Was I Watching It?

Though Head was a notorious box office bomb when it was released in 1968, it has since become notorious as one of the most incomprehensible movies ever made.  Every book that I’ve ever read about film or pop culture in the 1960s makes mention of Head.  Not only was the film written by a pre-Easy Rider Jack Nicholson, but the film also featured The Monkees literally acting out against their stardom by committing career suicide by appearing the film that was apparently conceived while Nicholson and director Bob Rafelson were tripping on LSD.  I’ve read about Head in dozens of books and I’ve seen it described as being “a surreal masterpieces,” “an incomprehensible, pretentious mess,” and “a total head trip of a film.”  Having now seen the film, I can say that’s all true. 

I do have to admit that before I saw Head, I didn’t know who the Monkees were.  Don’t get me wrong — I knew that there was a band in the 60s called The Monkees and I knew that they had their own TV show.  Thanks to the fact that The Brady Bunch Movie played on cable for like two months straight earlier this year, I knew which one was Davey Jones.  But, that was about it.  Even after seeing Head, I’m still not really sure I could tell you which was one was Mickey Dolenz and which one was Peter Tork.  I also have to admit that I spent the first half of the film referring to Michael Nesmith as the “Texan with the sideburns.”

Fortunately, I watched Head with two wonderful groups of people on twitter — the TCM Party and the Drive-In Mob.  They came together last night and provided a very entertaining live tweet session devoted to the film.  Unlike me, they actually knew one Monkee from another and following their tweets helped me survive the film’s rough first half.  To all of them, I say “Thank you for the education.”

What’s It About?

That’s not an easy question to answer but I’ll try.

The Monkees jump off a bridge and plunge into the psychedelic waters below but they’re saved from drowning by a bunch of mermaids.  This, of course, leads to the four members of the groups finding themselves in scenes from a war film, a boxing film, a western film, and eventually they discover that they’re actually dandruff on the head of actor Victor Mature.  Ultimately, they end up wandering around on a studio backlot where they’re menaced by veteran scary actor  Timothy Carey and an ominous black box that seems to intent on trapping them.  The Monkees react to this by running for their lives, complaining to Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson about the script, and telling everyone that they meet that they’re just actors in a film.  Eventually, it appears that the Monkees don’t have any options left beyond committing public suicide but Rafelson has other ideas…

What Worked?

If you’re as obsessed with pop cultural history as I am, Head is one of those films that simply you have to see.  Even if you find the film to be totally incomprehensible and just a tad bit pretentious, Head is a valuable artifact of its time.  Head is a film that could have only been made in the late 60s and it epitomizes everything about the age that produced it.  It’s like a cinematic Pompeii.

Now, I have to admit that most of the enjoyment I got out of the first half of the film came more from my own curiosity as a secret history nerd than from the film itself.  However, the second half of the film is often times genuinely entertaining.  The satire is a bit sharper and the overall theme (i.e., the struggle to maintain your own unique individuality in a world that demands conformity) starts emerge from the film’s mix of surreal images.

For me, the film really picked up with Davy Jones’ performance of Daddy’s Song:

The woman dancing with Davy Jones was Toni Basil, who choreographed all the dance numbers in this film.

Here’s another sequence that I particularly enjoyed.  This came towards the end of the film and, as I said on twitter, who doesn’t enjoy a little psychedelic dancing?

What Did Not Work?

While Head had all the virtues of its time, it also had all the flaws.  It’s a definite hit-and-miss affair, with the stronger (and occasionally insightful) moments uneasily balanced with plenty of sequences that dragged.  As you may have guessed, Head is the type of film that’s brilliant if you’re in the mood for it but it’s rather annoying if you’re not.

 

“Oh my God! Just like me!” Moments

I would have loved to have been Toni Basil, dancing with Davy Jones in the Daddy’s Song number.

Lessons Learned

Watching Head, I realized that I had discovered this year’s perfect Christmas present.  I’m going to get a 100 copies of Head on DVD and give them out to everyone I know.  That way, I’ll have an excuse to call everyone up in November and tell them, “Don’t worry, I’m giving you Head for Christmas.”  I think, if nothing else, that’ll make me a very popular girl come December.