Full disclosure: Where the Monkees are concerned, I will brook no criticism.
Just ask any of the other three members of the Colony Bend Elementary School Monkees Fan Club (1986-1988). Or my parents, who sat with me through not one but two Monkees concerts (during their unfortunate '80s Pool It! era, no less) at the AstroArena in Houston (my dad even helped me sneak in a tape player—a risky proposition in those days, or so I thought).
Or ask my friends now, who've listened to endless lectures on why the Monkees are better than the Beatles (obviously), why their plotless, psychedelic, 1968 film Head is the best music film of all time (obviously), and why guitarist Mike Nesmith was one of America's first psychedelic country musicians.I had a chance to talk with one of the three surviving Monkees (Davy Jones died last year at the age of 66), the still-dulcet-voiced lead singer Micky Dolenz, before the band arrives in Seattle for "A Midsummer's Night with the Monkees" at Benaroya Hall on August 17.
I was one of the '80s kids who became a huge Monkees fan in 1986, when MTV was replaying the shows and when you released the albums Then and Now and Pool It!. The new songs on those albums were very much a product of their time (they feature lots of synthesizers and cheesy saxophone riffs). Are you planning to play any of that stuff from the '80s at this show?
No, we’re not. With Davy passing, it’s changed the dynamic a lot. When Mike and Peter (Tork) and I got together last year for a memorial service (for Jones), that’s when we discussed going out and doing, originally, just one or two shows—memorial concerts for David. Then it sort of turned into a tour, and the material started to skew itself, besides the obvious things like the big hits, toward the stuff that Mike had written and sang.
The show is a little bit of a narrative of the musical chronology of the Monkees, doing the tunes in the order that they were created starting with the first couple of albums. We play quite a few tunes from Headquarters. Then we end with some of the big smash hits. And we have an awful lot of video.
Why the focus on Headquarters? Is it because that was the first album the Monkees themselves wrote and produced?
That was really special. We had little or no control over what was being done before that. Peter tells a story of going in to one of the early sessions with his bass guitar and being asked, "What are you doing here?"
We were led to believe that they would be contributing and writing and singing and playing (on the show and albums), and that wasn’t the case. So Headquarters was the palace revolt. After that, we won the right to at least have some control over what was being done.
You've been doing this for more than 45 years now. Are there any songs you are just sick of playing?
Not really. The way I approached the whole project, right from the beginning, is that I was an entertainer cast to be the wacky drummer in this imaginary group that didn’t really exist. It's a lot like Glee—that’s the first thing that’s come along in a long time that has a similar paradigm, which is a TV show about an imaginary glee club, yet all the performers and actors and singers can actually do it. I’ve always approached it like that. So when I get back on stage, I’m sort of recreating my role, like I would if I went back to do another musical.
Mike came up with this way of looking at it: We don’t own these songs any more—the audience does. If you go into it with that sort of an attitude—we’re just the delivery system for your memories—it makes it fun.
How are you handling the songs Davy sang on this tour? Is someone else going to sing them?
We won't be doing as many as we did (on our tour) last year. It was not the Davy Jones Memorial Tour, but it was quite a nice homage or a tribute to him. Now that it’s been a year and a half, we didn’t feel appropriate to do too much. But we definitely acknowledge him and do some of his material.
With "Daydream Believer," which we always thought we had to do, it was Mike’s idea to bring up someone from the audience to lead a singalong.
Let's talk about the Monkees' enduring appeal. The band has been around, on and off, for nearly 50 years. Every time you guys reemerge—in the '80s on MTV, in the '90s when the four of you recorded a new album (Justus), and now—there's always a huge outpouring of support and excitement from fans, as if you never went away. Are you surprised by that, and to what do you attribute it?
I'm not surprised, but then again, I’ve been living with it for decades. We have a huge, very positive response and we always have. I’ve thought about it a lot over the years, because I did a lot of TV and production myself when I lived in England [in the 1980s] and had some pretty nice successes.
The short answer is, you can’t reduce something like the Monkees or any TV show or albums or anything, in a scientific way, and say, "Oh, it was songwriting, or it was the production, the script, this actor, that director." The business doesn’t work like that. What happens, basically, is you surround yourself with people you hope are talented, and work hard, and at some point the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
A Midsummer’s Night
with the Monkees
Aug 17 at 8, Benaroya Hall, $47–$127