(Entertainer Davy Jones died today, February 29, 2012, in Florida of a heart attack. In thinking about his life and the influence he had on millions of kids like me growing up with the Monkees, I decided I wanted to repost this article I wrote here on March 5, 2011.)

One of the strange components of acting is, well, the basic idea of acting -- accepting pay to spend your days pretending, like being an undercover spy or a hooker. But what happens when the public won’t let an actor leave a role behind? What if you have a ghost that never leaves you? Do you let typecasting ruin your career, do you roll with it and be the ghost, do you try to do anything you can to bury the ghost for good?

Oddly enough, I got to thinking about this in regards to the ‘60s TV pop group, The Monkees, and an announcement this past week that three of the group would reunite for a tour this year. The four original members – Davy Jones, Peter Tork, Mickey Dolenz, and Mike Nesmith – either had the best timing or the worst, depending on your view.  “The Monkees” were developed for NBC-TV by Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider as a weekly series based loosely on the Beatles’ sunny/snarky personality-defined pop of “A Hard Day’s Night.” There had yet to be a group that had stepped into the “American Beatles” role, though many had hoped, tried, and failed. Everyone at that point was scrambling to hook into the Beatles’ magic, and millions. So a TV series, which served as a marketing platform, was written and a “group” formed via open call audition.

"The Monkees" TV Show opening and end credits

It was destined to succeed, because of kids like me. I LOVED the Monkees! Their music was very good, adorable import Brit Davy Jones broke the Cute-O-Meter, and the pacing, look, and dialogue of the show seemed fast and fresh. I wasn’t looking into artistic integrity; I was 4 1/2 years old! I watched the program faithfully, and badgered my parents to buy me the 45s as each came out as well as all the products the group was required per contract to pitch me. I bought Monkees coloring books and View Master reels and gum trading cards and comic books. I made goo-goo eyes at on-screen Davy Jones, and wondered if he was worth pitching Paul McCartney for as my future husband. All the little kids, tweens, and teens powered “The Monkees” to success – the mid- and tail-sections of the Baby Boomers.

The show was also destined to fail with a resounding crash within two years. One reason for the demise of the franchise was the year “The Monkees” debuted on TV: Fall 1966. If the show had been delivered a full year or two earlier, it would not have so quickly run into the creative differences and audience turn-around that it did -- once again, because of the Beatles. In 1964 when the Beatles made their iconic entry into the States and “A Hard Day’s Night” was released, the pop music business was still in the hands of the old school Brill Building, Tin Pan Alley type of operation. Most artists were not songwriters, nor expected to be. Many played no instruments. The record company team and agents and managers were expected to find appropriate songs from “pro” writers, bring in session musicians to fill the holes or replace less-than-perfect group members on recordings, and groom the image with rehearsed press quotes. But by ’66, heavy hands-on formulaic pop stars were fading fast, replaced by the growing expectation that ALL groups should write and perform their own material, and “do their own thing,” as the Beatles had. The slicksters in the industry were seen as hopelessly uncool, from another era, and definitely a representation of “The Man,” and The Man was having real generational issues then.

The Monkees themselves, front-end Baby Boomers, almost immediately ran headlong into the difficulties caused by the weirdness of portraying a band, but not being a band, and being musicians and wanting to actually participate with choice in their recordings, but being treated like actors in a very long commercial jingle. Each of them chose to sign a contract to be a Monkee, seemingly with very little foresight into exactly what that would mean. What do you do when you are singing on “Last Train To Clarksville” as “Mickey Dolenz” and not Mickey Dolenz without the quotes? That’s still your name, your voice, your face…but you are owned. You remain “Mickey” even when you aren’t that Mickey. The guys made strong attempts to represent themselves as who they really were on their records, but it was an uphill battle that in the end was too hard to fight.

So, yes, I helped to ruin the Monkees. The teens were going along with the Beatles again to the harder and more individualistic sounds of “Magical Mystery Tour” and “The White Album.” It was the little kids like me who were still little in 1968 when  “The Monkees” went off the air, and I was crushed. I still loved pop singles and was totally not OK with the Beatles having facial hair. Little comic-clutching Kool-Aid-stained-mouthed kiddies were not groovy then, unless you were one of The Banana Splits. I remember reading in 16 Magazine how the Monkees’ show was being canceled and how we all needed to write NBC and call our local TV stations to protest, and I asked my brother to write a letter for me while I dictated. I can’t remember now if he did it, but I’m sure I was plenty obnoxious about asking. It stayed on in Saturday syndication for quite some time, but the world had changed. The snappy fun of “A Hard Day’s Night” lived on in “Laugh-In,” and not so much in music.

Peter Tork was the first to bail from the Monkees, buying out his contract at a huge financial price in 1969. The other three continued on for awhile, with Mike Nesmith leaving next, and Mickey Dolenz and Davy Jones – the two “actors” of the four – stayed on until the franchise was completely dead. I have somewhat mixed feelings about them now. On one hand, each signed up voluntarily for the Monkees Army, each took some pretty hefty checks home, and each became famous, which we can assume they all wanted. But they have each been so burdened with the criticism of being phony, musically-illegitimate candy floss. It’s not at all fair. Each one of the group were talented, but not in ways that were going to mesh well together in the real world, especially after the series had ended but the contracts for recording were still in force. Take a listen to this performance from Nesmith, Dolenz, and Jones from “The Johnny Cash Show.” After you get over thinking that “Whoa, the Monkees were on the Johnny Cash Show, “ you can’s lovely.

None of the four were ever able to be bigger than the Monkees, in the same way that Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney will never just be individuals – they will be Beatles first and foremost forever. The Monkee men have come together a couple times over the years, or a few of them at a time anyway, but rancor has seemed to rule the day. Not a surprise. They didn’t come together naturally; why should they be expected to ever gel? Cynics could answer “money,” because there’s a chunk of that in reunion tours these days. Idealists could answer “shared history,” because like the Beatles, only those four guys know exactly what it was like to be a Monkee.

1966 is a long, long time ago now. All the Monkees are AARP-aged. Their hits are still played and played and played on the radio, and people still love them. For all the good and bad of the experience,  however hard it was to haul ghosts around all these years, it would be nice if these gents could remember that music outlasts us all, and brings great happiness and comfort to the world. Wear your idealist Monkees t-shirt proudly, I say! 

Davy Jones on "The Brady Bunch," 1971