Friday, April 04, 2008


I'm surprised I haven't seen more 1968 nostalgia products yet. There have been a few retrospectives here and there I've noticed about political events in those days. Usually the media love to celebrate these 10-year anniversary points, in this case 10 years times four. Interesting.

I did see a book in Borders a few days ago with a psychedelic-design cover. From the dust jacket description, it was some boring "culture warrior" grumping about how the dang [Cheney]ing hippies had destroyed Western civilization. Or something along those lines.

The '60s also had a lot of groovy music, as some people supposedly called it back then. (Or was it The Brady Bunch that called it that?) That music would be what today is known as "geezer rock". But, hey, we still listen to Mozart and even older composers, so there's nothing wrong with geezer rock. Sure, some of it is like fingernails on a blackboard. But people have different tastes, I guess.

There was a music group back then called the Monkees. They were also known as the Pre-Fab Four. I understand that nickname was a takeoff on the name Fab Four, which is what the fan magazines called a British group whose name was the Beatles. That guy John Lennon that has a song on the new Body of War soundtrack was in that group back in the day. So was Paul McCartney, that British lord who's been in the tabloid news because his ex-porno-star wife divorced him and they had a big court battle.

They called the Monkees "Pre-Fab" because they were recruited as a band to star in a TV show called The Monkees about the hi-jinks of a boy band. Kind of an early version of 'N Sync or the Backstreet Boys, I guess.

Not that I'm saying I can remember any of this stuff personally. I'm mean, it was 1968 and I don't admit to remembering anything that happened before 1985. But it's, you know, history. And you can learn about this stuff online and watch DVDs and things.

Anyway, the Monkees were Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, Davy Jones and Michael Nesmith. Nesmith probably had the most impact on popular music overall. He was one of the pioneers of the music video in the 1970s, of the kind that MTV became famous for. Tork did some prison time for heroin. I think Jones went back to being a horse jockey for a while. They did various re-union gigs over the years.

But their peak creative moment was in 1968, with the movie Head and its sound track. Jack Nicholson fans may recall the movie as one of Nicholson's early screen appearances, though it was only a cameo.

Even though the Monkees were still a decently marketable property in 1968, the movie never made it into national release. The story I remember reading - I'm not sure it's true but it's too good a story to disbelieve - was that the film was advertised as an avant-garde kind of thing and the initial showing was at some artsy movie house in Greenwich Village. Now, at this time, things were such that no one over 15 would admit to actually being a Monkees fan. So when these cool hippie types in Greenwich Village came into the theater and saw in the first few minutes that it was a Monkees film, they flipped out. And the distributors decided to squelch it.

Which is really too bad. Because with this film, the group got put into the hands of people like Nicholson who really knew what to do with the Monkees. So it was a mixture of the slapstick humor of their TV show, social commentary and self-mocking commercialism. Their anthem for the film was:

Hey, hey, we are are the Monkees
We've said it all before
The money's in we're made of tin
We're here to give you more

And the album is really pretty good. Even 40 years later. I mean, in some ways it's a museum piece. Songs like "Can You Dig It?" sound kind of like trite 1960s. Although the jazzy version on the MP3 download version is better than the original. The theme song, "The Porpoise Song" is not a bad example of psychedelic pop. I mean, it's not a druggy Doors tune or anything. But it's not bad.

Michael Nesmith's head

There's a tune called "Daddy's Song" with a 1930s, 78 LP kind of sound, that has a couple of lines that go "But he just couldn't understand/That his father was not a man/And that it all was just a game" that may have been meant for the cool Greenwich Villagers that the 14-year-olds may not have particularly noticed. "His father was not a man?" And "it all was just a game"? Hmm-mmm. The original album version has Jones singing the lead. The 2007 reissue has an alternative version with Nesmith singing lead. They should have used Nesmith on the album version.

And speaking of Nesmith, the album has him singing one of his own compositions, "Circle Sky", which some cultural types think is the best of the Monkees' songs. It still sounds good. Nesmith was a decent songwriter.

There's several cuts of moaning voices saying, "head, head, head, now, head" and similar stuff. Just what were they trying to do with this movie and album?

Here's a YouTube video showing the "Circle Sky" performance in the movie. The cuts from the concert to the disturbing scenes from the Vietnam War are a good example of how that film was very different from their sit-com TV show. This is obviously meant to show a jarring contrast between the pop culture of the day and the horror that the same society was inflicting on Vietnam.

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"It is the logic of our times
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