In the 1970s, to admit any appreciation of the Monkees was like admission of harboring a leprous gene. Sure, folks loved “Daydream Believer,” “I’m A Believer” and “Last Train To Clarksville,” but as singles that darted by on the radio, and not with much affection for the group that presented them. Indeed around that time people were really taking the whole notion of their “prefabrication” pretty seriously…too seriously. There wasn’t much that the Monkees did that a lot of famous, sustaining, beloved pop stars didn’t also do. There was a sense of nobility in the fact that most of the band really wanted to be their own entity, and not that of the face for the faceless music sausage factory. That nobility was hardly a saving asset in the era of the singer/songwriters who, as inferred, sang what they themselves wrote. And so the swinging ’70s were a tough time for most of them, excepting Michael Nesmith who founded a company that specialized in this newfangled thing called the “music video.”
In fact, there wasn’t much difference between what the Monkees did and what music videos were, and so one year in the 1980s a programming genius at MTV, a young network that showed product financed in full by record labels and not by themselves, then sold advertising slots, banked coin and held cultural influence because of that thriftiness, aired reruns of the Monkees TV show. That generation of Eighties Kids will feel the loss of Jones the most.
Why? Because here was a generation that could finally relate to the Monkees in full. The Beatles were going to be beloved by all no matter what. Many of the British Invasion bands, and tons of American ones, were embraced by the ex-Flower Children, which made them anathema to their offspring. Divorce was high. For a large population of youth, the Monkees had been cast off by their core demographic, shunned as uncool and inconsequential, and buried on the oldies station instead of being celebrated as something, anything. For those kids who had those step brothers and sisters and, maybe real or maybe incorrectly interpreted, felt less wanted because of them, they felt in the Monkees some kind of alignment and so they took the Pre-Fabs to their heart. For them, the loss of Jones will likely hurt more than for people like me.
Truth be told, I was always a bigger fan of Mickey Dolenz and have been known to mock Jones’ rather, uh, peculiar dance moves, but even I cannot discredit the contribution he made to pop music, and in some vastly strange, intangible way that connection this group had with so many of my friends both then and now. I enjoy the songs of the Monkees but never had that visceral connection, but I think I understand what those folks are feeling. Jones was the first of the group to prove his mortality. The rest will follow, hopefully much, much later, but this is still inevitability to us all.
We’ll all always have “Daydream Believer” and the rest, but for those who made the Monkees their own for a myriad of reasons, this is going to hurt for awhile.