I'm not usually much for nostalgia. My present is much better than my past, so I tend not to look back longingly. Although I love the music I grew up with, it's mostly not the music I listen to now. I've never gotten stuck on only the music I heard in high school. As a musician, I kept listening to new music and still do. But the 1960s pop music of my youth is pretty well engrained in me.
Still, I was surprised by the flood of memories that the death of Davy Jones on Wednesday brought back to me. I knew so many Monkees songs by heart. I watched the show every week. We had the first four albums in the house and played them a lot.
Even then, as young as I was, they were a bit of a guilty pleasure, something I might not readily have admitted to at the time. I grew up a bit more slowly than my classmates, who were listening to the Rolling Stones and the Beatles as they got heavier and weirder. It took me a while to get to that point. Meanwhile, the Monkees were just so darned accessible. Everyone listened to Top 40 radio, since "underground" radio had not yet been invented, and the Monkees had several number one hits. You couldn't really avoid them.
I have picture memories. I very clearly remember a hot, dry and dusty day in the summer of 1966, playing outside at a friend's house with a radio on nearby. Competing for the number one spot were "I'm a Believer" by the Monkees and "Good Vibrations" by the Beach Boys. It was a time when pure pop and psychedelic experimentation co-existed on Top 40 radio. I no longer have those Monkees albums, but I remember a picture on the back of one album of Peter Tork playing a keyboard on which the white keys were black and the black keys were white. I was fascinated by this! It was only much later that I learned what a Vox Continental was and got to play one myself. I love that reedy organ sound!
As an aspiring musician, I tended to like Peter more than Davy, since Davy only sang and played tambourine (Micky Dolenz was fun but not too appealing to me, and Michael Nesmith always seemed a bit too grown up, although I did like the wool hat). Even though I wasn't yet into heavy sounds, the songs Davy sang tended to be too light even for me—Harry Nilsson's "Cuddly Toy," for example, or ballads like "I Wanna Be Free." But there's no question he was personally appealing, so short and cute and with that adorable accent. And as it turns out, I did like a lot of the material he sang: "Daydream Believer," "Star Collector," "Here Comes Tomorrow," and "Valleri" (with that amazing vocal harmony on the refrain) come to mind.
It wasn't just memories flooding back that surprised me. I don't usually get teary when a celebrity dies, but Davy's death feels personal. Maybe it's because the heyday of the Monkees was a formative time in my life. We still lived in the town I call my hometown, before we moved across the state just as I was about to start high school and everything changed. The end of childhood and the last bit of innocence, I guess. I'm feeling it now as I write this. If you're anywhere near my age, maybe you feel it too.
Thanks, Davy. You're gone too soon. There are a lot of bad memories from that time, probably more than good ones, but you were part of what made my life better.