I always thought that if I write the story of my life, there will be a chapter called “Listen to the Band”. It would be an homage to the Monkees. The Monkees brought me out of the haze of nostalgia and helped me refocus on what might yet be instead of what might have been, for a time. To me, though, they were less about the music, less even about the show, but about how it was possibly the first thing in my American life that was completely mine.
I saw the show, (in reruns, of course, for it ended in real life not just before I came to the U.S. but before I was even born), I loved it, I heard the songs, I loved them, and I pursued this interest with the methodical devotion that characterized the infatuations of my younger days. The Monkees introduced me to the world when music was still on MTV (to quote Bowling for Soup’s stunningly accurate “1985”). Suddenly in the middle of a decade to which I never quite belonged, they appeared like a throwback to something I could not just understand but adore.
I have long felt that music is the last bastion of cultural appreciation (I will not say adaptation). When learning a foreign language (brace yourself for the assessment of this non-expert and non-linguist!), first comes the visual (reading followed by writing), then the auditory understanding, then the speaking. This is why watching TV is easier than listening to music, which has no visual cues. By the time you can appreciate music in a foreign language for its message, you have arrived. The Monkees’ were the first songs to which I could sing along in this foreign language, songs that were not just melodious, positive, and lovely, but with clear, understandable lyrics.
I was pursuing this gentle hobby in my own wholesome way, tinged with the complications of our still new[ish] immersion into the American life. As the Monkees’ 20th anniversary tour rolled through the country, what I lacked in means and guidance, I made up in determination. On November 14, 1986, they came to Centennial Hall in Toledo, Ohio. I marvel now at the decision that led me to take a bus, *twice* to Toledo, first to buy my ticket, then to attend the concert. I was literally the only person standing in the after-concert crowd, waiting for the cab to take me to the hotel where I would spend the night before heading back to Ann Arbor in the morning. That seems so weird now—but I was just a freshman, and had no friends with cars, or anyone whom I could have asked to go with me. What was I supposed to do, not go?
It was, of course, exciting. I saw their giant tour buses, and caught a glimpse of Micky going in. Herman’s Hermits minus Peter Noone (loved them, love him more, though it took a few more decades), The Grass Roots (who were a no show on that date because Rob Grill had just gotten married), and Gary Puckett and the Union Gap (not a fan then, not a fan still—every song title does not need to contain a reference to the female gender) opened for the Monkees. It is always a greater pleasure to attend a concert where you know the words to every song. I did then, and I still do. Every.Single.Song. The only other band whose oeuvre I know almost as well is, of course, ABBA.
The following year, Here We Come Again tour stopped in Dallas, where I was, in addition to listening to their albums and watching their show on an endless loop, whiling the time away assembling roast beef sandwiches and cleaning toilets for $3.50 an hour. My mom took a day off from her real job to attend her first rock-n-roll concert! It was very exciting, because we not only ran like mad to get the best lawn seats (a feat of which she is still inordinately proud), but waited afterwards to meet Davy Jones get his autograph. Weird Al opened for them; we had no idea who he was.
This is how it started, this is what it led to https://oldladywriting.com/2019/06/23/rocketman/
New music, new interests took over. I had other things to do in the ‘90s. And then Davy died, and suddenly, as often happens when we face our own mortality, the next Monkees reunion seemed vital not to miss. I saw them in 2014 at the Fox Theater in Detroit, a sumptuous venue for any performer, and might have to say it was my favorite Monkees concert. My then teenaged kid was unsurprisingly the youngest in the audience by decades, but even spouse and I seemed youngish compared to the crowd of what looked to be the “original” fans. We had spectacular third row seats—perks of middle age. Micky’s voice held up amazingly well through the years. Peter mocked spouse, who clapped out of sync. But the real treat was Mike.
I have never seen him before; his absence from the ‘80s tours is well known. I have always preferred the two musician Monkees to the two actor Monkees (there, I’ve said it). I loved Peter because I thought he was the most handsome and most endearing in the show; I loved Mike because musically, he seemed to march to the beat of a Different Drum (see what I did there?). Hearing Mike sing “The Door Into Summer”, “Tapioca Tundra”, “Papa Gene’s Blues”, “What Am I Doing Hangin’ Round” was pure magic—not just Monkee magic, but legitimate concert magic. And of course, “Listen to the Band”. No one could do it like him, and no one will again, now that he has gone on to that great big Circle Sky. Thank you for the music, Papa Nez!
 Stay tuned; it’s coming.
 I reported to my diary that the hotel was luxurious and cost $50 and change. It was an enormous splurge!
 This could be wildly inaccurate, because I have some sort of age dysmorphia, perpetually seeing myself as a college girl in my mind’s eye.
 I was surprised to read the account of those ‘80s concerts in my diary—apparently I felt Mike’s absence quite keenly. I had completely forgotten that, from the get go, despite all the exhilaration, I deemed that the group was incomplete. I was not wrong.
 Small complaint, big regret—I wish I could have heard him sing one of my all-time favorite songs, “Don’t Wait for Me” live.
3 thoughts on “Listen to the Band”
Very touching tribute. Great writing.
Sandra said yesterday you have a gift.
She enjoys reading your blog.
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Very kind words, thank you, and thanks to Sandra!
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Thank you for helping my understanding and lack of appreciation for the Monkees. It is always interesting to learn of events that you missed during your lifetime. Your pieces awaken old memories!
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