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Who Is That Guy? The Golden Anniversary of the Monkees’ Career Suicide

Who Is That Guy? The Golden Anniversary of the Monkees’ Career Suicide

November 5, 1968, represented a fracture in American historical past. As the Vietnam Conflict raged, Richard Nixon — promising a secret plan to finish the carnage — gained the presidency with lower than 1 % of the well-liked vote. It might be argued that there had by no means been a starker disconnect between the arc of the well-liked tradition and the politician — on this case, a buttoned-down, uptight Quaker — elected to steer it. Many People had grown more and more skeptical about waging conflict towards such a small and distant nation, and about America’s management at house. This was mirrored in a mushrooming counterculture, which, that very same month, noticed the publication of the inaugural problem of Screw, a magazine that pushed the boundaries of obscenity legal guidelines by publishing photographs of sexually frolicking couples, outré cartoons, and bawdy (to not say, offensively misogynist) articles.

One other cultural milestone — maybe millstone can be the extra correct time period — premiered in New York Metropolis the day after the election: TV producer-director Bob Rafelson introduced the band he had created for the fast-paced music sitcom The Monkees to the huge display, in Head. A good friend and colleague of Rafelson’s, Jack Nicholson, wrote the script, purportedly underneath the affect of numerous unlawful substances. The episodic, stream-of-consciousness narrative opens with a suicide leap from a bridge by drummer and vocalist Micky Dolenz, segues into an extended take of a younger lady kissing every of the Monkees in flip — “even” is her analysis of their attraction — after which caroms via skits and sketches involving cowboys, Indians, World Warfare II battles, love scenes, battle scenes, meals fights, trendy dance numbers, and quite a few different Hollywood tropes conjured on Columbia Footage’ soundstages and backlots.

Early on, the display is split into TV-like previews of scenes to return in the movie. However then nineteen of the twenty small-screen views change to the famously wrenching clip of a South Vietnamese official executing a Viet Cong prisoner with a pistol shot to the head. The twentieth display cuts to the picture of a screaming woman, which when enlarged reveals simply one other pubescent teenybopper jettisoning composure at a Monkees live performance. This dissonant vignette alerts viewers that Head goes to maneuver past the scope of the weekly half-hour funfest viewers had grown accustomed to watching on tv. The scene might have been edited by the French Marxist theorist Man Debord, writer of The Society of the Spectacle (1967), which critiqued trendy society as an area by which bodily expertise is overwhelmed by a parade of imagery, the extra sensational — intercourse, violence, fascinating commodities — the higher to distract residents and maintain them socially and politically passive. Debord’s opening aphorism states, “In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation,” an statement that has confirmed as prescient a definition of the web as Andy Warhol’s 1968 bon mot, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes.”

The Monkees have been about as well-known as you can get, with their Extra of the Monkees album beating out even the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Membership Band for the primary U.S. slot in 1967.  However the 4 band members — Dolenz, heartthrob singer Davy Jones, people musician Mike Nesmith, and multi-instrumentalist Peter Tork — have been a fabricated foursome introduced collectively by a need advert looking for “Folk & Roll Musician-Singers for acting roles in new TV series.” The phrases “acting roles” hints at the proven fact that the present’s songs would truly be written by employed tunesmiths and recorded with ace session gamers. Over time the lads chafed at the restrictions positioned on them as performers, and did get some of their very own songs onto their albums, however such large hits as “Last Train to Clarksville” have been written and carried out by ringers (though Dolenz offered that monitor’s distinctive lead vocal). Lastly, regardless of one of the most important producer’s objections, they started performing reside to enthusiastic crowds, who reveled of their nonabrasive, upbeat melodies.

Maybe the Monkees hoped that Head would have the gravitas to spice up them into orbit as creators in their very own proper. Or perhaps they have been simply sick of their picture as poster boys for innocuous, if catchy, pop. The lyrics to Head’s second quantity, a twist on the weekly TV present’s theme music, leaves little question that they have been hip to their picture of being little greater than Beatles knockoffs:

Hey hey we’re the Monkees
You realize we like to please
A manufactured picture
With no philosophies

But when the movie debut was meant to be seen as much less a Onerous Day’s Night time rip-off and extra a declaration of independence, the band was undermined by agreeing to make use of songs by outdoors contributors. With the surfeit of melodies at Lennon and McCartney’s fingertips, one might by no means think about the Beatles counting on employed weapons, and actually the Fab 4’s Yellow Submarine was launched in the U.S. on November 13 of the similar yr, the advertisements prominently trumpeting, “A DOZEN BEATLE SONGS.” In distinction, Head’s lovely opening monitor, Porpoise Music, was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, whereas Davy Jones’s showstopping flip as a son abandoned by his father, in Daddy’s Track, was penned by Harry Nilsson.

Head was shot whereas the psychedelic period was in full bloom, and the movie is chockablock with garish, solarized colours and vibrant set design. Nevertheless, in contrast to the scattershot aesthetics of too many MTV movies in the 1980s, the film’s spasmodic materials was stored firmly in verify by Rafelson, who visually stitched the divergent scenes collectively, as when the mermaids who save the suicidal Dolenz in the first scene morph into fish swimming round an aquarium as the serial kisser begins her rounds. Equally, editor Michael Pozen stored the dance strikes and seizure-inducing mild flashes tightly synced to the rhythms of the tunes, even conjuring an aura of conflicted feelings by means of the lightning cuts in Jones’s poignant dance sequence.

It was apparent that somebody at Columbia felt Head had field workplace potential, as a result of roughly a month out from the premiere, giant, mysterious advertisements started showing in the pages of the Voice. A thick-lipped younger man sporting a darkish comb-over and glasses gazes at the reader; in the first two advertisements to run, the solely copy acts as a textual dopplegänger to the half-tone picture. Different films marketed on those self same pages give a way of the period’s cultural tumult: Andy Warhol’s Flesh, Jane Fonda exposing a lot of her personal pores and skin in Barbarella, Godard’s visceral Weekend, Steve McQueen’s careening Mustang in Bullitt arriving for an engagement at Radio Metropolis Music Corridor. However the Monkees couldn’t rely on the savvy of New York’s downtown cognoscenti the means Warhol might — the quartet wanted to attraction to a broader demographic, together with younger teenagers who have been definitely not anticipating grainy execution footage in a pop-music jaunt. In a current interview, Nesmith associated that one of the movie’s producers was insistent on utilizing the violent clip, saying, “It’s anti-war, and it’ll have a big effect on the war.” For sure, the movie had much less influence in that regard than even the extraordinarily indirect lyrics in “Last Train to Clarksville,” by which the male character says time and again to his girlfriend that she should meet him, as a result of “I don’t know if I’m ever coming home.”

The Monkees profession had been measured in Prime 40 sweetness, they usually appeared to have needed Head to crack that sugar coating and lend jagged edges to their madcap appeal. America is preventing a put-up job of a conflict? Superb — let’s deploy cheerleaders and soccer gamers to show these jingoistic absurdities, therefore the addition of Inexperienced Bay Packer linebacker Ray Nitschke to a roster that additionally included cameos from Victor Mature, Annette Funicello, Jack Nicholson, Sonny Liston, Frank Zappa, Teri Garr, and a clip of the Rockettes, amongst what genuinely looks like “a cast of thousands.”

Liston seems as himself, buying and selling punches with the diminutive Jones. The ex–heavyweight champ predictably decks the crooner, and Dolenz shouts at his colleague to “stay down!” Nesmith, in gangster finery, rumbles, “He better. The money says so,” a line the band in all probability heard from some producer who’d advised the members their careers have been higher served appearing as facades for actual songwriters and musicians.

Voice critic Andrew Sarris was not amused, although he first notes that he could be the solely critic, younger or previous, “not enchanted” with the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. Then he delves into the Monkees’ enterprise: “And anyway, there is ‘Head’ to contend with this week, and what is one to say about an enterprise that flaunts its fakery and unoriginality as comic virtues. The Monkees, in case you haven’t been forewarned by their television series, are synthetic Beatles, actually four electronic insects with little charm and less talent, but with a life-like facility for madcap mimicry.” Decrying what he sees as the movie’s unoriginality, he does permit that “the new style in Hollywood is to admit the plagiarism immediately and then look for points of departure. And one of the points of departure for the Monkees is that they are cheerful fakes, and some of this cheerfulness comes through in ‘Head.’ ” That interesting cheerfulness little question accounts for Sarris’s robust objection to the Vietnam execution footage — although at a half-century’s take away it appears a jolt of real consciousness, as if the filmmakers have been really questioning what was value screaming about. Typically a misstep hits the mark. In his conclusion, Sarris clears up one thriller, noting that “the omnipresent head of publicist John Brockman [in the film’s ads] represents the most spectacular advertising gambit in recent memory, and one of the most misleading ads ever. No movie could look THAT depraved!”

Based on numerous sources, Head value in the neighborhood of $750,000 however scored a decidedly unboffo $16,111 at the field workplace.

In 1970, Nicholson went on to star in Rafelson’s 5 Straightforward Items, which boosted each males’s careers, whereas the Monkees descended to the nostalgia circuit in numerous permutations of the band’s lineup. They by no means once more knew the heady stardom they loved in the late Sixties, however they persevered of their music. Whereas we have been researching a special story in the future in the Voice archives, a categorized advert from the June 25, 1985, difficulty leaped out at us. Sorry we missed the alternative to review with a grasp, again in the day.

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