Never Play The Monkees on Low: A Chapter’s Farewell

Last week, I went to see Micky Dolenz and Mike Nesmith – the two remaining Monkees – perform live. This isn’t my first post-concert write-up. But it will be my last. Because my boys came out one more time just to say farewell. 

I could talk about the concert in detail. How the familiar energy washed over me at the first chords of the opener, “Good Clean Fun.” How the band was somehow able to play songs I’ve heard a thousand times over and make them seem all shiny-new, but also like trusted old friends at the same time. How Micky raised a bar I didn’t think could be raised any higher with his inspired performance of “As We Go Along.” Or how it warmed my heart to see him and Nez so readily accepting the love from the fans and returning it freely. 

But instead, I’m going to talk about my fan origin story, and the moment that brought it all full circle for me.

In the second half of the show, Nez began a little storytelling introduction to the song “While I Cry.” He was expressing what the music of the Monkees has meant to him, and recalled a time when he was listening to some of the records, but noted that he turned the volume down low, lest he would be found out for listening to The Monkees. Then he quipped, “We’ve all been there.” The audience gave a knowing laugh. I smiled, because I understood the allusion to a societal expectation of embarrassment at being a fan of a manufactured band who “didn’t play their own instruments.”

But even as I smiled, I thought to myself, “Actually,…no. I’ve never been there.”

Just the night before, I had been chatting with a friend about my excitement for the show, and it being a kind of celebratory cap on what simply began as the weird kid who took a liking to a band older than her parents instead of New Kids on the Block or Boyz II Men, like all the normal girls her age. He commented that it must be nice to finally be at a point in my life where I didn’t have to hide my taste in music in order to fit in. But I responded, “Oh, I never hid it. That’s exactly why I WAS the weird kid.” It wasn’t so much that I liked this oldies band; it was that I openly talked about them like the fan girl I was with zero shame in my game. So no, Nez, I haven’t been there. 

The consequence of my unhindered pride is that pretty much everyone who knows me, even a tiny bit, basically considers the words “Monkees” and “Kelly” as synonyms. Okay, maybe not synonyms, but metaphysically connected…like peanut butter and jelly, or shoes and socks, or online passwords and the “I forgot my password” button. 

Somewhere in the story, the universe decided to smile upon the way I had so intertwined myself with these four guys, and it did me a solid. What started as a (very) enthusiastic childhood interest morphed into its own Pinocchio story…where the things I dreamed about while listening to the songs I loved became real. 

The little girl who could not talk anyone into taking her to see The Monkees perform at Six Flags in the 80’s (and was offered a trip to the mall as a consolation prize), ended up seeing them in concert fifteen times. (I think. Being able to lose count is a good problem to have.)

The teenager who cherished a pink flyer with Micky Dolenz’s autograph scribbled on the back (procured for her by a family friend) as the closest she would get to sharing space with him went on to one day meet her fake boyfriend in person and blabber some drivel about him making her heart so happy. A year later, she found herself singing Beatles tunes around a piano with him in a hotel bar after a concert…also winning the night with her astute compliment to him that his performance of “Porpoise Song” sounded better than the record, then abruptly walking away almost mid-conversation because she sensed she had hit her limit of intelligible words and feared what would come out of her mouth next. She also went on to have the privilege of stealing a few heartwarming moments with Peter Tork. She managed to keep her shit together while sitting across from Mike Nesmith eating a Chipotle burrito on a tour bus, and later somehow impressed him with a Facebook comment about the mythos of The Monkees…so much so that he referenced her in an interview as someone who “got it.” She even got to find out from Davy Jones himself exactly how he felt about his elbows. 

The young fan who used to fall asleep at night with her headphones on, memorizing every lyric to every song and focusing on the rhythm and beats of the drums (because that is what her favorite one played), went on to pick up some drumsticks at the age of 43 and learn something new. Not only that, but she was lucky enough to be able to take lessons from Rich Dart, a guy who started out as a Monkee fan like her only to become their touring drummer for the final (and perhaps best) decade of their performing years. 

And that weird kid, whose unabashed love for a band who was unpopular for her moment in time, who had no friends to giggle with about saving Texas prairie chickens or swoon alongside every time Micky did that heavy sigh during “Words”…she grew up to find a few other former weird kids who were just as lonely in their fandoms in their own corners of the world. And when they found each other, they finally had someone else to giggle with, and swoon alongside, and scream “Hey!” at just the right moment during “She,” and wear Monkee pajamas with, and dance next to, and debate the merits of the three different versions of “I Don’t Think You Know Me.” So when the time came to say farewell to the prospect of more opportunities for them to experience being in musical communion with their band in the same room, they also had someone else who fully understood the bittersweet mix of gratification and melancholy at watching it unfold for the last time. 

Who knows exactly why all of these beautiful things came to be for me. But I’m pretty sure never being afraid to play The Monkees as loudly as possible probably helped. 

This farewell tour certainly does not mark the end of my fandom. I will always love these guys, these songs, the television show. And I still have a lot more drumming to learn. But it does mark the end of a chapter…one that has been my favorite by far. As I have reflected on it, as one often does at the end of something, I found myself wondering exactly WHY The Monkees have been so enduringly important to me. How is it that I can feel so much for people I don’t really know at all, and feel such passion for their work which I have no personal stake in? I don’t actually have an answer, but maybe it’s just a more tangible expression of the ability to fall in love with the spirit of humanity…of joy…of connection. And I’m just happy to have had 35 years of getting the dopamine hits from it.

As I was sitting in my seat, waiting for my farewell show to begin, the lady next to us commented that I was too young to be a Monkees fan. It’s not the first time I’ve heard that, but as a now 44-year-old who has started looking at colleges for her oldest child, I was not mad at being called too young for something. But it also made me smile, because here I am, all these years later, still the weird kid in the room. But it didn’t stop me from singing every song, cheering as loudly as I could, and dancing like crazy as they closed it out with “I’m a Believer.” 

Because history has shown only good things have ever come from me not hiding my Monkee light under a steppin’ stone. 

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If you’re looking for a way to waste some time and want to take a walk down my Monkee Memory Lane, here are links to all the words I’ve devoted to them over the last decade:

A Completely Biased Review of the 45th Anniversary Tour – from my front row vantage point

I’ll Always Have Stars In My Eyes for the Boy from Manchester – saying goodbye to Davy Jones

The Memory of Sparkly Shoes: The Monkees 2012 Tour – the return of Nez & his Jimmy Choos

How to Enjoy MonkeeCon on $5 a Day – my review of my one and only Monkee convention

How MTV Led me to Tulsa, Oklahoma – how the 2013 concert compared to the exciting days of my budding fandom (and a personal favorite blog)

Confessions of Childhood: My Barbie was a Floozy – how The Monkees influenced my, er, imagination

I Think I Might Be a Celebrity Girlfriend – one of the ways I was blessed by a fellow fan friend

Good Times and Good Guys: I’m So Glad That I Got Them to Think Of – a reflection on the release of the Good Times album

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Cussing Out Cindy Preszler

My husband Kurt has held a grudge against one of our local meteorologists since February 21, 2001. Every time he would see her on television, he’d mumble under his breath, “$%*&@# Cindy Preszler.”

Kurt proposed to me on our three year dating anniversary. He had an elaborate day planned for me, starting with him surprising me at my house early that morning, telling me that he had arranged for me to have a day off of work. He was whisking me away to Chicago. Guys, it was like the stuff movies are made of. But being a control freak, surprises can make me a little uneasy, so he wanted to demonstrate how well he had planned this out so I could relax and have fun. As we were parking at the airport, he told me that he even made sure he was prepared for whatever weather Chicago was having (it must have been before you could just google this stuff). He had called one of our local news channels and was shocked when he was connected to one of the actual on-air meteorologists, Cindy Preszler. He relayed the story to me: 

Continue reading “Cussing Out Cindy Preszler”

Swapping My Makeup for a Cosmetic Procedure

Confession: I wear at least a little bit of makeup every time I set foot out of the house. It’s for one reason, and one reason only. I have perpetual dark circles under my eyes. 

I can’t do anything about them. Trust me, I’ve tried. They persist despite how much sleep I get, how much water I drink, how expensive my eye cream is, or how faithfully I take my allergy medicine. They are as genetically determined as the shape of my lips and the color of my skin. I have accepted that…but not enough to not bemoan them on a daily basis.

Concealer is more essential to my morning routine than coffee. Sure, vanity is a large part of that. But it’s also to prevent the same conversation from happening over and over again. On the rare occasions I do find myself face-to-face sans makeup with someone else, I am almost always forced to assure the person that I am not sick or tired. So I much prefer taking a few extra minutes each day to mask my natural facade than consistently have to be like, “No, that’s just my face.”

Continue reading “Swapping My Makeup for a Cosmetic Procedure”

Baselines: The Last Few Weeks Through the Lens of Our Children

It has been a big couple of weeks for history. As a kid in school, I often wondered what it was like to live through the revolutionary and evolutionary times that happened before my existence, the moments that became parts of our collective story destined to be taught for generations. Now I know. And it has been both terrible and awe-inspiring.

In all of these circumstances of witnessing events that will undoubtedly make their marks on history books, my first concern has been the lens through which my children will interpret them. Four years ago, they were blissfully unaware of the election process, of the differences between political parties, or how government works. But now, they are fifteen and twelve. 

Continue reading “Baselines: The Last Few Weeks Through the Lens of Our Children”

The Moral of the Three Angels

These are three of my favorite photos. They are of me, my daughter, and my son, all wearing the very same homemade angel costume on our respective second Christmases on this planet. I remember when my mom unearthed the costume after my daughter was born – the occasion for which she had been storing it for twenty-six years. I couldn’t wait to have my child put on a piece of my own history. And when she did, it became one of our all-time greatest Christmas cards (despite our continuous efforts to top each previous year): an adorably mopey little angel with the caption, “You better not pout. Santa’s coming.” Then three years later, it was my son’s turn to take part in the tradition. And again, we were gifted with a memorable card donning another grumpy-but-precious angel and a sweet preschool-aged Mary holding our 50lb dog wrapped up as baby Jesus. 

Continue reading “The Moral of the Three Angels”

2020 Is (Not) the Worst

2020 strikes again. #COVIDSUCKS. It is what it is. 

Yeah. I know.

But I’m kind of done with it. Not done with acknowledging that life right now is Hard. Different. Divisive. Heartbreaking. Exhausting. Those things need to be acknowledged. Sweeping problems under the rug is no way to do things. But I am done with staying stuck there. With not putting my big girl pants on and doing something about it. With letting a year plaster its unofficial mottos of negativity and helplessness over every moment that happens to me. 

Continue reading “2020 Is (Not) the Worst”

Imbalance, Worth, and the Moral of a Sober 21st Birthday

My 21st birthday was underwhelming. 

It’s one of the milestones many of us look forward to, usually because it involves a night of debauchery, free drinks, and funny stories to relive for years to come. And that is how it went for the majority of my friends. 

I spent my 21st with just one of my friends, my little sister, and my mom. We went to TGI Friday’s – not a bar – because my sister was in high school. I had two mudslides then pretended to feel tipsy because I didn’t want to let on to my mom that I had already illegally built up a solid tolerance over the past three years of college. The wait staff tied balloons in my hair and sang happy birthday to me just like they did to the 7-year-old a few tables over. My mom did pick up the tab, so I at least had the free drinks thing going for me.  Continue reading “Imbalance, Worth, and the Moral of a Sober 21st Birthday”

Everything is Better with Mayonnaise

“Who can tell me who sings this song?”

We were in the car the other day, and my husband was taking care of one of the most sacred of all parental duties: ensuring our children receive a foundation in solid musical taste.

Michael piped up from the backseat. “Mayonnaise?”

I looked at my husband quizzically, at first figuring Michael was just being his random, quirky, nonsensical preteen self. Then it clicked, and a laugh escaped my lips. He had created a very clever alternate name for the band in question.

“Please don’t ever lose that, buddy,” I pleaded.  Continue reading “Everything is Better with Mayonnaise”

The Power of Presence

I’m about to say something I never thought I’d say.

There is something more powerful than the written word. 

Writing is important to me. It helps me process. I’m funnier, smarter, and more expressive on paper than in real life. I communicate my feelings and opinions more clearly and freely when writing because my brain seems to work more harmoniously with my fingers than with my mouth. 

But over the last few months I have also come to appreciate that the written word has its limitations. It can never really be a substitute for the messy, awkward, and sometimes uncomfortable power of presence. Face-to-face presence.

Now, I love being around people. Spending time with friends, laughing and having fun. Commiserating. Talking about big ideas and small nothings. But when it comes to deep feelings and hard topics, I have trouble with the face-to-face. I don’t trust myself to say the right thing. I worry about not being in control of my emotions, good or bad. It’s so much easier to retreat behind a keyboard where I can have more confidence in what I say without the embarrassment of whatever raw emotions I’m feeling being on display. It’s super uncomfortable being real in person.  

But sometimes, that is exactly what you need, as I found out a few days ago. 

I have a friendship I’ve been struggling with. The details of the struggle aren’t really important to this story, but it’s a classic case of two people having different experiences over a shared commonality. Neither of us were wrong, but everything about it felt wrong. And it has been weighing on me. I’m pretty sure I have been letting it take up too much real estate in my brain, instead of focusing on all the relationships in my life that have been so amazingly on point lately (big thanks to all my on-point people!). But there is a reason the good shepherd left his 99 sheep in search of the one he lost. 

The funny thing is I thought I was doing a better job handling this situation than how I normally deal with conflict. That is to say, I didn’t avoid it. I didn’t say what I thought I was supposed to, then pretend to move on until it ended up poisoning either the relationship or myself. I didn’t let my feelings go unsaid. In fact, I not only said my feelings, I practically vomited the entire contents of my emotional bank. Then I went back and vomited more. And then again one more time, just to make sure I had finally reached the point of dry heaves where there was nothing left to say. And I did it all through my preferred method of emotional transaction: I wrote it in emails. On paper, I was a fierce lioness, unafraid to say what she thought, willing to risk whatever consequences came of it.

But in reality, I was terrified. To hit the send button. Then after hitting the send button, of what my friend’s reaction would be. If I would get a response. What that response would say. Then when I got a response, of what was being said between lines. Or if I was creating something between the lines that wasn’t really there. If I was supposed to inflect more or less emotion on that sentence. If we were ever going to get past this. If my friend even cared if we got past it or not. (*This has been your all-inclusive pass into seeing how the sausage is made in Kelly’s brain. There will be a performance review suggesting that she chill the eff out.*)

It didn’t matter how grammatically sound our sentences were. It didn’t matter if we nailed the perfect word choice for the occasion. It didn’t matter if we thought we were being as crystal clear as we possibly could, and said in so many words that things were resolved. Something was missing that left me completely unsure about where I stood with my friend, and very likely, where he stood with me. 

But I found what was missing a few days ago. It was his face. 

After months of only communicating through the written word, we finally sat down together. It took some courage on both of our parts. Because neither of us really knew what we might find on the other side of that, which wasn’t how it used to be. It used to be an easy thing that didn’t involve uncertainties about how you’d be received once there. But suddenly it wasn’t that easy thing anymore, which made it weird.

Until we were actually face to face. It took me only a moment to know we were okay. Was some of it still awkward and uncomfortable? Yes. But I also finally had all the information I needed to know it was worth working through it to get back to that easy place. 

For everything this beautiful language of ours can do, with its limitless combinations of letters and syllables and semantics, it can’t take the place of looking someone in the eye and seeing what you really need to know. I try to only use my words for good, but words can lie or be misinterpreted much easier than eyes. And what I saw allowed me to finally stop worrying. It gave me permission to stop being weighed down. And – probably much to the delight of my friend – it made me realize I didn’t need to keep sending long ass emails explaining my feelings. 

So now I am sitting here, on the morning of my 43rd birthday, adding another deposit into my wisdom bank. And I am feeling grateful that I get to begin a new trip around the sun a little more enlightened than before, blessed with all of the friendships that have come to be so very important to me. It is the only gift I really need.

And that gift was made possible by the power of presence, not the power of my beloved words.

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“PRESENCE Daan Roosegaarde Groninger Museum” by Studio Roosegaarde is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Embrace Grace

“If he wrecks the car, I’m gonna lose it. I know I should try to be calm, but I’ll probably flip out.” She made the little half giggle she does when she’s making a half joke…like, I’m trying to poke fun at my hypothetical freak out, but it probably won’t be hypothetical. 

My friend and I were talking about our oldests getting their driver’s permits and navigating another new parental “letting go” milestone. 

“Same. I’ve basically been losing it over everything since mid-March.” I said. I can’t remember if I made my own half giggle at that remark. But if I did, I should not have. Because there has been nothing funny about my mental well-being for the vast majority of 2020.  Continue reading “Embrace Grace”