I was one of those savagely underprivileged children who did not have cable growing up. Thankfully, I had grandparents who did, and it was at their house where I would gorge myself on Nickelodeon shows like “Mr. Wizard” and “You Can’t Do That On Television” to hold me over until my next visit. And, like any good red-blooded preteen of the time, I wanted my MTV.
In the mid-80’s, MTV was a fantastic bizarre of sequins, neon, hairspray, androgyny, and synthesizers. I didn’t care that Boy George didn’t look like a boy, or that if I saw the video to “Karma Chameleon,” the song would be stuck in my head for three days. I felt satisfied that a hungry Africa was probably going to be alright seeing as how Cyndi Lauper, Bruce Springsteen, Lionel Richie, and the King of Pop were on the scene singing “We Are the World.” I perfected my lip syncing skills (and shoulder-padded fashion sense) watching Belinda Carlisle in concert. And I learned that Michael wasn’t the only talented Jackson when MTV would host a “Jackson Family Weekend.” Come on, people. Rebbie’s “Centipede” video is quite intoxicating.
Yes, MTV was brilliant. Then again, it was pretty much invented by a brilliant man; a man by the name of Michael Nesmith. He never really claims it as his idea, but he WAS a pioneer in the concept of music video television. And by my estimation, it makes cosmic sense that the man who rose to fame as a member of The Monkees would go on to influence the creation of MTV, which was ultimately responsible for introducing ME to The Monkees, thereby altering my life forever. No, I’m not being dramatic. Picture it: my grandma’s basement, 1986…
In celebration of The Monkees 20th Anniversary, MTV ran a marathon of the television show, sparking a mini-Monkeemania among a whole new generation of teeny boppers, and deep inside me. But somewhere along the line, The Monkees became more than a show I never missed and music I always loved. It became more than adoring Davy and his starry eyes, wanting to hug Peter because of his innocence, feeling drawn to Mike because of his dry and witty humor, and declaring Micky my boyfriend because of his swoon-worthy smile and magnetic voice. The Monkees introduced me to what it meant to have a passion for something, to feel an unbridled force within me fueling my motivation and purpose. While my preteen self expressed that as a ridiculous and obsessive need to see/hear/learn/own anything related to a 1960’s pop band, I did grow up to find other things that inspired such passion within me…things that have changed my life…things that today give me purpose. And I was quick to recognize these passions as I encountered them, because they felt like The Monkees did when I was nine-years-old. I have MTV to thank for that…or rather, Mike Nesmith for giving MTV a path to fame…or rather, The Monkees for giving Mike Nesmith a path to fame. Whoa. I just blew my mind right there.
And because of MTV and that little Monkees Marathon in 1986, I ended up in Tulsa this past weekend to see The Monkees in concert for the sixth time. As I said, they have become a bit more to me than what they were twenty-seven years ago, but I bet some are wondering if it ever gets old. No, it doesn’t. First of all, reconnecting with a passion is always satisfying. Secondly, I take away new things each time I venture to see them live. It is an evolving passion. The Tulsa concert enlightened me to these little nuggets:
- While getting to hear beloved deep cuts performed in a live setting is a-maz-ing, old standards like “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” and “Mary, Mary” are played on every tour for a reason. They rock hard…and good…and strong. They tear down the friggin’ house.
(My boyfriend is kind of amazing on drums. And I still can’t believe I actually saw Nez play that famous guitar lick right in front of my eyes. And I adore the way Peter interacts with the other guys on stage. Is my swoony-ness showing a bit too much? Sorry.)
- Tulsa is a better place to see a concert than Chicago (don’t hate me, Chicago people!). At last year’s concert, the Chicago audience sat on their rear ends the entire time. Not cool. But Tulsa was on its feet almost the whole concert. And that meant I could give the proper amount of head bangin’, fist pumpin’, and joy jumpin’ when the guys ripped a hole in the universe playing “No Time.” You say The Monkees and head bangin’ sounds like an odd combination? It’s really as natural as PB&J.
(The audience members in this video, taken in New Jersey, don’t seem to be rockin’ out as hard to this song as we did in Tulsa. But the quality is fabulous.)
- It IS possible for me to love “Porpoise Song” even more than I already thought I did. Micky, you had me at “My, my…” Every word beyond that was an incredible bonus.
- Peter’s hips don’t lie. (Go to the 6:50 mark to see what I mean. Hubba, hubba)
(I’m a little annoyed at the people that keep getting up and walking around during “Porpoise Song.” This video is from the show I was at, and I’m not sure they knew what they were missing. Rest assured, I was sitting motionless in my seat, afraid I would miss taking in every moment if I dared to breath too deeply.)
- World peace probably feels like when the guys are playing “She,” and they get to that “da-da-duh-duh” part, and everyone in the audience shoots their fists into the air and yells, “HEY!”
(Again, this Jersey crowd must have missed the memo on fist-shooting and HEY-yelling. Or maybe they were trying to be polite so this woman could continue to get awesome video.)
- A guitar-less Nez singing “Door Into Summer” projects vulnerability and strength all at once, like a Samson without his hair who discovers his locks weren’t really the source of his power after all.
- I sometimes bemoan the fact that I am too young to have experienced the unrivaled Monkeemania of the 1960’s. But after seeing the show this past weekend, I honestly believe I am seeing them at their best. Sure, back then there was a beauty that came with youth, an electricity that surged through lunch boxes and trading cards, and a yearning that was only quelled on Monday evenings in front of the television. But to me, it seems those are the only things I missed out on. I may be wrong, but I just can’t imagine that those young, overworked guys, still trying to find their own sound, still trying to master their craft, still trying to find time for music between episode filming, still becoming a band, could hold a candle to the actualized, polished, master musicians who stood before me on Saturday night. I wonder if those boys of the 1960’s could have understood, amidst all the commotion and promotion, the reflective vehicles of wonder and transcendence they become for the fans who love them and their craft, and who each see something different in the faces of their idols. Because the men I saw on Saturday understood that well. And it is undeniable, watching them on stage, that they know the music and the experience is about more than them. I love that this is my Monkeemania.
And I will always love the MTV of 1986 for ultimately bringing me to this place, for leading me to Tulsa in 2013. We have both moved on from the 80’s. My highs and lows no longer hang on being able to buy the latest issue of Bop magazine with my boyfriend on the cover, or getting to my grandma’s house in time to watch the Top 20 Video Countdown. And MTV has no time to play even twenty videos in between reality shows about teen pregnancy and the true lives of people who date their teachers. In fact, we don’t have much in common anymore. But once upon a time, MTV and I, we were quite the pair, hanging out in my grandma’s basement, feeding my Monkee passion…and trying to decide if A-Ha’s “Take On Me” video was cool or creepy.