Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Forever a "Daydream Believer"

I don't usually think twice about a celebrity passing away. Once I hear the news from a friend, read it on my Facebook feed or however else, I think for a second about it - how it happened, how their family is dealing with it - but after that the thought is gone.

Davy Jones died today. When I heard the news my mind flashed to The Pirates of the Caribbean series. "How can a fictional character have died?" Reading on, I realized something I'd forgotten for quite a few years - The Monkees.

I still listen to them on occasion. When I'm feeling blue I'll turn on "Daydream Believer" and rock out (more like sway out) to the pop number in my room, feeling my hair fall back and forth and enjoying the fluid melody. It's my own personal form of musical ecstasy - this music that is really low-key and catchy, but also uplifting and beautiful.

Davy Jones was the petite Englishman who fronted the Monkees, singing their biggest hits and making the girls swoon as they watched The Monkees TV show in which the band starred.

I didn't watch The Monkees as a kid, yet I was no stranger to their fame. When I was in elementary school I watched a lot of television. Boy Meets World reruns aired on weeknights on Disney Channel. I would sit around in my room waiting for my mom to come home, watching Cory & Topanga, Shawn & Angela, Eric & Jack (they and Cory & Shawn were my first insights into the term "bromance").

 Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz & Peter Tork on Boy Meets World.
In one episode of BMW, Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork made an appearance on the show not as The Monkees but as old friends of the Matthews family. Davy played Reg, Reginald Fairfield, a guy who had basically stalked Cory's parents, Amy and Alan, around Europe. Mickey played Alan's old high school band mate and Peter was Topanga's dad who just happened to visit at the same time.

At one point, all three of the former Monkees went up on stage to perform at Amy and Alan's anniversary celebration. They sang "My Girl." My first introduction to The Monkees collided with my first experience of hearing the music of The Temptations.

I loved the music. The guys singing were older, so I didn't think much of them, but the music struck me as something different. I liked it more than what I knew from the popular culture of the '90s. While I was listening to bubblegum pop on Radio Disney, I was spending my evenings hearing The Monkees on TV, or listening to The Beatles with my dad and The Four Seasons with my mom. Oldies music was the order of the day.

When I was nine my dad took me to see The Turtles perform at California Adventure. The park was hosting small venue concerts with a bunch of older bands where they'd sing about a half a dozen songs, some huge hits, to an audience of semi-fascinated, semi-dying-of-heat-stroke children and their parents.

I loved The Turtles. At that concert I learned the song "Happy Together." Little events like that have colored my whole notion of music - they have made me realize that I feel more of a kinship in taste with the generations before mine than my own.

Over the years I'd forgotten Davy Jones. He'd become just the voice behind the music I liked, the voice I didn't think of. But when I realized that the obituary I was reading was not about Davy Jones the tentacled sea captain from Pirates and this wasn't some elaborate ruse by The Onion, I was really sad to know that this pinnacle of adorable, toe-tapping 1960's pop fame had died.

Beatles-themed graffiti at Abbey Road Studios.
It made me think about how many of my favorite musical artists are no longer around. One-half of The Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Edith Piaf, Judy Garland, not to mention amazing composers like Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Rodgers & Hammerstein. There's so much talent, specifically from the era of the 1950's and 60's and a few decades before then that cease to exist. And along with them goes a lot of the interest in their music among modern generations.

Sometimes I feel really lonely out in my own world of classical Broadway, Motown, pop standards and British Invasion. When I do find other people my age who listen to these genres, I start looking at them differently - I have a higher respect for them because they share my taste for the past.

But more often than not I just become worried that those people with whom I share a mutual love for oldies will remain scarce and perhaps become even fewer as the years go on. As old records, tapes and CDs get scratched and broken, as legends of previous generations pass on and as my own generation begins to take on a more central role in mainstream culture, I become scared that the only place I'll ever really feel comfortable is a roller rink, a Broadway theater or a Johnny Rockets.

The music I want to hear is just not the interest of younger people today (note: I am a younger person, but I will never group myself together with "younger people"), and like the rare traditional folk music lover or the unique classical music connoisseur, soon I may be in such a minority that people will accuse my genres of being tired and boring, or worse: washed up.

It's nice to still have a base of people who share my opinions. My dad confirms for me that my love of 1950's and '60s pop/rock is not an unusual trait. That if he could love it then it is only natural that I could love it too.

When I listened to The Monkees a few days ago, or weeks or months even, I didn't think about the implications of my choice to listen to them instead of, say, The Black Keys, LMFAO or Lady Gaga. Somewhere in the back of my mind I always knew I was putting myself in the minority by choosing to listen to what I do, but it all still felt very current to me - like the '50s and '60s may have long past, but they're still very much a part of pop culture today.

But Davy Jones' passing made me re-examine this feeling. Instead of thinking that I am still in the very midst of a plethora of legends that have persisted in fame for the past half century, I've started to wonder what life will be like when those legends are no longer around. Will the music die along with them?

It extends into this bigger question for me of what life will be like when my generation is middle-aged. Will we become like our parents? Will we embrace the same things they did? Or will we become nostalgic for our own pop culture, forgetting what happened in the generations before us as if their music is better fit for history books and library archives than our own living room bookshelves and iTunes libraries.

All I know is I will never be one to forget the past. If in 40 years everyone I know is thinking back on old times and listening to Katy Perry, I'll still be dreaming about Paul McCartney in A Hard Day's Night, the adorable Peter Noone from Herman's Hermits, Bobby Rydell in Bye Bye Birdie.

Whatever happens, nothing will steal the past away from me. Not even if it becomes history.

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