Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Don't Stop Believing

Last week was Micky Dolenz' birthday so I checked out his autobiography, I'm A Believer.  He updated it a few years ago, but this was the version published in 1993.  It's not a long book, especially with so many scenes from his real life written in film format, turning what would be a pargraph into a couple pages.  Maybe he figured hey, I'm not a Beatle, don't want to overstay my welcome.  Generally a good principle in entertainment, but a book is different, and a few more chapters on the Monkees (even though he spends over half the book on them) would have been appreciated.

Though his father was in show biz, he had a normal childhood, growing up in Los Angeles.  At least, until he was cast as the lead in the TV show Circus Boy when he was 10. They dyed his hair blonde and called him Mickey Braddock.  Even then, after its run, his parents decided he'd go back to being a normal boy.

Still, he'd been bitten by the show biz bug. In his teens he appeared here and there on TV, and also fronted a band (before he was kicked out for not playing an instrument). Then, of course, came The Monkees. There was a long casting process in 1965 and the show finally got on the air in 1966.  Here's a longish video showing not just their individual screen tests, but some amazing stuff where the four who made it, and a few others, act out some scenes:

Once the four were cast, Dolenz was named drummer, even though he had no experience, because Mike and Peter were good at guitar and cute Davy had to be up front.  Though all could sing (even pitchy Peter), Mickey sang lead more than the others, including on their first two singles "Last Train To Clarksville" and "I'm A Believer."

The Monkees was a hip (for TV) show, and won an Emmy for Best Comedy.  It also functioned as a great running ad for the fictional band.  For a couple years, the Monkees were as huge as could be, with four #1 albums and a bunch of top ten hits.

The cast was split in two.  Micky and Davy were both show biz veterans by the age of 20, and saw the band as part of their role in a TV show.  Mike and Peter, meanwhile, saw themselves as musicians who just happened to be hired to be in a show.  Surprisingly, the biggest tension was between Mike and Peter, who disagreed on musical direction.  The boys would wrest control over the music from their handlers by their third album, Headquarters, where Dolenz wrote his first song, "Randy Scouse Git."  But it was also the last time they'd work together as a group to create something new, which disappointed Peter so much that it was the main reason he gave when he left the band.

The show went off the air after two seasons, and was followed by a flop experimental film, Head, and a failed TV special.  Peter left, then Mike, and suddenly Dolenz was washed up at 25.  He went into a tailspin, but eventually pulled out and in his 30s became a successful director in England.  He also worked a bit with Davy, but they had a falling out.  According to Mike, Davy, who was the chipper one in the old days, had been cheated by people close to him and became a darker personality.

Then MTV started rerunning The Monkees in 1986 and the band (sans Mike) reformed.  They had a hit single, album and tour, but broke up again in acrimony, with Davy mad about their deal (or something like that--it wasn't always clear).  After this book was published they reformed yet again, so Davy was only so angry.

The book is slight, but fun.  It movies quickly enough, and is full of cheap little jokes that you'd expect from Dolenz, who was always the compulsive entertainer of the group.  It's also poorly edited, with a fair number of mistakes, but that's easy enough to ignore.  The Monkees were an odd phenomenon, and, as Dolenz admits, created by a lot of talented people behind the scenes, but if you want to get the word from someone who was at the center of an intense experience, this is the book.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, Mr. Whipple.

12:33 AM, March 13, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've really liked all the Monkees posts (sorry Davy died but its been fun to revisit those years).

Any hope of a Bananas reunion?

11:30 AM, March 13, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course I meant Banana splits

lalala lulllalal lalala

11:32 AM, March 13, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For all we know, all the Banana Splits are dead.

12:03 PM, March 13, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Somewhere in a mildewy closet lies HR Pufnstuf . . .

2:57 AM, March 14, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Somewhere in a mildewy closet lies HR Pufnstuf . . .

2:57 AM, March 14, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So where are the four guys who didn't get selected? Nice symmetry in two from column A and two from column B. I wonder how many sets they went through.

3:21 AM, March 14, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The living room set was already there for some other show. I think, based on the pilot, that the record store set was originally going to be the regular set where the band worked and their manager did, too.

10:10 AM, March 14, 2012  

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