recess radio program

12/29/03
The Monkees
    by Kevin Shortsleeve

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Does that song strike any familiar chords from your childhood? If you are of a certain age The Monkees were the rock band of your adolescence. Your remember them, Mike Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Davy Jones. Today, December 30 is the birthday of two of the band's members, Mike turns 58 and Davy, 55.

The Monkees have always had a special relationship to childhood. Originally, the show was conceived to fill a niche. They were to be a light and bouncy answer for kids to the Beatles increasingly mature and psychedelic output. I distinctly recall hastily abandoning games of tag or softball so that I could rush home - tearing through the hedges so that I wouldn't miss the opening song. I was drawn in deep. The show's premise was instantly accessible to children. - four friends living in a club-house type abode - all striving for the same goal - and no parents.

A recent film version of the band's story, "Daydream Believers", perpetuates the theory that the Monkees were just for kids. The film ends with the band surrounded by little children - implying that childhood is the place where The Monkees story should end. But if that's the case, I wondered how it was that I have remained a fan all these years?

Though the film was carefully performed and largely accurate, the filmmakers missed the chance to point out the profound effect the Monkees had on bands that came of age in the 80s and 90s - Bands like REM and even RUN DMC have admitted a debt to the Monkees. Mike Nesmith's country-rock inventions have been particularly well remembered. And film students have marvelled at the band's more obscure cinematic achievements, including the pshchadelic film, Head from 1968.

So you see, many of us grew up with the Monkees - we didn't leave them behind in childhood.

As an adult, I have also appreciated The Monkees story. Like many events in the 60s, it is a story of rebellion. Perhaps you have heard the urban legend that The Monkees did not record their own music. To a certain extent, that was true - but it was not because they couldn't - it was because they were prohibited from doing so by the stodgy management. In frustration, in early 1967 they forced their way into the studio and demanded the right to record their own album. To make his point, Mike Nesmith even put his fist through a wall.

The Monkees won their freedom and recorded the album Headquarters on their own, - as an homage to their own talents, the spirit of friendship and to childhood and its rebellions, - I'll leave you with the four Monkees performing a song Peter wrote. It became the closing theme to the show.

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Copyright 2003 Kevin Shortsleeve

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"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."