On Saturday night I took my friend Richard to see The Monkees (what’s left of them) at the Greek Amphitheatre.
Part of my interest was in seeing Mike Nesmith. I like his voice and I like his songs. I’d seen him once before, with the other Monkees, about 20 years ago when they played Universal Amphitheatre (no idea what that’s called now — and now it’s been covered, so it’s probably not called “Amphitheatre”) and Nesmith ran on to do two songs, to thunderous applause, before going back to everything else he’d rather be doing than playing with his former bandmates.
Part of my interest was ghoulish: seeing what they’re like without Davy Jones. (So shoot me. But hey — the Beach Boys in May were fantastic, minus two dead Wilson brothers. So I figured: who knows?)
So here’s how it was: Odd. Have you ever been to a funeral where the family didn’t seem to miss the deceased? This was like that. Advance publicity had it that there would be a “tribute” to Davy Jones. If by “tribute,” his surviving bandmates meant that occasionally a song of his would come on and they’d leave the stage while the band played along to the video, and that they’d draft a completely tone-deaf woman from the audience to sing his biggest hit (“Daydream Believer”) and that never once would they acknowledge his death or that they missed him, well, yeah, then there was a tribute. One could be excused for thinking that rather than being absent due to death, Davy had just failed to catch a cab in time.
There were oddities in the audience, too. Richard and I had the smack-dab last seats in the audience, Row D on the benches, way in the back, just slightly north of Mexico. We had these because if I was going purely for reasons of morbid curiosity, then I wasn’t paying more than 10 bucks a ticket. This low-low ticket price (less than the cost of some six packs) meant, though, that some people felt they could show up, drink heavily and behave themselves like they were at a drive-in movie in the 1970s. In front of us were two families — two sets of middle-aged parents, one with one girl of about 10 and the other with a girl of about 14 and another of about 10. Both sets of parents were drunk. I mean, smashed. Obliterated. Like I haven’t been since I was… 24 at the most. Like you don’t get if you’re past 24, unless you’re Mickey Rourke. The guy in front of me, an English guy looking like an older, poorer, stubbled Phil Collins with a goatee and cheap eyewear, stumbled his way up to his seat, then later tottered way way way down the steps to get more of whatever they were drinking (something clear in a clear glass bottle — like moonshine), falling down on his way down, then repeated the effect later, then of course fell whammo into a whole section of the audience both those times and when he was trying to leave. The mother was in a similar state and kept trying to engage me in conversation until my frozen stare got her to direct her attentions to my friend instead. But the most appalling thing was the spectacle of how they treated their daughters. The guy sat to the right of her and throughout much of the show leaned in on her, caressing her long golden hair, whispering in her ear, hugging her close to him, and bestowing all sorts of attention and favor; the mother did the same, from behind. The daughter basked in all this attention and played it for all it was worth. The other daughter, younger, brunette, to the left of the chosen one, got nothing. She sat there abjectly ignored. It’s nice that Mom and Dad got smashing drunk and showed everyone how they really feel about each of their kids.
All of that was far more camaraderie than there was on stage. The song list was carefully parsed out: First a Mike song, then a Mickey song, then a Peter song. (At least, before they ran out of Peter songs.) The first Peter song was truly wack-a-doodle, “Your Auntie Grizelda,” which was embarrassing in 1967 and has become even moreso as the millennium turned. The kindest thing one can say about it is that Peter Tork’s singing isn’t as bad as his dancing — and, yes, he did an odd skipping shuffle during the song. If I could somehow wipe this memory from my brain I would, except I like to think there are things to be learned from the embarrassing public displays of others. Here are two:
- when it’s 45 years later, realize that 45 years have passed and that what was cute when you were 24 now looks like an Alzheimer’s episode; and
- if you’re going to bring the kids out for your big public drunk, at least buy enough for the rest of the audience, because otherwise we’re not enjoying a bit of it and you’re just a boor.
I enjoyed many of the songs, and indeed, the concert overall. It was great to hear the Mike Nesmith songs played live this once; I doubt there’ll be another opportunity, and even if there is, it isn’t one I’ll be taking. Mike shone when singing and playing his songs; Micky is in good vocal form and really delivered his; and Peter Tork was there. But the band never played like a band — which is fitting, because in some ways, put together by chance as they were, they never really were one.