I want to chalk up the outpouring of emotion from fans on the news of Davy Jones’ passing to nostalgia, and it is true, more than one person has expressed regret over our lost youth. Take Howard Barbanel, in “Daydream Believer, 1945-2012: Davy Jones and the Shift of Generations”:
When was the last time you believed in daydreams (let alone indulged in them), white knights on steeds or waking up at six in the morning with a homecoming queen beside you?
All that was made possible by an impish British invasion with a sometimes lead singer named Davy Jones for a manufactured pop group called The Monkees. …
The loss of Mr. Jones transcends his place in music or pop culture. It's really about the inevitable and inexorable passage of time that wreaks its vengeance on us by prodding us along on the bread line of life so that we're no longer on the cusp or even the middle of things, but being edged out to the periphery. …
The loss of Davy Jones is like a warning shot across the bow of the Baby Boomers that the world we once so thoroughly dominated in every respect is only given to us on loan -- we can only lease a part of any given century or epoch and we will be compelled to yield the floor to those coming up after us.
I fear that Davy’s death is being asked to bear too large of a burden, but I seem to be in the minority. Rob Sheffield never writes a bad sentence, and he is eloquent in his defense of Jones. And I can’t call it nostalgia in his case … Sheffield was born in 1966, and was only two years old when The Monkees TV series was cancelled. What is great about Sheffield is that he can be a master of snark, but he is also always willing to put his real emotions on the line. When he titles his obit “In Memory of the Cute One: Davy Jones’ Greatest Musical Moments”, when he leads with “Davy Jones was the grooviest of the Monkees, which makes him one of the grooviest pop stars who ever existed”, he’s not being ironic.
There’s also the need to be respectful of the taste preferences and grieving processes of others, as I noted when writing about Whitney Houston two weeks ago and offering my anecdote of insensitivity on the death of Frank Zappa.
If I was a good boy, I’d make this Music Friday into a tribute to Davy. I enjoyed their TV series enough at the time (I was 13-14 years old). I’m not immune to some of their pop hits … if forced to choose, I’d probably pick “Valleri” as my favorite.
But I can’t help feeling that Monkees nostalgia misses the point. There is always a place for art that works against the mainstream. The Beatles of Sgt. Pepper deserved to be taken down a peg, no matter how good that album was, just as the pomposities of prog rock needed to be met with the snarl and incompetence of early punk. But the counterpart to Sgt. Pepper was the Stooges, not the Monkees. It’s not that the Monkees were a copy of the Beatles … the Beatles were a copy of Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers and fill-in-the-blanks. It’s that the Beatles took their influences and created something that was their own, while the Monkees existed solely to exploit the market surrounding the Beatles and the British Invasion. (Davy was picked to be a Monkee because his accent played well in such surroundings.) The Monkees were tamer than the Beatles, they were more crass than the Beatles, and more power to them … their TV show was good enough, and they put out some good records. But their cultural moment was short-lived … the TV series only lasted two seasons … and it’s their music that remains their calling card today. So we tip our cap to Davy Jones for bringing pleasure to so many, and leave it at that. Inflating the importance of the Monkees is unnecessary.
To put it another way, several decades from now, I hope these guys get as much love and affection when they pass, as Davy Jones is getting now:
And, because I can never post this enough times: