Davy Jones of The Monkees died yesterday of a heart attack, at the too-young age of 66. I looked up the show on imdb.com so I could remember when it premiered: September, 1966. I was in fourth grade that fall, which fits my grade school memory of being in line in our classroom to adjourn for recess, and some of the girls were discussing which of The Monkees was the cutest. The line of the theme song---"We'll maybe come to your town"---bothered me because I didn't believe they'd stop at our small hometown, and yet they said they might ....
I remember the show in context of other must-see shows like “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and “Batman” but unfortunately not “Petticoat Junction,” which my mother wouldn’t let me watch because it conflicted with “Peyton Place.” I thought "The Monkees" was pretty good. It picked up on the playful side of the early Beatles at a time when the latter group was becoming more experimental and psychedelic. (Only years later did I watch, on cable TV, the trippy comedy, "Head.") Somehow "The Monkees" didn’t chafe with the mean and restrictive codes of coolness that pervaded among the boys of my hometown, who made fun of my enjoyment of “Batman."
Strangely, neither did David Bowie, whose albums and performances had strong homoerotic themes and thus might have been disdained by hometown high school jerks, who would’ve bullied any fellow student remotely glam. But Bowie’s albums also rocked, and his lyrics were more poetic and striking than most. Those of us who liked Bowie sampled the prog-rock spectrum that included King Crimson, The Mothers of Invention, Mike Oldfield, and others.
A month ago I purchased the February 2, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone, with the cover story “How David Bowie Changed the World.” I hoped to see a reassessment of my favorite Bowie album, The Man Who Sold the World. In high school I owned the album---with the cartoon cover---and had a homemade cassette recording that I could play in my car. I love how the album rocked, with an oddly mixed, dystopian majesty. Alas, the article (while discussing Bowie's half-brother who inspired "All the Madmen") assesses the record the same way as everyone else: as a transitional LP.
The article praises the subsequent albums, all but one of which I missed as a teenager. “When things came together [for Bowie], it all happened fast, like something inexorable. The albums in that period, from 1971 to 1974---Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, Aladdin Sane and Diamond Dogs---amount to one of the grand epics of rock & roll: a chronicle about the fall of worlds within and without---the disintegration of ego and of society; and about hard-won new values that may or may not be salvation. Most obviously, though, the albums were about sexual realizations that popular culture had never permitted before” (p. 41). That is, Bowie “tapped into the concern about feminine masculinity” in a way that became “seismic” for gay musicians and gay culture (p. 42). As a teen I was too confused about my own heterosexuality to sense this aspect of Bowie’s cultural significance, but as much as I enjoyed The Who’s Tommy and Quadrophenia and some of Yes’ long concept albums, I might’ve appreciated one more rock epic. “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, from 1972, followed Hunky Dory so closely that the two seem of a piece. Both works are faultless---in effect, they form one of the best double albums ever made” (p. 41).
Several of my Facebook friends have been posting fond comments about Davy Jones. One friend posted the last sentences from the New York Times obituary. (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/01/arts/music/davy-jones-a-singer-in-the-monkees-dies-at-66.html)
“Perhaps Mr. Jones’s most enduring legacy takes the form of a name. The name belongs to another English musician, who burst on the scene some years after the Monkees. This man, too, had been born David Jones. But thanks to the Monkees’ renown, he knew he would have to adopt another name entirely if he was to have the hope of a career.
"So he called himself David Bowie."