Davy Jones was the wanna-be that every girl wanted to be with. The Monkees may have been created as a Beatles knock-off, destined to always play second banana, at best, to the band in whose image they’d been created.
But under all that pressure to create another Fab Four, Davy Jones never let ‘em see him sweat. He wore the mantle of teen idol effortlessly, as if he’d been to the moptop manor born.
Jones, who died Wednesday at the age of 66, never seemed to publicly chafe at any of the restraints placed upon him as a musician or personality. Did anyone ever seem less concerned about being typecast as the goofy-pretty boy? We saw fellow Monkee Michael Nesmith rebel against the group’s prefab origins, and we either resented Nesmith for his auteurist aspirations or rooted for him to overcome the Monkees’ limiting image.
But Jones was pure charm. He never seemed less than pleased to be there, whether as the king of network TV and the singles charts in the ‘60s, or on "The Brady Bunch" as the object of Marcia's infatuation, and oldies shows in every subsequent decade.
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Unlike all the other Tiger Beat kings who fell to ruin, Jones’ grin left us sure that he was one we didn’t have to worry about. Learning that he’d succumbed to a heart attack in his current hometown of Stuart, Fla., left Baby Boomers with a surer sense of mortality than ever. Even the setting for the death threw us off a little. The eternal cover boy for 16 Magazine -- living and dying in the land of retirees?
Of course, retirement was the furthest thing from Jones’ mind. He was the one we could always be sure would be out there, in any incarnation or offshoot of the band, whether it was Dolenz, Jones, Boyce & Hart in the first wave of Monkees nostalgia in the ‘70s or the 45th anniversary reunion tour that had been going on since last year.
The music was eminently revivable, of course. By all rights, rock critics should have hated them, but it was hard to hold steadfast to strict singer/songwriter ideals when outside writers were providing the group with hits as indelible as “Daydream Believer” (by Kingston Trio folkie John Stewart), “I’m a Believer” (Neil Diamond), and “Last Train to Clarksville” (Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart). McCartney couldn’t have done any better.
It didn’t hurt when the band would write one of their own hits, as with Nesmith’s “Mary, Mary.” Although the Monkees were very rarely regarded by the intelligentsia as an “album band,” a recent series of deluxe reissues by Rhino Records largely succeeded in redressing that issue.
Not that the Monkees ever seemed in dire need of image rehabilitation. It was their very downmarket status that made some of us fall in love with them. Defending their honor meant defending the underdog, even though Davy Jones hardly needed our sympathy, as the real or imagined chief chick magnet of his age.
He was an actor before he was a singer – and maybe he was always an actor. Jones was nominated for a Tony for playing the Artful Dodger on Broadway in “Oliver!” Then he was forever taken away to a different kind of stage by Screen Gems, which saw a niche market eager and ready for a weekly dollop of “Help!”-style shenanigans that the Beatles themselves were quite unwilling to fill. Ironically, when it came time to move to the big screen, the Monkees got artier at the movies than the Fabs ever did, with the infamously incomprehensible “Head.”
You could point to a number of careers that might not have developed into further greatness without their Monkees moment, from Neil Diamond to series producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, not to mention “Head” screenwriter Jack Nicholson. Then again, giving the Monkees’ legacy too much import feels like another case of unnecessary justification, when those individual hits are every bit as self-justifying as Davy Jones’ gleaming teeth.
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The every-10-years-or so reunions were good fun on their own limited terms, whether or not Jones was prodigious as an artist. He stood on those stages untroubled, somehow making us feel like our youths hadn’t fallen ruin, either, even if it only took a wheezy trip to the parking lot to know better. As long as his health declined only behind the scenes, our innocence was still right there, locked up and ready to be taken out at a moment’s notice from Davy Jones’ locker.