Sorry for the limp title. It was the wittiest quip I could do on the subject of Davy Jones' death. Someone already made the obvious joke: "I guess it's just Paul and Ringo now." Adam Avitable will publish a Dead Celebrity Interview any minute. Sean Condon updated his facebook status with the priceless I'm a Bereaver. There are no jokes left to crack.
Isn't that what you do on the internet when a celebrity dies? You crack jokes. Just ask Whitney. Via a medium, of course.
So let's not crack jokes. And let's not celebrate Jones' contribution to pop-culture, perish the thought. The social web is all atwitter with youtubes of his 1971 appearance on The Brady Bunch as Marsha's prom date. (He was an ex-Monkee at that stage. Perhaps he'd been promoted to chimpanzee?) I watched it, and ralphed.
Let's discuss the contibution of Jones, and the Monkees as a whole, to avant-garde culture in the late 1960s.
Jones' finest work came as a Dadaist. His New York Times obituary describes the Monkees as "benignly psychedelic", but in truth, they were double-breasted Duchamps. Singing Magrittes. Cabaret Voltaire sur Mer.
We forget that by the standards of mid-century, middle-class American TV, The Monkees verged on surrealism. If there weren't a laugh track to tell us not to take it seriously, and Mickey Dolenz mugging for the camera, the show could almost reach capital-A Absurd.
They unzipped the laugh track for their 1968 movie Head. Sergeant Pepper it ain't. Head scorched the career of the band with its curious brand of Surrealism Lite—confusing their romance-hungry teenybopper fans, and failing to capture an art-house audience who knew what real surrealism was.
Head had its moments, though. The boys got to play dandruff flakes in Victor Mature's coiff. Annette Funicello go-go dances. And Frank Zappa chides Davy for not practicing his music—you may recall that in the Monkees, Jones played nothing more complex than tambourine.
(Zappa was one of rock 'n' roll's most high-minded musical snobs, but he harboured great affection for the brazen fakery of the Monkees. Click this link to see him goofing off with a clearly-stoned Mike Nesmith. Nesmith was one of the first group members to grow tired of the sham and pack it in. He didn't actually need the money. His mother, a Dallas secretary, invented Liquid Paper. In her blender. No, really.)
This scene from Head recalls the Monkees' early days on the Columbia lot, during their first TV season. Legit actors, incensed at the sheer fraudulence of the group, would leave the comissary when the lads arrived. Watch for a cameo from Jack Nicholson near the end; Nicholson co-wrote the script under the influence of LSD. Of course, anyone alive in the sixties claims to have been under the inflence of LSD all the time. Sounds like an excuse.
He maintained his absurdist streak offstage, too. Peter Tork recalls a time when the group had lunch at a diner, and Jones pulled an outrage reminiscent of that other great Dadaist, Barry Humphries. Australians will know of Humphries' famous barf-bag/condensed-milk/fruit-salad stunt—Jones reprised it with perfect comic timing.
I wonder if there's a connection? After all, Humphries and Jones shared a stage. It was the London production of Oliver!, where one played Fagin, and tne other the Artful Dodger. Not difficult to guess who was the master, and who the student.