Still Monkee-ing around
MTV began airing reruns of the TV show in 1985, just in time for a Monkees 20th anniversary tour (which I caught at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater). The band marked the occasion by releasing a new song -- the pleasant That Was Then, This Is Now, which climbed to No. 20 on the charts in '86. It became one of five singles released during the '80s and gave a whole new generation of kids a chance to see "Beatles Lite" all over again.
Drummer/singer Micky Dolenz is still out there, carrying the Monkees banner while the rest of the group awaits their next reunion tour offer. I had a chance to chat with him earlier this week before a series of shows at Tampa's Busch Gardens. Here are the highlights:
Between standing in line for the Kumba and the Congo River Rapids, what can fans hear at Busch Gardens this week?
"They're going to hear all the Monkees' hits for starters, most of which I sang originally. I do them just as people remember them. Then I sprinkle the rest of the show with stories -- like Jimi Hendrix once being our opening act."
A similar thing happened back in '86 when the Monkees played in Clearwater. You had Herman's Hermits and the Grass Roots as opening acts. None of the kids in the audience knew who they were
[Laughs] "It's happened before! There are classic stories about Guns N' Roses opening for the Rolling Stones and everyone yelling "Get off!" Those stories go back a long, long time."
What accounts for the enduring appeal of the Monkees?
"Foremost, it's the songs and the songwriting. I had some of the greatest songwriters of all time writing for me. People like Carole King, Neil Diamond, Neil Sedaka and Paul Williams. And when you start with material of that quality, the songs stand up over the years regardless of the times and the production."
Carole King wrote Pleasant Valley Sunday. What a classic.
"I just signed a record deal to do a tribute album to Carole King called King for a Day. I'm going to sing all Carole King tunes because she wrote so many great tunes for me, including As We Go Along and The Porpoise Song for the movie Head."
Yes, Head, the 1968 movie written by Jack Nicholson. That was a little deep for average Monkees fans.
"I still don't know what it's about — and I was in it!"
Are you comfortable with people calling you "the funny Monkee?"
[Laughs] "I don't think about labels much at all. People forget the Monkees were not a group. It was a television show about an imaginary group, and I was an actor playing the part of the wacky drummer. That's still the way I look at it. If people say "you were very funny," well, that was the point. I worked at it. I took improv classes. It wasn't just a coincidence."
Could someone replicate the Monkees' success on TV?
"If you look at Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers, there have been other instances. There have been so many attempts to develop another Monkees. But the problem is you really can't reverse engineer projects like that."
So what was the secret?
"A lot of people miss this: On the television show, the Monkees were never successful. We were always struggling for success, and that spoke to all those kids out there who were trying to be the Beatles. It was the struggle that endeared us to kids, I think."
You're back on TV these days, competing on CMT's reality show Gone Country. How did that happen?
"They offered the show, and I turned it down originally. I didn't like reality shows. But it's not like those mean-spirited, back-stabbing shows that I hate. I get enough of that in real life — it's called show business."
Are you a fan of that music?
"I've never been a huge country music fan, but my lifestyle and my heritage is very close to country. The thing that really hooked me was being able to write a country tune. I thought this would be an ideal opportunity to break into this world. Who knows what will come of that."
So you'd take a real shot at country music?
"Oh, absolutely. Maybe not even as an artist. Maybe as a writer."
Any plans to reunite with Peter Tork, Davy Jones and Michael Nesmith for another Monkees reunion tour?
"There are no plans, but someone's always talking about it. I've learned never to say never."
-- Micky Dolenz: March 4-7, Stanleyville Theater, Busch Gardens, Tampa. Daily show times at 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. Free with park admission (adult admission is $69.95) or passport membership.