Sunday, May 28, 2017

Monkees--"Monkees on Tour"

     Bob Rafelson, creator of The Monkees in nearly every way, wanted to finish off the first season with something unique. Without network permission, he filmed a couple days in the life of the band on tour in Phoenix, Arizona and San Francisco, California. The result is a low key, 16mm documentary that was probably meant to come off as candid, but still feels manufactured. There is a clear line between the Monkees as a product for consumption and the Monkees as real people. I cannot help but feel a sense of melancholy about the delineation.
    Something needs to be made clear if it has not been already. I was introduce to the Monkees via the first MTV marathon of the series in 1985. I liked the series in and of itself. While I had my favorites among their songs, the Monkees were actors on a fictional television show. It did not matter to me if they were a real band, played their own instruments, or were in control of creating their own music. As such, the controversies whether the Monkees qualify as a “real” band are of only a passing interest. My emphasis is on the television series, not the Monkees as a phenomenon.
      With that said, I still cannot help but note the clear distinction between the guys in scene before the concert in Phoenix and after wards on a day off in San Francisco. The Monkees arrive in Phoenix the night before the concert by plane. The net day is filled with planned activities in which the guys are to goof around in public. The Monkemobile arrives separately so they can keep up appearances by driving around in it for excursions horseback riding, motorcycle riding, roller skating, and taking over a radio station. You could imagine their television counterparts spending their time this way.
     The concert itself is shown in highlights. Th Monkees start out by performing their biggest hits to fans screaming so loudly, it is difficult to even identify the songs. The audio is as cheap as the film. The performances are spiced up by occasional in character antics from the guys. In the middle of the concert, each one gets a chance to do his own solo act. Peter plays the banjo. Mike covers a Bo Diddly song. Davy performs his song and dance man act. Mickey doe an impersonation of James Brown complete with collapsing on stage, Mike coming out to cover him with a black cape to escort him off, but Micky breaking away to complete the song. The concert ends with the band performing together again.
      It is the post concert segments that are the mot interesting. The guys are cut loose to do their own thing. The manufactured hype is gone now that the concert is over. The guys reveal their true thoughts. Peter wanders alone on a beach taking about how desperate he is for quiet sometimes. Davy laments how regimented his life has become while lounging in hi hotel room. Micky tours a house being built while talking about how he always wanted to build something important that will always last. Mike talks about how he used to stand on empty stages and dream of performing for thousands of fans while revealing he still feels the dream has not been satisfied. The implication here is, in spite of their meteoric success, it feels hollow and fake to the guys. The reasons why the Monkees will enjoy only a short life as a band are clear and present.
      Is it necessary to address the elephant in the room even though it is only touched upon in a punchline from a fan? Did the Monkees play their own instruments? Not always on studio albums. But such can e said of any band. There is an entire industry of studio musicians. Your favorite albums are loaded with them. The question tuck with the Monkees because of the same fake nature of their creation as the guys talk about in the post-concert scenes. The air of illegitimacy clearly gets under their skin.
     “Monkees on Tour” is an interesting change of pace for the series. It is not one of my favorite episodes. The Monkees as a real band aspect of their lore does not particularly interest me. It does not help I engage in a heavy skepticism for behind the scenes documentaries. No one acts real when cameras are rolling, so what exactly am I watching? A fictional band pretending to be a real band, then lamenting the band I not real? It is weird and kind of sad.
      Rating: ** (out of 5)

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