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Hey, Hey, He's Back Again : Pop music: Ex-Monkee Peter Tork has started a new band, which plays at Bogart's tonight.

October 20, 1992|MIKE BOEHM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"I wanted it right now," Tork said, recalling his attitude during his initial shot at a post-Monkees career. "I had no patience, I didn't know how to stick to it. Learning from my own mistakes in those days was something that happened against my will. Now it's different. I used to try to (blame) the problems in my life (on) the outside world. Now I know the problem with my life was me."

Tork began his musical life as Peter Thorkelson (he says his is the only Thorkelson family he knows that pronounces the H), the son of a University of Connecticut professor of economics. His parents collected folk records, and they bought Peter his first guitar and banjo. He took five years of piano lessons and studied French horn in high school and at Carleton College in Minnesota. He also acted and sang in school productions. In 1963, having quit college, the young Thorkelson dove into the burgeoning folk-music scene in New York City's Greenwich Village.

Billed simply as Tork--the nickname printed on a hand-me-down sweat shirt that his father had worn in high school--he began playing in small folk clubs where performers were given a stage but no money. "We had to pass the basket. I was making out OK," Tork recalled. In the Village, he began hearing about another scuffling folk singer who looked a lot like him. One day, he spotted his look-alike--Stephen Stills--on the street. The two became friends and began to perform together.

In mid-1965, Tork decided to be a starving artist in warmer climes. He moved that June to Long Beach, where an acquaintance let him sleep on her couch.

"She was waiting tables at the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach," which in the '60s was the top concert club in Orange County. "I wound up getting a job there, jerking beers and washing dishes." Tork took his first dip into the Southern California music scene with a few shows at the Blue Beet in Newport Beach--a gig he does not remember altogether fondly. Then he got a chance to play in pickup bands behind some of the performers booked into the Golden Bear. One was Stills, who, unknown to Tork, had moved to Los Angeles and was playing in a duo called the Buffalo Fish.

Later that summer, Tork says, he got a call from Stills. The future partner of Crosby, Nash & Young had auditioned for a spot in the Monkees, only to be turned down, the story has it, because of his poor teeth. Stills called Tork, his dentally sound Greenwich Village double, and suggested that he try for the part.

"I went, 'Yeah, sure, thanks for the call,' and hung up," Tork recalled. "Then he called me a few days later," again urging Tork to try out for the show. Tork figured any tip worth two calls was worth checking out. Soon, he was a Monkee, part of a group put together by TV producers who had the bright idea of generating a tube-fed, American-bred version of Beatlemania. Tork got the role of the Ringo type: a good-hearted, lovable bumbler, only more handsome.

Tork says he had experimented with that persona since his Greenwich Village days. "I created that character on stage (as) a defense. In case a joke fell flat, (I'd) smile befuddledly." Looking back, Tork mused, "It probably expressed an inner truth about me."

Backed at first by studio pros, the Monkees gradually assumed more control over their music. Their third album, "Headquarters," was pretty much all the band's own work, and Tork rates it "an OK record for a young garage band." But Tork became disappointed that the Monkees didn't develop the cohesion of a truly collaborative unit whose first priority would be rock, not show-biz.

"At the time I thought we had what it takes to be a band, a real band. That was my highest ambition, and I resented those guys when they wouldn't do what I wanted to do. So you see, I had the attitude that the world should conform to my notions."

After quitting, Tork tried to launch a new band called Peter Tork and Release. The fact that he'd been in the Monkees may have made it harder to gain respect, he said, but his fame also gave him advantages over other new bands. The pluses and debits of being an ex-Monkee balanced out, Tork thinks. Release failed, he says, because "I didn't know how to stick to it. I ran out of money and told the band members, 'I can't support us as a crew any more, you'll just have to find your own way.' " In hindsight, Tork says, he should have asked the others to help support the band and hang with it after he could no longer afford to be its sugar daddy. But at the time, Tork says, he lacked the self-esteem to ask for other people's help.

Tork, whose Hollywood pad became notorious as a haven for freeloading hangers-on, tersely ticked off a four-point explanation of how he went broke so quickly.

"A: The Monkees "was not as good-paying a job as one would suspect. B: I did not take care of business. C: I gave a lot of it away. D: I was robbed blind."

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