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They're Out to Make You a Believer

'To bring a smile to our fans' faces' is the goal of the Monkees, in Dana Point on Saturday.

September 11, 1997|JOHN ROOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Long hair and bell-bottoms, pot smoking and draft dodging were the ways to irritate parents in '60s America. Debates about the Vietnam War divided houses along generational lines. How, then, did a simpleton of a TV show manage to bring everyone together--if only for 30 minutes a week?

Here we come . . . walking down the street . . .

When "The Monkees" TV series premiered in 1966, with actors portraying members of a rock 'n' roll band by the same name, viewers of all ages squeezed onto the living room couch at 7:30 p.m. to watch the NBC comedy.

Relying on corny one-liners and zany pranks, its stars--Davy, Micky, Peter and Mike--proved to be an unforgettable foursome. (Although John, Paul, Ringo and George, whose film "A Hard Day's Night" inspired the series, had nothing to fear.) More than 30 years later, the Monkees can apparently still draw a crowd. Minus on-again, off-again member Mike Nesmith, they'll perform Saturday at Doheny Days, a two-day music festival also featuring surf and rock acts. (See lineup schedule, Page 8.) Vendors and exhibits representing the beach lifestyle, from woody cars to classic long-boards, will the dot the area surrounding two temporary stages. A portion of the proceeds will go to the San Clemente-based Surfrider Foundation.

"People let us into their lives because we're just like them," Davy Jones said over the phone recently, explaining the group's enduring appeal. Clearly in good spirits after having finished a round of golf at a seaside resort in Massachusetts, he added spryly: "We're very approachable. We've always been just four goofy but hard-working guys trying to make it.

"It's not like [we're] an unreliable Mick Jagger or temperamental Paul McCartney. I mean, families watched us on TV while eating their dinner."

Thanks in part to heavy promotion during the show's two-year run, the Monkees simultaneously generated such hummable Top 10 singles as "Last Train to Clarksville" (No. 1, 1966), "I'm a Believer" (No. 1, 1966), "Daydream Believer" (No. 1, 1967), "A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You" (No. 2, 1967), "Pleasant Valley Sunday" (No. 3, 1967) and "Valeri" (No. 3, 1968).

Although they rehearsed until they could pass as musicians, Jones and bandmates Nesmith, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork were not allowed to play their own instruments on the early records. Later, after a showdown with producers, they did. But the slick packaging of show and songs miffed critics, who dismissed the young Monkees as purveyors of frivolous, manufactured pop.

"We were hired as actors, not musicians," countered Jones, a Brit who beat out hundreds of young men who auditioned for the TV roles. "We learned to play, write and sing. But more important, music is supposed to stir our souls, not wreak havoc. Today, it's all so heavy and violent. I mean, people are shooting each other. . . . I want to bring a smile to our fans' faces, that's all. And maybe bring some light into a world that's become increasingly darker."

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The Monkees have toured sporadically over the years, circulating most recently on the nostalgia-loving oldies circuit. They also occasionally share the stage with younger bands, as they will at Doheny Days. Audiences today seem open to a cross-section of musical styles, Jones noted.

"Now fans seem to enjoy all the hybrids out there, like hillbilly-blues, folk-rock and punk-rock-ska type of stuff," the 52-year-old singer-guitarist said. "So it's not unhip to enjoy both new pop, like the Rembrandts, and a band such as the Monkees. These new bands aren't competing against us, and we have nothing to prove to them."

Co-existing with Nesmith is a different matter.

Generally regarded as the "serious-minded Monkee," he has over the years distanced himself from the group to pursue various solo film and musical projects. He did rejoin the band two years ago to record an album, 1996's respectable "Justus," and tour in support of the Monkees' 30th anniversary.

Now, the sometime fourth member is reportedly working on a Monkees feature film in lieu of participating in the current U.S. tour. As Jones describes it, Nesmith, who declined to be interviewed for this article, pulled out rather abruptly.

"We made a new album with him, he toured Great Britain with us earlier this year, and we all planned to play America together this summer," Jones said. "Then all of a sudden, he's not here. Later, I hear rumors he's writing a script for our next movie. Oh, really? That's bloody news to me."

Jones believes Nesmith has misused his Monkee status.

"His purpose of being in the Monkees was only to springboard himself out on his own. He's quite unbelievable, really," he fumed. "He's always been this aloof, inaccessible person . . . the fourth part of the jigsaw puzzle that never quite fit in."

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