Hey, hey, they’re The Monkees, and almost 50 years after their television debut, they’re still monkeying around – and you better believe they don’t seem particularly interested in stopping anytime soon.
After Davy Jones’s tragically unexpected passing in 2012, Peter Tork, Micky Dolenz and – for the first time since 1997 – Michael Nesmith came back together to perform as The Monkees. Their first reunion tour that year was a success for both fans and critics, so much so that the trio decided to hit the road again the following year and once again in 2014 – including a stop Sunday night at The Riverside.
Before they arrive in town, OnMilwaukee got a chance to chat with Peter Tork about being back with the gang, performing without Davy and still getting the cold shoulder from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
OnMilwaukee.com: What is it like going back out on this new tour, your third reunion tour in the past three years?
Peter Tork: Oh, it’s fun. I love this stuff. When we’re rehearsing, you come in somewhere around 10:30 – which is early to be singing; you don’t normally like to sing until 5:00 in the afternoon if you can help it – and you work on arrangements. You work and you crank, and you crank and you work. You’re going at it from anywhere from 6 to 9, and you’re singing and working on this stuff all the time.
When I was done with those days, I walked out of rehearsal and fell flat face-first on a bed. It was exhausting, but it’s good to know that you’ve been working, that sense that you’ve put in a day’s work in an important way. So I enjoy it, especially once the rehearsal schedule is over. I like the road. I like traveling. I like hanging with the gang. These are great people to hang with, and I would do it 40 weeks a year if I could.
OMC: When you guys came back together in 2012, how long did it take you guys to snap back together on those harmonies and arrangements? Was it pretty second nature, or did you have to take some time to figure those out again?
PT: Mike had the toughest job. Micky and I had been doing this through I don’t know how many hundreds of shows. The two of us had done it together almost all with Davy before. Not only did we know all of the arrangements we were going to do, but we had done many different arrangements of many of these tunes so we were flexible, and they were deep and organic.
Michael came back, and they were almost all spanking new to him. He couldn’t remember chords. He had to work very hard to get his stuff up to snuff. So it wasn’t too hard for me and Micky to be working; Michael took the brunt of it, particularly on the first tour. The second tour was much better, and this one’s even better than that. He’s way up to speed now. He’s actually ahead of us; he’s thinking about what’s next. But it was great; Mike’s voice sounds pretty much the same as it always has, and suddenly I found myself nostalgic for the old days. I never thought that would happen.
OMC: What is it like being the three of you on the road with some years under your belt? What’s it like reuniting as older men?
PT: It’s just the same as reuniting as younger men, only slower. It’s great. It’s great to work with these guys. They’re very funny guys, both of them extraordinarily funny. It’s a lot of fun. Micky sings as well as he ever did. Michael sings at least as well as he ever did. I’m singing better than I ever did, which isn’t necessarily saying much but there you have it. So it’s great work; it’s great doing this work.
OMC: Obviously, Davy unfortunately can’t be on the road with you guys. Is it hard doing something like this without him? How is it coping with that gap?
PT: I like to say every place has its payoff and its price. Davy brought some extraordinary stuff to the table. We miss those qualities a great deal, of course, and we try to make up for them by being funny and musical as well. We have a film clip of him doing his dance routine from the movie "Head," and we run that with nothing else happening, just that running. And that works great; we have a very good time with that.
It’s sad that he’s gone. We love to do this, and we’re going to go on doing it anyway. His departure, it’s not like when Jerry Garcia died and that was the end of The Grateful Dead. Davy was not that to us. Davy was special in many ways, but we are still the official purveyors of "Last Train to Clarksville," "I’m A Believer," "Daydream Believer," "Pleasant Valley Sunday" and all those great tunes. We’re in charge of that songbook, and Davy’s passing doesn’t stop that process, as much as it changes it.
OMC: How did you work out the arrangements for three people instead of four now?
PT: It’s different for every song. Some songs, Davy had no special part in, so we didn’t do anything to them. Others he sang the lead in, some of them we don’t do anymore and some of them one of us sings the lead.
On "Daydream Believer," for instance, Micky and I are going to sing the first verse in unison, and Micky and Mike are going to sing the second verse in unison. It’s our way of saying no one of us can take Davy’s place on a one-to-one basis. But we still have that song to sing; what are we going to do about that? So we found this way as a way of stating it.
I think it seems to work rather well. It’s interesting to hear what happens because we have interesting blends. When Micky and I sing unison, there’s another voice – a third voice – and the same happens when Micky and Mike sing.
OMC: The Monkees and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it seems like that keeps not happening. Are you still hoping for that to happen, or at this point, is it out of mind?
PT: No. We never did hope for it to happen. We don’t care. It’s not going to change anything. I think it reflects poorly on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that we haven’t even gotten a nomination, but it doesn’t affect us. That’s only me talking from an outsider’s point of view. From a member’s point of view, it’s whatever will be, will be. A total que sera, sera here. Whatever, whatever, whatever, whatever. It makes almost no difference to us at all.
OMC: How long do you plan to keep doing this?
PT: There’s no end to this. Matt, we’re going to be doing this until we can’t do it any longer. I hope to die with my boots on. This is what we do. This is what we live to do. We do this to live, and we live to do this. So there’s no putting a date on it.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.