Friday, March 2, 2012

The death of a Monkee brings to my memory the life of a grandparent

Everywhere I look on the Internet these past couple of days, it seems that everybody wants to have their say-so about the death of Davy Jones – the British actor-turned-pop musician whose name remains known these days on account of the fact his hit television show from the mid-1960s can still be seen in reruns.

Yes, I’m talking about The Monkees (as in, “Hey, Hey, we’re the …”), of whom the made-for-TV band’s pretty boy singer and tambourine player passed on this week.

SOME PEOPLE ARE getting all dreamy, while others feel the need to take pot shots. There also are those who feel compelled to bring up Marcia Brady and Jones’ appearance on The Brady Bunch (who remembers that her other celebrity "crush" was in the band Dino, Desi & Billy?).

Yet I can’t help but think of a moment involving my paternal grandfather – which may not sound like a logical connection. Yet in my mind, it is what I think of whenever The Monkees are mentioned.

That particular grandfather died while I was still young. My most vivid memory of him, to be honest, is attending his funeral. Second most vivid was being in Texas with my parents, where we traveled to so we could be with my grandfather in those weeks before he died.

Yet I do recall one time when I visited my grandparents’ house on Chicago’s South Side (they were living in the Calumet Heights neighborhood by that time, after having lived for many years in South Chicago. I don’t exactly recall why my grandfather was in Texas at the time of his death, but he was officially pronounced in Waco).

WHAT STICKS IN my mind is that at one point, my grandfather gave me his full attention. It was just the two of us sitting on the living room couch – conversing in the manner that one does with a young child.

It is the lone memory I have of the two of us specifically being together.

And what I also remember is that the television was turned on and I could hear it in the background. I wasn’t really paying attention to it, so I have no idea which episode I was ignoring. But I do specifically recall the sound of the theme music from The Monkees.

Which in many ways makes me a lot like other people, who hear some pop song that happens to be playing while something of significant is happening to them and it sticks.

TO MOVE AHEAD a decade, to me the song “I ran” by that one-hit wonder 1980s band A Flock of Seagulls will always associate with college, because I happened to be visiting the University of Illinois campus in Urbana and wandered off by myself to check out the sorority houses.

The song happened to be playing at that moment, and I literally heard it coming from the windows of every single sorority house I passed.

But for now, all of this Monkee-mania is causing me to recall my grandfather, and also make me regret that I don’t have any better first-hand memories of the man (my other three grandparents lived long enough that I have solid recollections of them).

So excuse me if the death of Davy Jones isn’t exactly a cause for fond memories of childhood – although I’m too young to really get into it. When the show was on in prime time, I was barely cognizant of television. By the time it was on while I was with my grandfather, it was a staple of Saturday morning broadcasts along with a whole batch of other cartoons.

SEEING THE MONKEES mixed in with the Banana Splits goes a long way toward explaining why I can’t take the band too seriously as a band – even if in their latter years they did make strides to play their own music.

Although I must also confess to wishing I could play the introductory guitar solo to “Valleri.” Every time I try, it comes out sloppy and disgusting-sounding. As for the rest of the song, Monkee Mike Nesmith’s original assessment of it as the “worst record ever” may well be correct.

Not that I don’t have a nostalgic side for some of the television of my youth. I must admit to tuning in whenever possible to the re-runs of that old ‘70’s sitcom “Sanford and Son.” I still find Redd Foxx amusing (the line, “I could stick your face in some dough and make gorilla cookies” will never leave my mind), and perhaps I will get as weepy-eyed when the day comes that Demond Wilson departs this Earth as some people are getting now over Davy Jones.

And as far as I’m concerned, Quincy Jones’ theme song “The Streetbeater” is more memorable than any Monkees’ song in existence.


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