A few years ago, I enrolled in my very first, 100% online course as part of my triumphant return to college. What a hoot. The course was composition writing and the first assignment was to write a short essay about something you grew up believing was one way, but turned out to be another. I decided to write about how The Monkees set me up for disappointment, as being in a band has turned out to be a very different experience from what I saw on my cathode ray tube all those years ago. That English professor dropped me from the class within twenty-four hours of the submission.
I have since retaken the course with a different professor and, as you might expect, resubmitted that essay with minor tweaks. This new professor gave me an A+.
I originally posted this essay on my long-defunct Tumbler celebration of their 50th anniversary album, Good Times! In the years since that release, we have lost original Monkee Peter Tork, honorary Monkee Adam Schlesinger, and, as of this afternoon, original Monkee (and First National Band-leader) Mike Nesmith. It’s with them in mind that I once again remind you, “This Is How The Monkees Set Me Up for Disappointment.”
Growing up in the ’90s, I watched a lot of ’60s and ’70s television via Nickelodeon’s Nick@Nite programming block, including the Monkees’ self-titled sitcom. Watching Davy, Micky, Michael, and Peter have all sorts of wacky adventures led me to believe that being in a band was the ultimate career, something I could do with my friends until I got too old to shake a tambourine and this made me really excited to grow up and make rock ’n’ roll. As I grew older, I came to realize that, much like most things I learned from Nickelodeon, this wasn’t a realistic depiction of the world outside of my living room.
“This is The Monkees; it’s about guys that are in a band,” my father excitedly told me as I watched the theme song for the first time one summer weeknight in 1997. To this point, everything I had seen on Nick@Nite was either realistic and relatable (I had an elder cousin that was the ‘90s’ equivalent to The Wonder Years’ Wayne and I was going to grow up to be as funny as Happy Days’ Ralph Malph) or clearly based in fantasy (wiggling my nose like Samantha in Bewitched only helped with allergies and as weird as my relatives were, they were no Munsters), but The Monkees was an anomaly. They played songs I recognized from the radio, so they had to be real, even if their adventures were a bit of a stretch. Figuring that, much like the Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night, they were just living in a world I had yet to enter myself, I quickly made it my goal to enter such a world.
With each episode, I became more and more entranced. International incidents! Gypsies! Gangsters! Mad scientists! Sweet sixteen parties! These boys did it all and not once did it occur to the six year old me that this could be fantasy.
Being six years removed from first hearing the Ramones and discovering punk rock, I had yet to learn that anyone could just start a band. To this point, I had never met anyone who was currently in a band; I had family members on my father’s side who had been in bands, but since he never had a reason to draw a line between Uncle John and Micky Dolenz, I never knew there was one. Much like actors and visual artists, I regarded musicians as something more; they created things that inspired me, things that I enjoyed. People in bands weren’t people who existed on my plane of existence, they were people who existed on my cassettes, on my radio, or on my television. Even to this day, I have trouble shaking the notion that the guy or girl who writes all my favorite songs isn’t something more than human.
Eventually, I began to figure that the adventures depicted on The Monkees were works of fiction, even if the band wasn’t. Accepting that the Monkees could exist in real life while also playing exaggerated, comedic versions of themselves on television only served to excite me further. Not only did the Monkees get to be in a band, they got to have a television show made to glorify them.
As I grew older and heard more stories about people in bands, being in a band became more and more achievable. I started taking guitar lessons in middle school, but learned a lot of dumbed down versions of classic rock songs at first. No matter what settings I put my amp on, or how much I practiced, it never sounded like the stuff on my CDs. It was in that time of desperation that I heard punk rock, an entire subgenre based around the simplicity of rock ’n’ roll. The Ramones were just regular dudes that played three power chords and wore leather jackets and tattered jeans, but it wasn’t some marketing gimmick, this was them and they were in a band. But that was just the tip of the iceberg; there was an entire world of bands that were just kids not much older than me playing three chord rock ’n’ roll, including Minor Threat, who even covered a Monkees song!
As I immersed myself in this new, do-it-yourself world, I slowly started to realize that the dream I had of being a Monkee-type rock ’n’ roller was just that, a dream. Reading books like Stephen Blush’s American Hardcore: A Tribal History clued me into the fact that traveling the world with your band meant finding a bargain van, cramming your broken equipment into the back of it, and trying to make it to the next state in time to play the basement of a VFW hall. The places you slept weren’t luxury hotels, they were the floors of some punk’s unsuspecting parents’ house. The television shows you played (if you were lucky enough to play them) weren’t written about your wild antics or even hosted by David Letterman, they were public access shows awkwardly hosted by well-meaning teenagers.
Accepting this reality was weird. I spent my whole conscious, creative life wanting to be in a band and now that I was at a point where I could be, it was nothing like I expected it to be. Had it always been like this? Why didn’t they show this on the Monkees? With these new developments, did I still want to be a part of this world?
Of course, the answer was “yes,” but not without a hint of disenchantment in my voice.
I’ve since realized that I can still have the time of my life in a band without most of the antics depicted on the classic television series, The Monkees. I do get to fool around with my best friends. I do get to meet characters so fantastic, you’d think they were works of fiction. I do get to hatch schemes that deserve a laugh track. I’m living the dream, despite it being a bit different from how I first dreamt it.
Oh, and for the record, the NEUTRiNOS did have our own theme song.