by William Mullally
Davy Jones, singer of the Monkees, has died at age 66. Apparently, it was the result of a heart attack. He died in his sleep.
There’s been a lot of talk lately in reaction to the death of Whitney Houston about how, basically, it might be tragic but it wasn’t exactly the loss of a great artist–she never wrote a song, played an instrument, or did anything of real “worth.” She was a great voice. And a passable actor.
I guess the same could be said of Davy Jones. It’s not like we lost Michael Nesmith here–the one who could write songs, toiled away at an artistically but not commercially successful solo career, produced films like Repo Man and wrote a small, wonderful novel I think only I and his mother have copies of. This was Davy, the small (5’3”), teen heartthrob famously fawned over by Marcia on the Brady Bunch. It’s not the loss of a “great artist.”
But it is, indeed, a loss. It’s the loss of a child actor, a boy who started on a soap opera at the age of 11. It’s the loss of a boy who overcame the tragedy of losing his mother at the age of 14. A boy who, in the wake of that terrible happening, abandoned his career and his schooling to train to become a jockey. A boy who was pulled back into acting by his jockey trainer and those in London who just couldn’t forget the young talent. A boy who, as luck would have it, was back stage when the Beatles performed on the Ed Sullivan show, saw the momentous occasion, and saw what he wanted his life’s work to be.
It’s a boy who moved out to Los Angeles, across the world from his home, recorded a solo album at the age of 20 and then joined a Beatles derivative being put together for a children’s television show. He managed, with that band, to turn something that, by all accounts, should have been a massively stupid failure, into a worldwide phenomenon that actually outsold the Beatles themselves in 1967. It was a stupid little show that became one of the most charming, hip (Zappa!), innovative and increasingly surreal comedy half hours television has ever seen. And on that show, Davy asserted himself as the first love of many young girls growing up in the 60s, including my own mother.
After the disbandment of the Monkees in ’71, he kept trying to rekindle that success, but never quite could. He never faded away completely though, making guest appearances on TV shows, forming a band with Mickey and the two primary songwriters of the Monkees, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart (sadly, they only lasted one album.) He performed in Harry Nilsson’s original play The Point! when the show made it to London in 1977. (He and Nilsson has been friends ever since Nilsson contributed songs, most notably “Cuddly Toy,” to the Monkees way back when–the demo recordings of which are really wonderful.)
This was a man who, after a long detour, finally went back to horseracing at the age of 51 and won his first race as a jockey in 1996. A man who continued to record music, and write memoirs. A guy who, just up until last summer, was still performing 43 (!) songs a night at Monkees performances with Mickey and Peter.
This wasn’t just any man, this was Davy Jones. This was smiling, self deprecating, Davy. The man who’s responsible for the stupidly charming banter at the beginning of “Daydream Believer,” one of the best pop songs ever produced (fact).
Davy: What number is this, Jim?
Davy: Alright, don’t get excited man. It’s ‘cos I’m short, I know.
Davy was undoubtably a great performer. But to me, Davy was the guy who’s face would scrunch up when he was sincere, who would play the tambourine frantically off-beat during performances, who never looked quite like he was fitting in. He was goofy, awkward, and sometimes a little vain. He was rarely seen without a smile. In the end, that’s what I’ll miss the most.
Rest In Peace, Davy Jones.