Thursday, September 29, 2016

Review: 'The Monkees, Head, and the 60s'

If 2016 has taught us something that we should have all learned fifty years ago, it’s that The Monkees are great. Not just “Boy, don’t you have fond memories of hearing ‘Daydream Believer’ at the prom?” great, but seriously great. This year they’ve finally received the treatment they deserved since they became a “real” recording band when they made Headquarters. The Monkees’ reunion album Good Times has received almost uniformly glowing reviews. Their TV series has received a deluxe blu-ray treatment usually reserved for critical darlings like Star Trek and Twin Peaks. There has also been an uptick in Monkees scholarship. This past summer, Rosanne Welch published an intelligent analysis of the Monkees TV show called Why The Monkees Matter. A few months later, Peter Mills is publishing a similarly in-depth study of the group’s only feature film called The Monkees, Head, and the 60s.

Following a general run down of how the series came to be, the backgrounds of the four stars of the show, their producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, and the music, Mills settles in on his central purpose. He offers a scene-by-scene analysis of Head’s audio-visual chop suey. The analysis is non-academic and fairly general, and there may not be too many revelations for those who already get that the film skewers The Monkee’s pre-fab image and shows how locked into it they were. A lot of page space is devoted to descriptions of scenes without much analysis at all, which can be especially frustrating when it is followed by a big conclusion such as “the juxtapositons in this closing sequence are in some ways irresponsible and morally duplicitous” without any explanation for what provoked that conclusion.

Mills keeps that from ever really becoming truly exasperating because The Monkees, Head, and the 60s is so packed with trivia, quotes and insights from the men who made the film, background information on its making, and fascinating comparisons between what was in the script and what ended up on the screen (according to the script, Davy was originally supposed to sing “Magnolia Simms” instead of “Daddy’s Song”!). As was the case with Welch’s book, the evidence used to support the analysis is more stimulating than the analysis itself. That’s fine by me since I’m more interested in learning about The Monkees than learning about how someone interprets their work. Mills still manages to get us to care about whom is telling this story by relating his own personal experiences as a Monkeemaniac throughout the book. This is actually an important element in The Monkees story, since the band’s long road to legitimacy has also been our long road to legitimacy, and in hearing Mill’s personal anecdotes about being a fan, we are also reminded of our own experiences loving a band that it seems the world is only just beginning to admit that it loves too.  
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