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The Monkees: The group that wouldn’t go away

The Monkees
The Monkees
Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

It was supposed to be just a television show. Then after millions of records were sold, people said The Monkees were still just a shooting star from the Sixties soon to be relegated to the nostalgia scrap heap.

Oh how those people were wrong. Yet nearly 50 years after the show about “an imaginary band” first aired in 1966, the three surviving members of The Monkees are not just going strong, but still bringing their timeless tunes to the masses, with New York getting a dose of the trio at The Paramount in Huntington this Sunday, May 25.

And while the group’s appeal doesn’t surprise Micky Dolenz anymore, when he got his first dose of the revival of Monkeemania back in 1986 thanks to MTV, it did come as a bit of a shock.

“When we got back for the first reunion tour in ’86, which would have been 20 years after the original show was on the air, I was living in England and working as a producer / director in television and films,” he said. “I hadn’t done any singing or basically any entertaining. I was just behind the camera and hadn’t done any Monkees stuff for 20 years or so. When I came back to the States and MTV had that big resurgence, I was very surprised. I was like ‘holy moley.’ (Laughs) That’s when I first got a sense of the power of that show and how it had resonated with all these people and really became a fixture on the American cultural landscape. But since then, it’s been very consistent, and whenever we want to get back together and tour, we can and we do. It’s really as simple as that.”

Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork are now making the rounds for a spring tour that began tonight in Hampton, New Hampshire and that will take them through to Cleveland on June 7. It’s not a Rolling Stones-esque production, just three pals getting together to run through songs that not just capture a time in so many people’s lives, but that still sound fresh today.

“There’s obviously a demand out there, but it’s an unusual sort of situation,” said Dolenz. “Whereas most bands have an ongoing mechanism, some sort of presence, an office or a manager or something, we came out of the television show, and since it went off the air, there really hasn’t been a Monkees business. It is literally an agent or manager tracking us down individually across the world and saying ‘do you guys want to get back together and go on tour?’ That’s usually how it happens. In this particular case, Mike, Peter, and I got together for a memorial for Davy, and that’s how this all started. We thought we’d go out and do some shows, and here we are.”

Davy Jones, the heartthrob of practically every teenage girl back in the Monkees heyday, and the lead vocalist on the classic “Daydream Believer,” passed away in February of 2012 at the age of 66. Seeing The Monkees without him takes a bit of getting used to, but Dolenz and company have found a way to keep his presence alive during gigs.

“It was different and still is,” said Dolenz of playing without Jones. “There’s a different vibe. You can’t replace somebody like that, and we wouldn’t try. We do some of the material that he sang like ‘Daydream Believer.’ That’s one of the songs that you almost have to do, but when we first got together after he passed, we’d start playing the song and I said ‘we don’t really feel like we can sing this song anymore, but you can.’ And we’d give it to the audience and I would bring somebody up on stage and they would sing the song.”

That’s how the surviving Monkees make it work, and to do so after all these years is an impressive feat. So what’s the secret to their appeal, not just to the folks that grew up listening to them, but to a newer generation that may have discovered them during MTV’s reruns of the show or through their parents?

“If I could answer that question, I’d do it every day,” laughed Dolenz. “You could ask that question about Star Trek. What is it about Star Trek that has maintained its appeal and its power for decades, or famous movies or other bands? It’s a combination of a lot of things; I don’t think you can reduce it in any scientific sense and take it apart and say ‘oh well, it was my vocals, or the songwriting, or the directing of the television show, or the production.’ You really can’t do that. It just doesn’t work. There’s no formula. If there was, there would never be a flop. So what you do is just do your best, you work hard, and you surround yourself with very talented people. And one of the producers of The Monkees said in an interview ‘they just caught lightning in a bottle.’ It just happened, it clicked, and it resonated – the songs, the music, the show, the four of us, the whole nine yards. And at some point the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts, and you can say that about a lot of artistic endeavors.”

But few have done it like The Monkees. And Dolenz appreciates that what was once a television creation has turned into so much more.

“I’m always flattered and honored and I feel quite blessed to have been a part of this and be able to still do it to this day.”

The Monkees play The Paramount in Huntington, NY on Sunday, May 25. For tickets, click here

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