Déjà Vu Blogfest—Happy Duran Duran Appreciation Day! (My fandom story)

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DL Hammons is once again holding his annual Déjà Vu blogfest, wherein participants revisit a post from the past year which didn’t get the audience one expected, or that one wishes to run again. I chose a post I originally published on 10 August 2016, “Happy Duran Duran Appreciation Day! (My fandom story).”

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Since taking this photo several years ago, I’ve added the lovely, underrated Big Thing (1988) and the spin-off The Power Station (1985) to my vinyl collection, but I didn’t feel like reshooting this picture!

To mark Duran Duran Appreciation Day (a fan-initiated holiday falling on the anniversary of Simon’s near-drowning experience in 1985), I decided to finally share my story of how I became a fan. It’s hard to believe this year makes it five years since I’ve been a Duranie. My path to fandom wasn’t the typical one, since it happened so many years after their greatest wave of popularity, I wasn’t some screaming teenybopper, and I’ve always most gravitated towards classic rock and pop.

To quote the lesser-known song “Beautiful Colours,” “Life isn’t standard-issue, it’s customised.” Not everyone has the same reasons for joining and staying in a fandom. I also like to discover bands, books, films, actors, writers, etc., long after the heyday has passed. I’m getting into them for my own reasons, not because of massive hype.

I’d actually bought Rio in July 2007, after finding it in the $2 stacks at a Northampton record store which has since gone out of business. At the time, I justified it to myself as indulging my Eighties nostalgia, a guilty pleasure I only had to part with $2 for. I listened to the album a few times, but it didn’t do much for me. It wasn’t the right time for me to become a fan.

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I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this now, but for a long time, I dismissed the band because I thought they were just a bunch of prettyboys who were only around in the Eighties, just some talentless boygroup for mindless teenyboppers. It took awhile for me to realise they’re a real band, and just happened to be heavily marketed to teenyboppers the way my belovèd Monkees were a generation earlier. Real fans stuck around after their heyday, while the fairweather fans moved on to the next big thing pimped by the media.

As some readers might remember, in November 2010, I finally went back to my long-hiatused book Little Ragdoll from scratch and memory. Around this time, I seriously started using YouTube, and began making playlists to listen to while writing. One of those was my Hollies’ playlist, which was my majority soundtrack for writing the book. I also made soundtracks for The Four Seasons, The Monkees, several other bands and artists, and the Eighties.

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 Of course, I searched out several Duran Duran songs for the lattermost playlist, and ended up clicking on a lot of their other recommended videos. As 2010 turned into 2011, I found myself liking and listening to them more and more. I’d “liked” the band’s official Facebook page by early February 2011, since I remember there was a post celebrating the 30th anniversary of “Planet Earth” shortly after I joined.

Then on Valentine’s Day, the page asked about fans’ choices for most romantic songs. A number of people named “Come Undone” as super-romantic and babymaking music, and I looked up the video on YouTube. I ended up watching and listening to it over and over again, hooked. That’s the song that really threw the switch and made me realise I was a real, active fan, not just disinterestedly indulging Eighties nostalgia. I consider Valentine’s Day my anniversary of becoming a Duranie.

During this early period, while watching their videos and listening to their songs, I found myself thinking, “Wow, the blonde dude [Simon] is really handsome!” This was pretty noteworthy for me because I’m almost never physically attracted to blondes. I’ve always been all about the dark hair and eyes, and consider blonde hair and blue eyes a rather boring, cliché look. A guy with those features has to be really, really special for me to pay attention to him.

On 23 March 2011, the band did a YouTube-broadcast concert for American Express, with truly bizarre video work by David Lynch. I was getting more and more into them, and starting to feel really self-conscious about it. That summer, I began writing the first draft of The Twelfth Time, and often listened to them as my writing soundtrack. All the while, I felt weird when I caught myself listening to them too much. I didn’t want to admit to myself I’d become a real fan and fallen in love with them so deeply, since I was afraid of being made fun of.

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Then I remembered, I’ve always cared less when people trash my belovèd Monkees and accuse them of being only for shallow, brainless teenyboppers with poor taste in music. I know the real story behind their origins and evolution, and love their music no matter what. Sometimes good bands get famous really quickly, and are heavily marketed to teenyboppers. As a result, they develop a stigma it can take decades to shake, and many people don’t take them seriously as real bands. Why was I being such a hypocrite about loving a band with a similar story?

I finally admitted to my head what my heart already knew, and no longer felt ashamed or self-conscious about how much of their music I was watching and listening to. Five years later, I’m not embarrassed to admit I sleep under a vintage framed poster of the band or to go out with a vintage button on one of my purse straps. My fave rave is Roger, though my giant stuffed frog is named Simon because I already named my stuffed tiger after my first Roger, the handsome Roger Harry Daltrey.

I’ve used lines from some of their lyrics as inspiration for chapter and part titles in my books, and narrative lines in general. Favourite songs include “The Seventh Stranger,” “Secret Oktober,” “Out of My Mind,” “Lonely in Your Nightmare,” and “To the Shore.” My favourite music video is the long version of “Wild Boys” (so deliciously macabre!)

And, of course, “Come Undone,” the song that made me come undone.

Happy 50th birthday to A Quick One!

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Image used solely to illustrate the subject for the purposes of an album review, and consistent with Fair Use doctrine

Released 9 December 1966, A Quick One was The Who’s sophomore album. From my experience in the fan community, this seems to be one of those things which is largely judged differently along sex-based lines. A lot of guys tend to hate it or think it’s junky bubblegum, while female fans are more forgiving and are even known to like it more than a little.

This isn’t one of the greatest albums of all time, but it’s not the worst either. It’s a typical 1966 album, in that there are a few hits and radio favorites padded out with a bunch of filler. For the most part, I find the filler fun and cute. One guy on the old album reviews section of thewho.net claimed he wanted to throw up every time he played it. As I said in my own review, why would someone play any album he hates so much it makes him want to throw up?

Track listing, with stars by the bonus tracks:

 “Run Run Run” (written by Pete)
“Boris the Spider” (written by John)
“I Need You” (credited to Keith but probably 90% written by John)
“Whiskey Man” (written by John)
“Heat Wave” (cover of the Holland-Dozier-Holland song)
“Cobwebs and Strange” (instrumental) (credited to Keith but probably 90% written by John)
“Don’t Look Away” (written by Pete)
“See My Way” (written by Roger)
“So Sad About Us” (written by Pete)
“A Quick One, While He’s Away” (written by Pete)
“Batman”*
“Bucket T”*
“Barbara Ann”*
“Disguises”* (written by Pete)
“Doctor, Doctor”* (written by John)
“I’ve Been Away”* (written by John)
“In the City”* (written by John and Keith)
“Happy Jack”* (written by Pete)
“Man with the Money”* (cover of an Everly Brothers’ song)
“My Generation/Land of Hope and Glory”* (first part written by Pete; second by Edward Elgar)

As per the custom of the era, the album was repackaged for the American market, and retitled Happy Jack. The U.S. version removed “Heat Wave,” and added “Happy Jack” between “Cobwebs and Strange” and “Don’t Look Away.”

The album failed to chart in the U.S., though it reached #4 in the U.K. The only successful single was “Happy Jack,” which charted at #3 in the U.K. and #24 in the U.S. “Boris the Spider” became one of John’s most popular songs, one of the songs most associated with him. “So Sad About Us” also became very popular, as well as the original closing track.

By 1966 standards, “A Quick One, While He’s Away” is a complete anomaly, particularly on an album full of songs ranging from 1:53 to 3:04. It clocks in at 9:10, and, true to what Pete admits is his own pretentious nature, it was billed as a mini-opera. The subject matter is also pretty risqué for 1966, since it’s clearly about an affair and cuckoldry. It consists of six parts:

“Her Man’s Been Gone”
“Crying Town”
“We Have a Remedy”
“Ivor the Engine Driver”
“Soon Be Home”
“You Are Forgiven”

Pete wanted cellos in the concluding section, but since The Who didn’t exactly have the type of budget as The Beatles did, they had to sing “Cello cello cello cello cello cello cello” several times.

The band were under a contractual requirement to write at least two songs each, though Roger only wrote one. Pete was always their predominant songwriter, though John showed a real talent for songwriting already at this early point. I love the dark, twisted humor in his songs. Roger did go on to write some pretty nice songs, but I think we’re all glad he chose to stick primarily to singing.

It’s fun, cute bubblegum pop, not the hard rock The Who became known for, but that just makes it different, not wretched and inferior. Too many so-called fans seem to think they had to sound a certain way for their entire career, instead of God forbid trying out different musical styles and evolving over time. It’s fine to have a personal preference, but not to bash them for failing to measure up to that preference every single time.

To George on his 15th Jahrzeit (and why he’s now my favorite Beatle)

“Everything else can wait, but the search for God cannot wait, and love one another.” (George’s last words, which I often think of.)

Fifteen years ago, 29 November 2001, George Harrison dropped his physical body and left the material world. The news didn’t get out until 30 November (my first anniversary with The Who’s Odds and Sods), which was a Friday. One of the ladies in my estrogen Who lists had had a dream about George dying on the 30th, and, sure enough, that was the day the news broke.

Everyone knew he was dying. It was only a matter of time. For that reason, I didn’t immediately cry. This wasn’t some out of the blue death, like John Entwistle’s seven months later. George had been very sick for awhile, and was only getting sicker.

It was raining as I walked to my 10 AM Russian class. I think I might’ve come a bit late. Late that afternoon, I bought my ticket for the Hillel Semi-Formal. My friend “Ella” had convinced me to go, saying we’d all have a really great time and that it would be nothing like the high school dances I’d always avoided. No one needed a date to go.

That night at services, I said Kaddish for George. I’ve always said Kaddish for people I love and admire, no matter what their religion was. This prayer is all about praising God, and never once mentions Death or anything explicitly theological. Most rabbis do draw the line at saying the memorial prayer El Malei Rachamim for a Gentile who wasn’t related to the mourner, but we can say Kaddish and Yizkor for whomever we want.

I wasn’t yet Shomeret Shabbat, so that night I watched some VH1 on the communal TV in the upstairs lounge. They were doing a tribute to George, and airing some interview he’d done fairly recently. He’d also played some songs during the interview, including at least one new song. VH1 was still about music in those days.

It took a really long time for my mind to admit what my heart already knew, but now I proudly own George as my favorite overall Beatle, not just my favorite solo Beatle. I was too emotionally attached to having John as my favorite, coupled with how he’d been my favorite through some of the darkest nights of my soul. He’d been far more than just my favorite Beatle, and I didn’t want to betray that.

It was kind of like when I realized, in late 2000, that The Who had replaced The Beatles as my favorite band. That was honestly one of the saddest days of my life. To the end of my days, I’ll believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that I might have taken my own life in eighth grade if not for The Beatles. They’re still the musical love of my life.

I was just gravitating more and more towards George’s songs, both as a Beatle and in his solo career, as well as everything about him. I truly consider him one of my spiritual mentors. He had such a beautiful relationship with the Divine. I’ve never understood the accusation that certain of his songs are “preachy.” They seem pretty non-sectarian and non-judgmental to me.

Now I realize each of the three I’ve held as my favorite over the last 23 years needed to be my favorite at each of those respective times in my life. They just fit who I was. At the very start, I liked Paul most because I thought he was the cutest (such mature reasoning!). Then John was my favorite from age fourteen onwards, though only when I was seventeen did I admit he was my only favorite and that I hadn’t really had two favorites. As Jerry Springer often says in his Final Thought, “When you claim to love both, you truly love neither.”

It’s hard to put into words everything George means to me, what a truly special, beautiful, incredible person he was. But at the heart of it, he just most deeply speaks to the type of person I’ve developed into. He would never have felt right as my favorite Beatle in my teens or twenties.

And maybe I really am slowly turning into my mother as I get older, since George was her favorite too!

My sweet George, may your beautiful light shine forever. It was such an honor to share the Earth with you for 21 years and 11 months.

The Monkees at 50, Part V (What they mean to me)

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Seeing as I’m a second-generation Monkeemaniac who was hooked by the huge second wave of 1986, I’ve now been a passionate lover of this wonderful band for 30 years. At the age I am now, that’s a good 90% of my life. The vast majority of my life has been spent as a Monkeemaniac. I fell in love with them only a few years into being able to remember, so that means an even greater percentage of my memoried life has been spent as a Monkeemaniac.

I’ve never been like most folks, and amn’t about to suddenly up and start now. The di was cast for me to love all things from previous generations all those years ago. I honestly never understood why so many of my peers went gaga over contemporary music, movies, actors, and other aspects of popular culture.

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The Monkees were my first musical love, and remained my fave raves for seven years, until the spring of ’93, when I was thirteen. They were dethroned by The Four Seasons, and a year later, 9 April 1994, I declared The Beatles as my favourite band. In late 2000, they in turn were dethroned by The Who. All these years, I’ve held The Monkees as my third-fave band. The Who are my #1, and The Beatles are the musical love of my life (whom I also strongly feel saved my life), but The Monkees will always have that special place as my first musical love.

All these past 30 years, hearing The Monkees just makes me so happy. While they certainly have more than a few deep, serious, complex songs, I love them most for their fun, sweet, innocent songs. Sometimes you just want something fun, peppy, and lightweight to relax to, to step inside a more innocent mood, to relive happy memories.

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Being all of six years old when I became a Monkeemaniac, I immediately chose Davy as my fave rave. No deep, thoughtful, mature reasoning went into my choice. I just thought he was the cutest. This was the exact same reason Paul was initially my favourite Beatle. I did later admit to myself John had become my favourite Beatle (after awhile of trying to pretend to myself I had two faves), and now I’m coming to realise my preference has strongly shifted towards George. But for my first musical love, dethroning Davy as my fave rave seems so sacrilegious.

My dearest, oldest friend, who got into the band with me, chose Micky as her fave rave. Some years back, she was able to fulfill a longtime goal of interviewing all four Monkees (at separate times).

I think we were in second grade when we did The Monkees’ theme song for the school’s annual lip-synch. We had shirts with felt letters spelling Monkees. Hers said Micky on the back, but I was too embarrassed to have only Davy’s name on mine, and wanted all four of their names. My parents said that would be far too expensive. Mine might’ve been plain on the back.

Our lip-synch bombed horribly, even with her father trying to help us out by jumping into the audience dressed as a monkey. She was pretty pissed at me as we walked back to our seats, feeling I messed our act up. Thankfully, we soon made up. We’ve been friends since September ’85, when we were in kindergarten.

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Of the three surviving Monkees, Nez is my favourite. I really think he would’ve been my fave rave had I gotten into them at an older age, or maybe Peter.  As a child, I always saw Nez as the boring, adult one, a bit apart from the other three. This was a striking harbinger of his spotty involvement with the band in the years since 1970. Little did I know how popular he is among my fellow second-generation Monkeemaniacs.

He also seems to have done the most with his life outside of his Monkees’ career. Not only did he create MTV, but he’s also a very successful solo artist and songwriter, and one of country rock’s pioneers.

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I was absolutely devastated when Davy was taken from the material world on 29 February 2012. I never dreamt he’d be the first one to go, nor that he’d be taken so relatively young. I still can’t believe he’s really gone. It was as much of a shock as when John Entwistle died. It’s not as though either of them had been sick for a long time, like George Harrison, and everyone knew they were dying. Both deaths were so out of the blue.

My steadfast love for The Monkees has grown deeper and more multifaceted as I’ve journeyed through life. They’ve meant different things to me at each stage of life, and the way I hear their music has evolved too. After 30 years, it almost feels like a marriage of sorts.

It’s safe to say I’ll never stop loving The Monkees. How could I, after investing 90% of my life in this relationship?

The Monkees at 50, Part IV (Enduring legacy and popularity)

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Little could anyone have predicted, back when those 437 hopeful young men showed up to audition in September 1965 or when The Monkees débuted in September 1966, what a huge, enduring popularity and legacy was being created. A TV show about a fictional band turned into a cultural icon not only of the Sixties, but of all time.

When Nez let the cat out of the bag about them not being allowed to play (most of) their instruments or write their own music, the powers that be were stunned, but real fans didn’t care. The true-blue Monkeemaniacs weren’t under any illusions about this being a real, organically-created band who lived in that groovy beach house. They knew it was a TV show with actors.

Had The Monkees stayed just a fictional TV band, they never would’ve remained so popular for 50 years. They became a real band, and made some truly wonderful music once they were given the bulk of creative control. Prior to their rebellion, they’d also had a lot of great songwriters, like Neil Diamond and Carole King.

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All bands have an initial shelf life, and it seemed as though Monkeemania had ended by 1969. Head was a flop (both due to how weird it was and how most of their fanbase weren’t old enough to see an R-rated movie); the show was cancelled after two seasons; first Peter and then Nez left; and different types of bands and musicians were rising in popularity while many longtime chart staples were seen as unhip and past their expiration date.

This phenomenon was very similar to many silent stars’ decline in popularity during the early sound era (which I’ll be discussing in much greater detail during next year’s series on The Jazz Singer at 90). It wasn’t that they had horrible voices or couldn’t make the transition well, it was that their shelf life was naturally ending anyway, and a whole new crop of talent was coming up.

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However, Micky and Davy continued making music and touring together for awhile (albeit without much commercial success). The show also ran in reruns Saturdays on CBS, from September 1969–September 1972, and on ABC from September 1972–August 1973. In September 1975, all 58 episodes were sold to local markets, and mostly appeared on indie stations.

On 23 February 1986, MTV (which actually was a music-oriented channel once upon a time) ran a marathon. Within months, a lot of other channels were airing the show too, Nickelodeon among them. This was Nick’s golden age, much as my younger friends who grew up during the Nineties would heartily disagree with me.

This second wave of Monkeemania during their 20th anniversary year was what snared me and my dearest, oldest friend. I can’t believe we’ve now been fans for 30 years!

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The band went on tour during 1986–7, and my best friend and I went to see them when they played in Albany in the summer of ’87. Weird Al was their opening act, and Nez wasn’t with them. As my mother explained to my 7-year-old self, he had a job he felt was more important than The Monkees. Now that I’m an adult, I better understand his reasoning behind not being more involved with the various tours and reunions over the years.

As a kid, I thought he was more boring and adult than the other three, kind of a harbinger of his spotty involvement with the band since 1970. Now, I feel like Nez would’ve been my fave rave had I gotten into them when I was a lot older than just six. Given my personality and interests, he, not Davy, seems the obvious choice, but it feels sacrilegious to switch fave raves when it comes to my first musical love. Of the three surviving Monkees, Nez is my favourite.

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MTV tried a spin-off, The New Monkees, in 1987, but it quickly bombed. The attempted comeback album, Pool It!, also wasn’t exactly their strongest material. Due to personal conflicts, the reunion came to an end.

Micky and Davy reconciled, and began another reunion tour in ’94. For their 30th anniversary in ’96, Micky, Davy, and Peter did a reunion tour, and all four Monkees created the album Justus, on which they did all the songwriting and instrumentation.

There have been various other reunion tours over the years, most recently this year, to mark their 50th anniversary. Their new album, Good Times!, is their best work in years.

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The TV show is such a quintessential cultural icon of the Sixties, really showcasing the music, fashion, attitudes, and culture of 1966–8. Many future musicians grew up watching the show, both in its original run and in reruns, and it had a huge impact on them.

Artists who’ve done Monkees’ covers, or songs written by Nez, include The Sex Pistols, Minor Threat, Linda Ronstadt, Run-D.M.C., Smash Mouth, George Benson, and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Other artists who cite the band as an influence include The Beach Boys, Nirvana, U2, R.E.M., and Glen Campbell.

The show is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray, and Head has been given the master treatment by the prestigious Criterion Collection.

Many Monkees’ songs have been used in movies and other TV shows over the years, and the band, their music, and the TV show have been referenced in a number of other shows and movies.

Not bad for a band that started out as fictitious.