- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 10, 2001


In 1967, the Monkees outsold the Beatles and the Rolling Stones combined at the height of the group's pre-Fab powers.

Nearly 35 years later, Monkees drummer Micky Dolenz still insists that the quartet was nothing more than a televised mirage.

"I do not think of the Monkees as a band. It's a TV show about a band," Mr. Dolenz says.

Plenty of bands, real or otherwise, would kill for the Monkees' longevity and its run of memorable chart-toppers such as "Last Train to Clarksville" and "I'm a Believer."

Mr. Dolenz brings his "nonband" mates — Peter Tork and Davy Jones — to the 9:30 Club March 14 for another dose of Monkeemania.

These Monkees reunions — and give them credit for never labeling them "farewell concerts" — come about in a casual fashion, Mr. Dolenz explains.

A promoter decides enough interest exists in the group's music to warrant a tour, and he or she goes about aligning the band members' schedules to make it happen.

"Usually, it takes a while to get all of us to agree," Mr. Dolenz says during a phone call from his California office. "We have very different interests."

In conversation, the Monkee known for his squinty visage and James Cagney impressions sounds introspective and balanced.

Much has changed about Mr. Dolenz, and the music scene as a whole, since the fateful ad in Variety in 1965 seeking "four insane boys" to capture Beatlemania stateside.

But Mr. Dolenz, 56, remains fiercely loyal to the Monkees' enduring song book, authored in part by Neil Diamond, Carole King and the team of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart.

His own concertgoing experiences feed that fealty.

He remembers taking in an Everly Brothers concert in London years ago and waiting to hear "Cathy's Clown" and the duo's other golden oldies.

"I'd be disappointed if they didn't play it … exactly as I remember it," he says. As a musician, "you have a contract with the audience. You owe it to them to re-create those memories.

"We don't do medleys for that reason," he says of the latest tour, which doesn't include guitarist Michael Nesmith, the percipient Texan who rarely engages in the Monkees' business.

The shows do sprinkle unsung album cuts into the playlist, plus snippets of solo material, even covers.

For Mr. Dolenz, who sang "Johnny B. Goode" during his original Monkees audition, his affection for Chuck Berry comes forth on the current tour with a cover or two.

"My roots come from that," he says.

The Monkees' impact on pop culture cannot be understated, despite the group's manufactured pedigree. The TV show channeled the frenetic video play of "A Hard Day's Night" and shrunk it for the small screen, leading the way for the MTV revolution. It introduced the concept of creating bands based on a synthetic template, providing a guidebook for the Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync and a dozen other bands to come.

Heck, the shaggy-haired quartet even helped introduce a young guitarist named Jimi Hendrix to the public when the musician briefly opened for the group's 1967 tour.

Being a Monkee allowed Mr. Dolenz to hobnob with the Beatles, star in a film co-written by Jack Nicholson (1968's psychedelic disaster "Head") and sing in front of millions of screaming girls. But ask what part of the Monkees experience he remains most grateful for, and he points to his work on an obscure episode in the show's second season dubbed "The Frodis Caper."

Its plot proved typically manic and satirical: An evil genius seeks to control the world through a televised, hypnotic eye.

But the eye behind the camera, that of a neophyte director/drummer, was what made the difference.

"I knew immediately that's what I want to do," says Mr. Dolenz, who would later move to England for a spell during which he directed programs for the BBC. "For 15 years, I did nothing but direct and produce. I've always considered that my day job."

He recently returned from New Orleans, where he filmed an independent feature with Stephanie Zimbalist ("Remington Steele") and Gabrielle Carteris ("Beverly Hills 90210"). He returns to the Big Easy to start another project once the Monkees tour wraps.

Although his career has long since stabilized, he freshly recalls the jarring halt to the Monkees phenomenon.

Unlike other pop stars, Mr. Dolenz bounced back in fairly good form when the quartet dropped from the public eye faster than Jessica Hahn, whose affair with Jim Bakker accelerated the televangelist's fall from grace. The show wasn't his first brush with fame. As a boy, he starred in a television show called "Circus Boy," and his father, George Dolenz, acted in Hollywood for decades.

"It did help, in retrospect," he says of that background. "I had been through the mill before. One day, you're not the flavor of the month. It tempers you."

Mr. Dolenz's grounded response may be why he has embraced the Monkees legacy while others might have cursed its lingering shadow.

It wasn't until 1986 that he realized just how long that shadow stretched. That year found MTV orchestrating a genuine Monkees revival. The network reran the episodes, branding the foursome as "hip" to a new generation.

Mr. Dolenz remains awed by the music's staying power and the fervor of his fans.

"It is really gratifying after all these years," he says.

Members of the Monkees weren't always embraced so unconditionally.

But the criticism back then, mostly fueled by what he dubs the "serious" music press, never roiled him.

He says magazines like "Rolling Stain" missed the punch line. "They … do not have a sense of humor," he says. "I thought it was curious that these people … didn't get it. The Beatles got it," he says. At the time, John Lennon compared the boys to the Marx Brothers for their inventive slapstick.

"It just went over a lot of people's heads," he says.

Although he possessed a smooth, radio-friendly voice, immortalized in the band's biggest hits ("Clarksville," "Valleri"), Mr. Dolenz never seriously pursued a solo career.

He suggests overcoming the Monkees persona might have proved too tough, anyway.

He doesn't retreat from the past, though, and the tours provide a curious reception for an unheralded director.

"It's like someone throwing you a birthday party every night, and you can do no wrong," he says of the adulation.

The songs themselves supply their own rewards.

" 'Pleasant Valley Sunday' is still one of my favorites to sing. It has quite a range to it," he says of the caustic ode to suburbia.

For a man whose fame burned brightest more than three decades ago, he harbors few regrets about his peculiar career arc. The only frustration he can muster is that he wished his Monkees character had not gone by his own name, which served to blur the line between man and Monkee.

He even enjoyed the band's last true reunion, the recording of 1996's "Justus" album along with the reclusive Mr. Nesmith.

"We had nothing to prove. We did it for ourselves," he says of the CD, which, as the title suggests, features the once-maligned group doing all the work itself.

While Mr. Nesmith "drifts in and out" of the group's lineup, Mr. Dolenz has no reservations about pumping Micky the Monkee full of life, when summoned.

"I'm well aware that it's what I'll be best remembered for," he says. "These songs will be around a lot longer than I am."

WHAT: The Monkees with NaturalWHERE: 9:30 Club, 815 V Street NWWHEN:: March 14TICKETS: $40PHONE: 202/432-7328

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