Observing from beyond the solar system, a cultural outsider looks in.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Peter Tork: I'm not an idiot. I only play one on TV.

(previously posted on my other blog at astrogirl.gather.com)

"Do you remember that TV show, the Monkees?" asked the motel clerk at a small 1950s style motel in Cambria, California. We laughed and pointed at the pink guitar logo on my T-shirt. "That's why we're here," I said. Oh, if the motel clerk only knew! She was talking to two women who watch the Monkees at least once a week, as a way to keep our insanity harnessed and in good form.

Random Factor and I were in Cambria to see Peter Tork and his current band, Shoe Suede Blues, who were playing that night at Painted Sky Recording Studio. That was what the motel clerk was going to tell us, before we so rudely stole her thunder by knowing all about it. Well, we hadn't driven three hours just for the 3 megaton sugar bomb scones in the local coffee shop, that's for sure.

Not dismayed by our impertinent knowledge, the helpful motel clerk also let us know that Shoe Suede Blues were recording an album and a video that night, and hinted that Peter and his band just might be staying somewhere, well, let's just say in the neighborhood. After this conversation, Random Factor advised me to park my car so that the "got Davy?" sticker wasn't quite so visible.

We'd arrived a couple hours before the gig, just enough time to change our clothes and get dolled up. I'd like to say this wasn't because we had any intention of flirting with someone who already had his own TV show before we were born, but I'd be lying. Random Factor even bought a new blouse for the occasion.

We were well aware that 40 years takes its toll on a person, but we were pretty sure that dimples are more or less permanent. Then there was our other dirty little secret, which is this: while all the Monkees were cute enough to provoke frequent anatomical commentary during our Monkees TV nights (especially after a few of my famous bloody Marys), Peter is the only one whose butt shots inspire frequent use of the rewind button. It's embarrassing, but there you have it -- the hidden secret of the Monkees' continuing popularity. (I withdraw my last comment, because it was completely unfair. The Monkees continue to be popular because of their massive talent, but then nobody else ever gave them credit for that, either.)

Once we'd achieved definite sartorial grooviness, we sauntered off to find the recording studio. You'd think that in a tiny town, something as anomalous as a recording studio would be easy to find, but by the time we located it, we were wondering if it existed in a parallel universe accessible only by jumping up and down three times, rolling a head of cabbage, and giggling.

When we did find it, it was closed and dark, but we were early. It wasn't clear if we were supposed to line up outside the front door or the side door, so we wandered around trying to catch a clue. In our tour of the side of the building, we inadvertently surprised a tall, handsome, and imposing guy who later turned out to be Arnold the bass player. "Uh-oh," he postulated, sounding very much like someone who'd been set to guard the door. We decided that meant we weren't supposed to be there and split.

By the time we came back around, two other women were waiting by the side door, having apparently decided that was the place to wait. We found out from our new friends that Steve at Painted Sky had told them that cameras were OK, so Random Factor went back to the motel to get ours. The three of us remaining by the door passed our time with Monkees quotations. It was then that I realized that the appeal of a bitchy Mike Nesmith in drag is well-nigh universal.

Eventually, in coastal California time, they let us in. I should say that Steve, who I'd talked to on the phone when I reserved the tickets, let us in. This added to the friendly, relaxed atmosphere, as Steve seemed like a swell guy.

By that time, a larger group had gathered by the front door, and of course that was the door that was opened. Later, it turned out that this had actually been good luck, since the two seats I grabbed in the second row turned out to be 10 feet away from Peter and directly in his line of sight.

The truth is, I'm very shy, and when I'm that close to a band, it makes me nervous. I feel like I'm staring inappropriately. If I'd been in the first row, the floor would've suddenly become very interesting. I once stared at my shoes throughout a whole Grateful Dead concert, because Bob Weir was about 3 feet away from me. Those who remember the twin bumper stickers that said "the fat man rocks" and "the thin man spits," should note that my feet were unexpectedly still dry by the end of the show. (I've shared with you my dirty little secret about the Monkees. Don't even get me started on Bob Weir.)

Let's get one thing straight. Remember all that stuff you've heard about the Monkees not being a real band? Forget it. It's bullshit. Most rumors have some basis in fact, and the basis in fact of this one is that the boys were cast to be a band by TV producers. That may not be the usual way for a band to get together, but the boys worked hard at making it real, largely because they were prodded to do so by Michael, who wrote many of their best songs, and Peter, who plays multiple instruments.

Peter's current band, Shoe Suede Blues, is a sweet little 4 member blues band with some serious swing. I've never been one to keep set lists and things like that, so I can't tell you what they played, but I know it was a bunch of songs from their existing CD, "Saved by the Blues," as well as several new songs, and 4 Monkees songs. Those I remember: "Last Train to Clarksville," "I'm a Believer," "Your Auntie Grizelda," (with even funnier noises than on the record) and "(Not Your) Stepping Stone."

Among the new songs, one of the highlights was an amusing little number, the title of which might be something like "Even White Boys Get the Blues." The song was all about getting in trouble for illegal stock trades and things like that. Between songs, Peter kept the audience roaring with a wit undimmed by years of playing a dimwit.

During the show, he played three of his multiple instruments: guitar, banjo, and keyboards. After a ripping guitar solo by Peter, I leaned over to Random Factor and whispered, "they didn't play their own instruments, you know." Irony is, ironically, my middle name.

When Peter turned around to get his banjo, I'll admit I did get the opportunity to check out the famous butt. His pants weren't as tight as those ones they used to paint on the Monkees, but my conclusion was that the years have been relatively kind. Random Factor confessed to me later that she forgot to check. I don't know what she was thinking.

It was a high-energy, fun show, and the CD they were recording that night should be a treat. If they keep any of the jokes, you'll probably hear me and Random Factor rolling uncontrollably on the floor. We tend to knock over chairs when we do that.

After the show, we stood in line to get Peter's autograph. When it was my turn, I sat down next to him and asked, rather apologetically, if he would sign my copy of "Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, and Jones." I was being apologetic only because I was worried he might sometimes get sick of being perpetually associated with something he did 40 years ago. The man actually beamed. "I would be delighted," he claimed, and sounded like he meant it. This tended to confirm my existing suspicion that although the dummy thing on the TV show was an act, the mellow sweetness was not.

The Monkees have been an invaluable mental health tool for me during the past very stressful year of my life. I thought at least one of them ought to know it. I told Peter, very sincerely, that Random Factor and I watch the Monkees whenever we get depressed, because they always cheer us up.

Random Factor paid her complements as well, then, to my horror, she told him about my famous fantastic bloody Marys, which we drink when we watch the Monkees because after them, the Monkees make total sense.

Peter expressed the belief that the Monkees and bloody Marys were an unusual combination. I don't know why. I didn't have the guts to ask him if that was because he thought it was a kid's show, or because in the 60s they did, well, other fun things that weren't quite as legal.

If he thinks it's a kid's show, he should spend an hour or so listening to our commentary while we watch them -- the restraints on their apartment wall during the "Monkees Blow Their Minds" episode are always a popular subject of speculation. If it was the other thing, let's say that after years of being followed by the Grateful Dead, I've reached a level of weirdness that I'm very comfortable with, thank you very much.

I suppose every article must come to its conclusion, and this one's conclusion is this: My quest is complete! I now have the autographs of all four of the Monkees. This makes me retroactively the coolest girl in school in 1967. Nyah nyah na na na na!

I'm sorry to report that my triumph was only slightly spoiled by the realization that Mary Sue, at our imaginary time warp rival high school, had all four of the Beatle's autographs. Bitch!

P. S. That rumor we heard from the motel clerk about the band being sort of in the neighborhood? We never actually confirmed it, but after hours of being too uncomfortable and excited to sleep, I did hear a group of politely quiet men entering the neighboring rooms at about four o'clock in the morning. I only heard them because I couldn't sleep anyway. One of the voices sounded like Peter's. If so, being under the same roof with him may be the closest I ever get to sleeping with a rock star. Well, it wasn't like I was sleeping, but how much actual sleep do you expect to get with a rock star, anyway?


Blogger AstroGirl said...

Here's a related photo, which I tried to publish here, but it didn't work for some reason:

March 11, 2006


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