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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Micky Dolenz Reflects on a Life With (and Apart From) The Monkees

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By the mid-’80s, The Monkees were far from Micky Dolenz’s mind. Though the singer had dabbled in a few Monkees tie-in projects in the years following the made-for-TV band’s split, he eventually put the group behind him as he cobbled together a busy second career in television production between acting gigs. He’d been living in England when The Monkees resurgence broke, and it was as much a surprise to him as it was to anybody else. “Somebody told me, ‘The Monkees’ is on MTV,” Dolenz recalls, “and I said, ‘What’s MTV?’”

MTV, of course, was the popular American music network not yet available in England, and the station that would alter the trajectory of the rest of Dolenz’s career. The seemingly innocuous programming decision by a young cable channel to begin airing reruns of a 20-year-old sitcom sparked renewed interest in The Monkees on a scale that nobody could have anticipated. The band quickly capitalized with a 20th anniversary tour, the most successful of their career and also one of the highest grossing tours of 1986. That year Nickelodeon began rerunning “The Monkees” as well, introducing the band to an even younger audience. As a result, The Monkees may be the only band that evokes the exact same nostalgia in Generation Xers as it does in Baby Boomers.

Since that second wind, The Monkees have reassembled for a reunion tour at least once or twice a decade, albeit often in incomplete configurations. Usually guitarist Mike Nesmith, probably the most independent-minded member of the group, was the one sitting out. For a while bassist Peter Tork was excluded because of personal reasons. But whatever differences the group had were set aside after the sudden death of singer Davy Jones in 2012.

“This configuration came together out of David Jones’ passing,” Dolenz says of The Monkees’ current reunion, now in its third year. “After David passed, the band’s future was a huge question mark, because Mike Nesmith had not toured with anybody, either with The Monkees or on his own, for many years. But the three of us got together to do a memorial concert and it snowballed from there. You’d have to ask him, but when we did get back together to do a couple of shows, [Nesmith] seemed to be having a good time and seemed to appreciate the response, and that’s what spurred us to keep going.”

The band’s setlists have changed to reflect their current iteration. “After David passed, we’ve been focusing more on Michael and his material,” Dolenz says. “It’s been great going back and singing some of his original stuff. We’ve always done some Nesmith material, but having him sing leads is very exciting.” Their current shows also feature a good dose of material from the band’s cult 1968 movie Head (a psychedelic comedy co-written by a then unknown Jack Nicholson), as well as a sample of deep cuts and, of course, the hits. They always play the hits.

If some of Dolenz’s bandmates have at times seemed to wrestle with their ties to The Monkees, Dolenz never has. “I was always proud of it,” he says of the association, though he adds that’s probably because he spent so much time away from the group after the show went off the air. “I wasn’t suffering from type casting. I didn’t have to struggle with a situation where I recorded a new album and nobody wanted to hear it because they only wanted to hear the old stuff. I can imagine how difficult that is for a singer songwriter, but I went into TV and film production. So 20 years later when I returned to The Monkees it was fresh and new and wonderful. It was like, ‘Oh my god, I remember this, and I had such a good time doing it.’

“Whenever we get together even to this day, it just sort of reignites that same chemistry,” Dolenz says. “We’re a little bit older, but it’s basically the same chemistry that we had. Little things change, but not much.”

The Monkees headline the Riverside Theater on Sunday, June 1. Doors open at 7 p.m.