On the passing of Davy Jones, what Mike Nesmith meant by invoking Eleanor Rigby, and whether or not Bowie will take his name back

I don’t have as much time tonight to comment on the death of Davy Jones as I would like, but I did want to pass along this statement, which was issued today by his former Monkees bandmate Michael Nesmith. Here’s what “the quiet Monkee” had to say.

All the lovely people. Where do they all come from?

So many lovely and heartfelt messages of condolence and sympathy, I don’t know what to say, except my sincere thank you to all. I share and appreciate your feelings.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.

While it is jarring, and sometimes seems unjust, or strange, this transition we call dying and death is a constant in the mortal experience that we know almost nothing about. I am of the mind that it is a transition and I carry with me a certainty of the continuity of existence. While I don’t exactly know what happens in these times, there is an ongoing sense of life that reaches in my mind out far beyond the near horizons of mortality and into the reaches of infinity.

That David has stepped beyond my view causes me the sadness that it does many of you. I will miss him, but I won’t abandon him to mortality. I will think of him as existing within the animating life that insures existence. I will think of him and his family with that gentle regard in spite of all the contrary appearances on the mortal plane.

David’s spirit and soul live well in my heart, among all the lovely people, who remember with me the good times, and the healing times, that were created for so many, including us.

I have fond memories. I wish him safe travels.

Nesmith, who is a practicing Christian Scientist, was always my favorite Monkee. (Peter Tork was my next favorite, in case you’re interested.) For those of you who aren’t aware, Nesmith, whose mother invented Liquid Paper, was also Executive Producer of the cult classic Repo Man. And, I know this post is supposed to be about Davy Jones, but here’s one last piece of Mike Nesmith trivia for you – Nesmith’s son Christian is currently touring with Air Supply as their lead guitarist.

And how interesting is it that Nesmith begins his note by misquoting – I suspect purposefully – the lyrics to Eleanor Rigby, a song written by the band that he and Jones had been hired, as young men, to essentially impersonate? And how odd is it that he chose to invoke a song about a friendless person who dies alone? One wonders if perhaps there’s a hidden message there…

As for Davy, here are the first two video clips to come to mind when I heard that he passed. Hopefully they serve as happy reminders for those of you who were fans.

If I’m not mistaken, the mute sound engineer in the first clip, which I’m sure most of you remember from your Brady Bunch-watching youth, is none other than former child star Jerry “The Beaver” Mathers. The second clip, which is from the Monkees’ movie Head, has another interesting cameo. I’m sure I don’t have to point it out to you, but that’s Frank Zappa at the end, who says to Jones, “The youth of America depends on you to show the way.” I’d love to know what Zappa was thinking when he said that.

It occurs to me, as I type my thoughts out, that I don’t have much to say about Jones. While I watched the Monkees every now and then as a kid, I don’t think that I was ever under any delusion that they were a great band. And I’m pretty sure that, even at a young age, I recognized that they were a manufactured entity constructed in Hollywood for the sole purpose of tapping into the cash cow that was Beatlemania. Still, though, I don’t dislike them. And, if anything, my appreciation for them has grown over the years, as I’ve read more about them, and watched some of the early screen tests for the series, in which, it seemed to me, producers treated them badly, and took advantage of the fact that these were young and desperate kids looking for work. So, I guess you can say that I’ve become more sympathetic to them over time, and I’m happy that, unlike so many young people that are chewed up and shit out by the Hollywood machine, they were able to make careers for themselves.

But, with all of that said, my first thought, when I heard that Jones had passed, was that maybe David Bowie could reclaim what was taken from him when he first set out to make a name for himself in show business. Does that make me a jerk? Some of my friends on Facebook seem to think so.

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18 Comments

  1. K2
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 1:05 am | Permalink

    They’re all so young and goofy in those screen tests. It’s hard to watch, and not like them.

    I tried.

  2. Exxer
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 1:19 am | Permalink

    I don’t know that he died completely friendless, as the reference to ER might suggest. Here’s a comment from Reddit by a person who liked him.

    Years ago, I used to work for a small city north of Cincinnati and every year, we’d have a ‘big name’ headline the 4th of July concert. This particular year, it was Davey Jones. I asked the guy in charge if I could volunteer to help but with one condition (him and I were friends so I could impose on him like this)… I wanted to be his driver from the hotel to the concert and back.

    The night of the concert, we show up at the hotel just as him and his band are coming downstairs. I introduce myself and tell him, “Mr. Jones, I’ll be your driver for the evening. If you and your band would follow me, we’ll be on our way.”.

    After a few minutes in the van, there’s a lull in the conversation and I interject, “Mr. Jones, if you might indulge me for a moment… Last night, my children were watching an episode of Scooby Doo and it just so happened to be the one where you were the guest voice. I told them that I was going to get to meet you tonight and they thought that was the best thing ever – Dad is going to meet a guy who was in a cartoon!” He was quiet for a moment and then said, “Wow, that was a long time ago…” and told us the tale of when he recorded it and how much fun he had doing it.

    He was a very genuine man, happy to be with us to sing for everyone the songs he had sang a million times before. It was a pleasure to have met him that night and one of the highlights of my time working for the city.

  3. Edward
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    I’ve always appreciated how they tried, with the movie Head, to take control of their own careers, and break free of the TV show they’d been created to serve. At least that’s always been my impression.

    Check out Porpoise Song and you’ll see what I mean.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpvCxYikRFA

  4. Mike Shecket
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    Nez also recently regained his sight after slowly going blind over the course of five years. His similarly touching report on the matter:

    When we mapped the Marfa metaphor for the concert there with the Watkins Family, as those of you who were in on it will recall, we came up with ”Light”. The Light of Art that illumines and enriches society, civilization and humanity.
    That is why it was so ironic that when I arrived in Marfa to play the concert I was practically blind.
    I had been slowly losing my sight since 2007, and then in 2010 it took a dramatic turn for the worse and by the time of the Marfa concert in October of 2011 my world was a Monet painting with pretty colors but no distinct identities. Thanksgiving and Christmas were cold and lonely and came and went in a steady deterioration of the remaining sight, and by the time January 2012 was here I was legally blind. I needed assistance for most all activities, which was lovingly and unselfishly provided by my friends and companions Jessica, Robin, Katrina, and Jeffrey —sometimes much to their own discomfort and cost. I could not drive or cook or get around on my own. It got worse, but I will spare you all that. Suffice to say things were bad, but my friends were good – even saintly.
    In this darkness I reached out to a lovely friend and fellow musician, Janni Littlepage, and asked if she knew someone who might help. She suggested Alexander Holmes, a surfing ophthalmologist here on the peninsula. When I went to see him he said “Well, the bad news is that it is cataracts. The good news is that it is cataracts. I can fix those” He scheduled me for surgery late January and in a simple, painless, operation he replaced the cataracts with brilliant clear new intraocular lenses –inside the eye – and I can see clearly now, just like the song says. So, where I was blind, now I see. In fact, I see better now than I ever have in my life.
    To those who have inquired, that is where I have been my dear friends, wandering in darkness. But it is no longer dark. And though am returning only slowly to things, still digesting the lesson in all this, grateful for every step, I can see the light of intelligence has informed every hand, guided every move, and provided every direction. The light of Marfa shines; the Light of Life expressing itself in each unselfish, generous and beautiful act.
    It is an extraordinary, inspiring, and lovely thing we do: that we heal each other.

  5. Eel
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    The screen test footage kills me. The person asking them questions, and directing them around, is such a dick. It’s a fascinating glance into the inner workings of the entertainment industry. I wanted to punch the guy through the screen of my computer when he asked Davy if he had trouble with girls because of his height. Maybe that kind of thing needs to be done, as you need to establish whether or not someone can be easily directed, but it came across as bullying. Watching it make me a lot more sympathetic to the band. And I found myself feeling really sorry for the other guys that were tested, and didn’t make the cut. I wonder what they went on to do with their lives.

  6. anonymous
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    I too am puzzling over the Eleanor Rigby reference.

    As for the meaning of the song, the following comes from Wikipedia:

    The song is often described as a lament for lonely people or a commentary on post-war life in Britain.

    McCartney could not decide how to end the song, and Shotton finally suggested that the two lonely people come together too late as Father McKenzie conducts Eleanor Rigby’s funeral. At the time, Lennon rejected the idea out of hand, but McCartney said nothing and used the idea to finish off the song, later acknowledging Shotton’s help.

    Lennon was quoted in 1972 as having said that he wrote 70% of the lyrics, and in 1980 claimed that he wrote all but the first verse, but Pete Shotton, Lennon’s childhood friend, remembered Lennon’s contribution as being “absolutely nil”. McCartney said that “John helped me on a few words but I’d put it down 80-20 to me, something like that.”

    So, maybe it’s about people coming closer to one another after death, like McKenzie and Rigby. Maybe Nesmith seems himself in the McKenzie roll, offering words at the graveside of someone that he never really knew. Might that be possible?

    Or, it could be that Nesmith simply liked the phrase, and garbled the words. Given their shared association with the Beatles, though, I’m inclined to think there might be something more to it.

    The Monkees themselves, after all, were a garbled translation of the Beatles. Perhaps he was referencing that.

  7. XXT
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Mike Nesmith and Peter Buck are converging into the same person. Look at the photos if you don’t believe me.

  8. Meta
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    Nesmith was my favorite too. It sounds funny to say such a thing about a member of the Monkees, but it seemed as though he had integrity.

    I spend some time on Wikipedia this morning, reading up on them, and found the following on Nesmith. I thought that it was worth sharing.

    From 1965 to early 1970, Nesmith and Jones were members of the pop rock band The Monkees, created for the television situation comedy of the same name. The only Monkee to learn of the audition from the famous press advertisement asking for “four insane boys”, Nesmith won his role largely by appearing blasé when he auditioned. He further distinguished himself by carrying a bag of laundry to be done on the way home, and wearing a wool cap to keep his hair out of his eyes, riding his motorcycle to the audition. Producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider remembered “Wool Hat”, and called Nesmith back.

    Once he was cast, Screen Gems bought his songs so they could be used in the show. Many of the songs Nesmith wrote for The Monkees, such as “The Girl I Knew Somewhere”, “Mary, Mary”, and “Listen to the Band” became minor hits. One song he wrote, “You Just May Be The One”, is in mixed meter, interspersing 2/4 bars into an otherwise 4/4 structure.

    The Gretsch guitar company built a one-off natural finish 12-string electric guitar for Nesmith when he was performing with The Monkees (Gretsch had a promotional deal with the group). He earlier played a customized Gretsch twelve-string, which had originally been a six-string model.

    As with the other Monkees, Nesmith came to be frustrated by the manufactured image of the whole project. He was permitted to write and produce two songs per album, and his music was frequently featured in episodes of the series.

    The Monkees succeeded in ousting supervisor Don Kirshner (with Nesmith punching a hole in a wall, to make a point with Kirshner and attorney Herb Moelis), and took control of their records and song choices, but they worked as a four-man group on only one album. The band never overcame the credibility problems they faced when word spread that they had not played on their first records (at Nesmith’s instigation, calling the band’s first non-studio press conference, where he called More of The Monkees “probably the worst record in the history of the world”). However, their singles and albums continued to sell well, until the disastrous release of Head.

    Nesmith’s last Monkees commitment was a commercial for Kool-Aid and Nerf balls, in April 1970 (fittingly, the spot ends with Nesmith frowning and saying, “Enerf’s enerf!”). With the band’s fortunes continuing to fall, Nesmith asked to be released from his contract, and had to pay a default: “I had three years left… at $150,000 a year”, which he had to pay back. He continued to feel the financial bite for years afterwards, despite his mother’s fortunes from inventing Liquid Paper, of which he inherited over $25 million USD in 1980. In a 1980 interview with Playboy he said that “I had to start telling little tales to the tax man while they were putting tags on the furniture”. Indeed, while Nesmith had continued to produce his compositions with the Monkees, he withheld many of the songs from the final Monkees’ albums, only to release them on his post-Monkees solo records.

  9. XXT
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    I just learned, though a Rolling Stone article, that Davy Jones appeared on the same episode of Ed Sullivan’s show that the Beatles first appeared on. He was with the cast of Oliver!.

  10. Zappa Fan
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    The voice of the abusive man off screen, could well be that of Robert “Bob” Rafelson, who directed and co-wrote Five Easy Pieces, which starred Jack Nicholson. He was one of the creators of The Monkees, along with Bert Schneider. Nicholson, who must have been friends with Rafelson, not only appeared in Head, but is credited with having written much of the script, which is bizarre even by today’s standards. The following comes from the Wikipedia entry on Head:

    “The storylines and peak moments of the movie came from a weekend visit to a resort in Ojai, California, where the Monkees, Rafelson and Nicholson brainstormed into a tape recorder, reportedly with the aid of a quantity of marijuana. Jack Nicholson then took the tapes away and used them as the basis for his screenplay which (according to Rafelson) he structured while under the influence of LSD. When the band learned that they would not be allowed to direct themselves or to receive screenwriting credit (since they didn’t write the actual shooting script), Dolenz, Jones, and Nesmith staged a one-day walkout, leaving Tork the only Monkee on the set the first day. The strike ended after the first day when, to mollify the Monkees, the studio agreed to a larger percentage share of the film’s net for the group. But the incident damaged the Monkees’ relationship with Rafelson and Bert Schneider, and would effectively draw a curtain on their professional relationship together.”

    As for Zappa, he was a friend of Nesmith’s, and the Head soundtrack was influenced by his record We’re Only In It For The Money.

  11. Posted March 3, 2012 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    Someone named Diane just sent me the following by way of email.

    Subject: Should David Bowie take his name back?

    I personally think not, but iwhen Michael J Fox removes the J from his name, I might reconsider . Michael J Fox had to add the J because of actor Michael Fox who was less known to me, as far as I’m concerned, than Davy Jones. Michael Fox passed away of a pneumonia in 1996, at the age of 75.

  12. Myristica
    Posted March 5, 2012 at 12:19 am | Permalink

    I personally believe he quoted the Eleanor Rigby line simply because he thought Davy was a ‘lovely’ person. And in many respects Davy was. He was fearless, spoke his mind and never cowed down to anyone. He was small, but he was mighty. And it could also be referring to all the ‘lovely’ people who wrote Mike their condolences. It’s not anything to really break apart and analyze, folks. It is what it is and I’m going with my first impression on it. Thanks, Mike. Being a Science of Mind student, your words spoke volumes to me. :)

  13. anonymous
    Posted March 5, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    Mark’s point, Myristica, which I think that you’re missing, is that the Beatles song does not say “lovely people” as Nesmith quoted. The lyric is “lonely people.” Maybe Nesmith didn’t know that. God knows that I garble the lyrics of many songs when I sing along to the radio. Still, though, given how thoughtful and precise Nesmith is throughout the note, you have to wonder if maybe it was done deliberately.

  14. rudy
    Posted August 20, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    There is no way Nesmith would misquote “Eleanor Rigby” like that. It was merely referencing the outpouring of condolences he mentions in the next line.

    As far as Zappa is concerned, he liked what the Monkees did (they were the only major entertainment act that actually took on the establishment, and their better shows were deconstructions of pop culture, as was HEAD.) He actually invited Dolenz to join the Mothers.

    The Zappa-Nesmith conection is trans-generational, Jason Nesmith and Ahmet Zappa are buds, and have worked together:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BTcQ6mSpcRY

  15. sharlynn
    Posted August 24, 2012 at 12:41 am | Permalink

    comment okay dose mike nesmith like utah?

  16. sharlynn
    Posted August 24, 2012 at 12:43 am | Permalink

    and will mike nesmith ever live hear in utah?

  17. Dan
    Posted September 2, 2012 at 5:48 am | Permalink

    “If I’m not mistaken, the mute sound engineer in the first clip, which I’m sure most of you remember from your Brady Bunch-watching youth, is none other than former child star Jerry “The Beaver” Mathers.”

    NOPE.

  18. Liz
    Posted December 28, 2017 at 1:10 am | Permalink

    Wrong, folks. It IS “lovely people”, not “lonely people”. Listen more closely, or Google the lyrics.

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