Just one question: where do you start when writing the first, full, complete story about the biggest sensation in pop music? All we know is that we promised you the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the Monkees, right from the very start. And it’s such a sometimes-sad, sometimes hilarious yarn that it’s hard to pick up an actual beginning.
But let’s start on 30th December, 1942, when a son, Robert Michael, was born to Mr. and Mrs. Nesmith, of Dallas, Texas. Yes, that MUST be the real start of the Monkee history. For Mike, skinny (he says) even at birth, is the oldest of the team. Another fourteen months were to pass before a loud wail and yell disturbed part of Washington D.C. to announce that Peter Halsten Thorkelson, alias Peter Tork, had made his first appearance before the public… two nurses, a doctor and his mum.
George Michael Dolenz Jnr. arrived thirteen months later still, in Los Angeles, California. His birth made the biggest impact in terms of publicity. For his dad, George Dolenz, was a highly respected actor in Hollywood and the gossip papers all reported this chubby addition to his family. The date: 8th March, 1945.
Which leaves the American population increased by three. Around nine months later, there was another lively yell in the Manchester area in England. David Thomas Jones, known to all as just Davy, made HIS arrival. The same day, and the same time of day, as Mike Nesmith, but three years later. This baby was destined to be the “baby”, in size, as well as years, of the Monkees.
The Monkees: a group which took the pop world by the scruff of the neck. And in very much less than a year became the fabbest, toppest, most swingingly groovy team of them all.
We know the recent history. We know of the auditions in the summer of 1965 when the four Monkees were selected from hundreds of applicants… as actors for a zany, new television series. We know of their instant number one hit records; of their great triumphs on stage and television. We know how they earned the love of millions of fans.
As the senior member, we’ll start with Mike, who grew up in the early post-war years. But when he was born, there was a terrible war spreading round the world, and involving America. Mike half-jokes about those very early days… he reckons he started understanding things when he was about six. He remembers that his mother had to fight for everything; they were a poor family and he remembers being hungry and being cold and being the odd kid out.
“I don’t like remembering too much”, he says even now. “When you get to be a success you’re asked all kinds of things about what happened when you were a kid. For some kids, they were happy memories. For me they weren’t. It’s simple. I’ve drawn a wall round myself.”
Mike was walking and talking when the other Monkees-to-be were still coo-ing and goo-ing. He was aware that not everybody is NICE before the others were able to be aware of everything. At his first school, he was the only American in a class of Mexican kids. At that age, nobody cared about the colour of a pal’s skin. But older people did. Mike HEARD nasty things about his friends but he wouldn’t believe them. They treated him well, looked after him when he hurt himself playing games. And later his mother, ekeing out their money (she was separated from his father), was left a slice of land in the coloured area.
It was a change of luck. Mike and his mum had something at last. Their own home. But they were white and the neighbours were coloured. They were urged to quit by the white people on the “right” side of the tracks. Mike and his mum refused to go. They stood together, side by side, and they held on to their rights.
And in this atmosphere, Mike reached his teens. A gangling, long-legged boy, neat and tidy but badly dressed. Later forced to go to a rich school even though his mum didn’t have the money… forced to go because of a zoning arrangement in the area.
Don’t feel sorry for Mike, though. Ask the other Monkees and they’ll tell you that those early days obviously had a great effect on how Mike is today. He’s outspoken, witty, sharp, able to look after himself—and the group. He’s had to stand on his own two feet through life and he’s become reliant. Sometimes he looks offhand, disinterested. They’ll tell you, the other Monkees, that this is because he found it hard to make friends when he was at school.
It’s true, for sure, that when you’re rebuffed often enough it’s hard to forget. Fans write to us to say they wish Mike wouldn’t say he’s skinny and ugly. Of course he’s slim and handsome now but in those schooldays he FELT skinny and ugly. It’s how you feel inside that counts.
Where the other Monkees, at school, had fair successes, Mike had few. He wanted to know what made other people take up certain jobs. Like the school caretaker, or the class teacher. He wanted to learn but he wanted to learn things that interested him. So he flunked out on his examinations. One teacher realised that he was a “special case”. She told Mike’s mother: “He’ll be successful, of that I’m sure. But he’ll develop late. I’ll help him all I can in school.”
Continued next month