Peter Talking on the Transatlantic Phone

It was one of those evenings. Nothin’ to do, nobody to see. Time dragging slowly. Look at the phone, wondering who to talk to. Suddenly remember—a phone call coming through from Peter Tork. Phew, a talk with Tork really IS something. Why was it partially forgotten? Only because it SHOULD have been a couple of days earlier but was put off because he was working so hard in the film studios.

That’s MADE the evening. Sure enough, dead on time the operator rings through. He’s on the line, rarin’ to go. Stand by for Tork talk, just as he talked it. Next sentence you read will be in his own fast-moving words. Hold on, please, just connecting you….

“Hi! That you Jackie? Real great chatting to you again. This end of the line it’s just good to be able to sit down for a while, ’cos it’s been non-stop action since I got back from that wonderful few days in London. Course you’ll know that we’re well into the production of our first full-length movie. Well, I’ve signed a pledge of secrecy, so I can’t reveal what it’s all about but I guess there’s no harm in passing on that it’s the most exciting thing yet for the four of us.

“Normally we’ve worked in the TV studios. Everything has to be done in a hurry, because of a real tight schedule. But movie-making gives you more time to plan ahead, to get things EXACTLY right. Still work the long hours, reporting on the set long before the chickens are awake, but the whole process is different now and we’re enjoying every minute.

“We sent you on some new pictures for the magazine—sure hope you like ’em.

“Some of you keep writing and asking if I’ve become a complete vegetarian these days. Well, the answer is… nearly, but not quite. Actually I’m following a special Eastern diet, of yin and yang foods. That’s right! So you’re asking me EXACTLY what it is that I eat. It’s things like brown rice, and yoghurt, and special raw milk and drinks like herbal teas. And organically grown vegetables and fruits. I’m feeling great on it. Who knows, I might end up a dietician one of these days…”

Me (interrupting): Apart from eating, what are you doing with your spare time?

“Spare time? Ha, ha… deep hollow laugh! Well, I read a lot, you know. One of my favourite books right now is ‘Stranger In A Strange Land’, which is pretty well what the title says. And there’s a book called ‘Book of Changes’ which is very interesting. I’m doing quite a lot of reading on Eastern religions. It sort of widens my general knowledge and anyway it’s a fascinating part of the world—China, India, all that.

“But spare time? What’s THAT! We’ve been recording a lot, on top of the filming and we’ve got several possible tracks for future releases. We’re also working on songs for the film, and for another LP. Must just say again that we’re all taking a hand in the record production side now… it’s a much freer scene and gets us all doing exactly what we want to do. Time is still the problem, but really you know we’ve all come along a lot as musicians and composers… and that, Jackie, is a direct knock at those people who keep on trying to put us down. Some of that criticism really hurts—so what’s wrong with us putting in a little defence of the Monkees? Nothing, huh? Glad you agree…

Me (interrupting again): What’s this we hear about you starting your own movie company?

“Gee, you heard about that already? Well, it’s in a pretty small way of business right now. It’s really for experimental films and the actual company just consists of a photographer friend and… me. But we meet up in my apartment, and just kinda throw ideas around.

“One of the best things about being a Monkee is that I can go off to any country in the world, if I get time off, and study the local people and see what makes them tick. I just like meeting people, but I don’t like being crowded.

“Course now there isn’t a terrible money problem. Some folks think I must be throwing money around. Not true, really! And anyway there’s a lot to be said for being poor. I don’t mean poor like you don’t get enough to eat. But for a musician, for a singer, there’s a lot in HAVING to work for your bread and butter, it keeps you on your toes. You learn by experience and you get deeper experience if you are dependent on your work enabling you to keep from starvation. That’s why those early days in Greenwich Village were so important to me… that’s why, I guess, I still go back there whenever I can.”

Me: What about YOUR part in future Monkee programmes?

“Well, I change character. Okay, I must say I’m still happy with the way I used to appear, but inevitably there is a change. I’m not quite the dope I used to be in the part I play, I mean, I’m not EVER so simple in future ones, but still kinda bemused. We’re always being asked how long we can keep going as Monkees. Let me tell you this. I don’t think I’ll ever give up, quit, being a Monkee. Do the Beatles quit? So people say you don’t see a forty-year old Beatle. Sure, you don’t see one but you might easily do so in ten years time. Anyway, why keep looking so far ahead? Life’s pretty good.

“Know what impressed me about Britain? There’s a scene of creativity there—and you feel part of it just as you arrive. I used to spend my spare time just laying around the pad and thinking about things but now I like to learn. Another thing: British people are a little more reserved about expressing distate. I like that.

“I keep getting back to this business that we have to work very long hours. I can’t help this, obviously it dominates my life. I’m so aware of other interests, personal ones, but work is the basis of each day. I still play guitar whenever I can and listen to as many records as I can. But the touring, like last summer, that is the most tiring part of my life. We want to get out and meet the fans but we’ve just gotta do it at a slower pace next time. You DO start having rows. But the stories about us, put around in some papers… not true. It’s just that I find Davy too tall—and that irritates me! Only kidding, of course, you know that.

“You know I was kicked out of college… twice! I don’t want to make too much of it, but I think it was kinda good for me. The only real school for me now is the school of life itself. I am religious now, though I wasn’t always so. But if you can get strength from the meditation of the Marahishi, then you were already religious.

“Am I talking to much? It’s just nice to unload after a long day in the studios where you’ve got to turn on the comedy all the time. My father, who is a lecturer, didn’t understand this Monkee thing at first but now he thinks it’s very interesting. Only thing is that he and my ma had a lot of calls from fans. They got the number changed but still people found out about it. So our last Christmas together was interrupted by a million phone calls and I guess my father didn’t think Monkee scenes were quite so interesting after all.

“But believe me I do worry about the fans—all the time. I worry in case they skip school or run out on their parents. I worry when they start grabbing at us. But I read fan-mail and answer it whenever I can, in my own handwriting, because this is one sensible way of getting in touch—fan and performer actually get a link going.

“We’re planning concerts for after the film. Concerts are great—there are millions of things you can do on stage that you can’t do on records—some people think it’s the other way round. But you just try flashing a quick smile on a record… see where THAT gets you.

“Say, I got an early call in the morning. Must get some sleep and I just hope you don’t think I’ve been too gabby in this chat.

“See you all real soon and thanks for a lot of happy memories about London. God bless.”

And Peter Tork was gone. Leaving the thought that Tork sure is fascinating.


Magazine: Monkees Monthly
Editor: Jackie Richmond
Issue: 14
Publisher: Beat Publications Ltd.
Pages: 4, 6, 8