By Tara Gellman – 03/01/2012
How do you bid farewell to someone who is part of your memories and inspirations, your laughter and your youth? By celebrating their contributions and spirit. Davy Jones may have left us in body from a heart attack on February 29, 2012, but nothing else about him is gone. Never in the history of my use of the internet have I been unable to access a web site because its’ maximum capacity had been met. On 2/29/12, however, site after site was jammed with more traffic than the 405 freeway or the Holland Tunnel at 5:30on a Friday night. THAT many people were instantly moved after learning he had died; enough to make countless sites inaccessible for hours, in fact, through the next day. So, for all of them, and for his family, friends and admirers still to come, we celebrate.
Davy Jones, born David Thomas Jones in Manchester, England on December 30, 1945, entered the realm of artists and entertainers at age eleven, landing a gig on British soap opera “Coronation Street” and later, the series “Z-Cars.” After losing his mother to emphysema when he was only fourteen, he stopped acting and began training as a jockey, having become smitten with racing quite young, an interest that always remained a vital, vibrant part of his life. Call it karma, destiny, fate, or whatever you fancy, this itself led to his casting as the Artful Dodger in “Oliver!,” first in the West End of London and later on Broadway, leading to a Tony nomination and the the singular fortune of appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show on the same night, February 9, 1964,of the Beatles’ legendary first appearance. As for fate,Jones had been apprenticing at the stables for Basil Foster, who recommended to his friend, a theatrical agent, that Jones try out for the role. As Foster told Simon Milham of UK’s Daily Mail,“there is no question he would have made a good jockey. But I didn’t think he would have the same success that he would have in show business…So I pushed him that way and I’m proud of what he achieved.”
After signing with Screen Gems, Jones made other television appearances and recorded an album for Colpix records, the same label with which Michael Nesmith was recording, using the name Michael Blessing. Produced by Screen Gems, The Monkees, the zanily unique brain child of Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, brought Jones and Nesmith together with actor Micky Dolenz and musician Peter Tork, creating a broadly appealing show that crammed into its episodes slapstick, prop gags, psychedelia, political/social commentary, fashion, sex appeal, and, in essence, music videos. Lon Chaney, Julie Newmar, Liberace, and Ruth Buzzi are just a few of the stars who appeared on the alluringly campy and musically mesmerizing show during its too-short, two-season run from 1966 to 1968, which was enough to earn it two Emmy awards.
The series created a bona fide musical group, one whose first four albums – “The Monkees,” “More of The Monkees,” “Headquarters,” and “Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd.” hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts – all in less than a two-year period! In 1967, they famously sold more records than the Beatles and the Stones combined. Even now, most people I know instantly start singing along to “Daydream Believer” (written by the Kingston Trio’s John Stewart) and “Last Train to Clarkesville” (Tommy Boyce/Bobby Hart), both of which were #1 hits, not to mention “Pleasant Valley Sunday” (Carole King), “I’m a Believer” (Neil Diamond) and more. With “Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd.,” the band took control, writing and performing their own songs and releasing the first album to feature a Moog Synthesizer, a rather groundbreaking move.
It seems obligatory to mention that David Bowie is only known by that name because, while born David Robert Jones and having recorded as Davie Jones, The Monkees propelled Davy Jones to stardom, and thus name recognition, first. While Bowie has always been known as a chameleon, Jones never was one to take on a persona. He was always, lovingly, himself.
When the Monkees starred in cult classic motion picture, “Head,” the psychedelic result of a brainstorm between the Monkees, Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson (Nicholson and Rafelson wrote and Rafelson directed the film), the reception was not exactly warm. “Head” can’t really be described in one or two sentences, but suffice it to say the nature of Fate, destiny and free will are central to its overarching theme. “Head” reached audiences beyond those of theater-going age at the time of its release through airings by Cinemax, Turner Classic Movies and other stations, and commercial releases by RCA/Columbia, Rhino Entertainment and even Criterion. Its songs and scenes, including one between legend Frank Zappa and Jones, remain favorites to countless fans.
Jones continued to act, appearing on “Love American Style,” “My Two Dads,” “Sabrina the Teenage Witch,” “SpongeBob SquarePants,” and more. Aside from the episode where Jan whines, “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!!!!,” the most memorable episode of “The Brady Bunch” centered on Jones, who appeared as himself, accompanying Marcia, president of his fan club, to her prom and ensuring that her character became the envy of teenage girls across the decades.
I am indeed one of those who grew up listening to and watching the Monkees, both in syndication while I was in grammar school and during MTV’s famous marathon in 1985, which caused them to explode back into current pop culture. The 1986 reunion tour brought the band, minus Nesmith, back together. Nesmith did join the last show at Los Angeles’ beautiful Greek Theater on 9/07/86. I was one of those lucky, screaming teenagers at the Greek. I got to see the men I had watched on my parents’, my own TV, ignoring my algebra homework to bounce up and down laughing and singing along to four charismatic men, wishing guys still dressed like them; whose albums my kick-ass dad had bought me on shiny new vinyl, to play on my Fisher stereo. Last year, fans got to see them on their “An Evening With The Monkees: The 45th Anniversary Tour.”Many followed Jones throughout his solo career, buying albums like “Just Me” (2001) and “She” (2009) and even bringing him into their childrens’ lives when he recorded children’s author Sandra Boynton’s “Your Personal Penguin.” He also recorded with Micky Dolenz, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart as, appropriately, Dolenz, Jones, Boyce& Hart.
Reflecting his down-to-earth nature, Davy Jones never walked away from his first love, horse racing. Was it fate again that gave the cherubic Jones his 5’4” stature? Jones bought his first Thoroughbred in 1967 and had an amateur jockey’s license, winning his first race in February, 1996. He had the honor of exercising a horseat for trainer Burk Kessinger at the historic Churchill Downs while in Kentucky with the cast of “Grease!” He even broke his hand once jumping hurdles. Jones owned numerous horses,at one time owning England’shistoric stable Grenville Hall, and later splitting his time between his horse farm in Snyder County, Pennsylvaniaand his home in Indiantown, Florida.
Perhaps more quietly, Jones was also a humanitarian, working for the causes of children’s educationand the fight against multiple sclerosis, supporting a camp for children with cerebral palsy and MS and establishing a multiple sclerosis research fund in honor of his niece, who sadly passed away from the same. This is just a tiny glimpse into his charity work, which also included fundraising for a local Florida community center.
He also never forgot those who had an impact on his life. Basil Foster lived in one of his homes in Florida before moving to a care facility, where Jones provided for him and spent time with the man he loved as a second father and without whom there may not have been a Monkees as we know them.
If anyone tries to minimize Davy Jones’ impact, they need only pick up a paper, turn on the television, or go online to see story after story left by friends, family, fans and, of course, by Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith; stories of musical inspiration, teenage crushes, cinematic psychedelia, friendship, compassion and heart. Am I biased because I was and still am a fan? Maybe. Does that matter? Not a bit. As Michael Nesmith so poignantly and truthfully shared, “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… 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…”
So, we celebrate Davy Jones, and with fond memories flowing through us, we send love and healing to his wife and daughters, his grandchildren and all those he touched.
Davy Jones’s audition tape for The Monkees