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The Summer of Love's dismissed boob tube connection

Wednesday, Jul 25 2007
It's too easy to take shots at the Monterey Summer of Love Festival being held this weekend. The lineup is exactly what you'd expect: a sprinkling of hobbled '60s leftovers — the Doors without Morrison, Big Brother and the Holding Company without Joplin, Jefferson without Airplane — together with grizzled folkies and cover bands a-go-go.

Undoubtedly, people will turn up to commemorate the ruby anniversary of what organizers call the "six major music events of 1967: the Summer of Love, the Monterey Pop Festival, the release of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's album, the Doors' 'Light My Fire,' the musical Hair, and the birth of Pink Floyd." While we may take exception to certain items on the list — I, for one, would rather light my hair on fire than listen to Hair — this event is too earnestly tacky to get up in arms about.

But purists, if the term applies, will surely balk at the Sunday-night headliner: contestants on the CBS semi-hit show Rock Star, both the INXS and Supernova editions. "The parallels of 1967 and 2007 are surreal," rationalizes festival director Andrew Hernandez in a press release. "We have to get today's youth out from behind their text messaging and Play Stations long enough to create something meaningful and beautiful — we need to get them involved in the struggles of humanity." And who better than the rejects of a C-grade American Idol rip-off to do that job?

The inclusion of Rock Star at a '60s nostalgia festival is a head-scratcher, but only until you pause to remember that the biggest American band of 1967 — the Monkees — was also the fruit of a TV show. No self-respecting S.F. hippiester would've taken the Monkees seriously, but they nonetheless released two brilliant albums that outsold the Beatles, the Stones, Hendrix, and all the other vaunted members of the class of '67.

That you won't find the Monkees being discussed in endless articles extolling the perma-relevance of 1967's vinyl canon is a bummer, man. The freshly reissued two-disc editions of Headquarters (the No. 1 LP the week Sgt. Pepper's came out) and Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones, Ltd. offer up a bounty of coltish garage rock, faux-psychedelia, proto-country rock, dancehall ditties, and masterfully produced pop gems. These records constitute a synthesis of the best of mid-'60s music minus the self-serious excess that mars so many of the works critics insist on lauding and re-lauding. (Am I really saying these Monkees records are better than Sgt. Pepper's, Are You Experienced?, or The Velvet Underground and Nico? Dude, be serious. But they are every bit as good as Disraeli Gears, Surrealistic Pillow, The Doors, Forever Changes, and Days of Future fucking Passed, to name a few.)

It's tempting to call The Monkees the American Idol of its time. It's also incorrect. Where Idol and its spinoffs are noxious parades of vanity, sadism, and masochism, The Monkees was an inspired innovation, a kid-friendly mash-up of the styles and sounds of the day that mocked — semi-intellectually and semi-cynically — the notion that the real thing was somehow more than just another act with good tunes and a look. Idol and Rock Star just removed good music from the equation. Then, as now, Monkees records are given short shrift by a world fixated on old prejudices. Time has taught anyone willing to look that the Summer of Love and its soundtrack were showbiz, too.

The Monkees weren't cool enough to play at Monterey Pop (they were in the audience, though). Their TV pop descendants, however, are necessary ringers to pad the crowd at its 40th-anniversary celebration.

Talk about surreal parallels.

About The Author

Sean Nelson


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