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He was a Monkee and true teen idol

by | Mar 4, 2012 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Davy Jones died.

I didn’t think that was possible.

If there was ever a forever-young pop idol, Davy was it. Boyish-faced, long-haired, short, thin, British accent, always goofing around with the other Monkees, singing bubble-gum music and making little girls scream.

He was Justin Bieber before there was a Justin Bieber, or Justin Timberlake, or Ricky Martin, or New Edition, or New Kids on the Block, or even Michael Jackson and Donny Osmond.

And although he wasn’t the first singer to make girls swoon – the Beatles, Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, the list goes way back – he did personify a time when being a teen idol was a huge business, but still a relatively innocent one.

I looked up an old cover of Tiger Beat magazine from 1967. It was an entire edition devoted to Davy Jones. The cover boasted stories like: “Will He Marry?” “Are You His Type?” “What He’s Like At Home … On A Stage … On A Date.”

The stories themselves were equally gushing. There was no talk of drugs, arrests, DUIs or sex. Maybe they’d mention a first kiss – in the same cooing tones reserved for a Prince Charming.

But stardom was different back then.

Snail mail vs. the Internet

For one thing, even a huge star like Davy Jones had limited exposure in your everyday life. There’s a big difference between hanging a poster in your bedroom and tweeting, YouTubing and Googling your heartthrob’s every minute. As massively popular as Jones was, you only saw him once a week on “The Monkees” TV show, or maybe an occasional interview somewhere.

Today, a Google search on “Justin Bieber” reveals 700 million results. That’s one a day for the next 2 million years. You can hear Bieber talk, sing, tweet and opine, and view his photos, videos or nearly every article ever written about him with the simple tap of a computer button.

Doesn’t that take the mystery out of it? I remember girls in our neighborhood writing letters to Davy Jones, then waiting for the mailman each afternoon. Sure enough, one day, an envelope would arrive with a signed photo inside, and the girls would rip it open and scream and then, if I recall correctly, pass out.

It was all sweet and innocent and over in its time, as pop infatuations should be.

‘A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You’

Today, teens have a different relationship with fame. It envelops them. It is both entertainment and goal. Their stars are not just singers in pop bands, but reality show creations like the Kardashians and the “Jersey Shore” group. They make their own videos. They nurture their own legends on Facebook.

The most recent Teen Choice awards named “Bad Teacher” as favorite film (an R-rated movie, theoretically off-limits to many teens) and favorite TV comedy as “Glee” – which, like “The Monkees,” features a put-together group of singers, but, unlike “The Monkees,” surrounds them with story lines of teenage pregnancies, teachers having romantic affairs and kids exploring all avenues of their sexuality.

In “The Monkees,” Davy would get kidnapped in order to marry a princess.

But as I said, it was a different time, a time of tambourines and “Daydream Believer.” Davy Jones didn’t curse in his music, didn’t get arrested, didn’t beat up men or women, and – in our minds, anyhow – didn’t grow old.

In real life, of course, he did. I saw a joke he told Britain’s Daily Mail last year about his young wife, who apparently suggested to him one day that they run upstairs and make love. “I looked at her. ‘At my age,’ I said, ‘it’s going to have to be one or the other.'”

He died this past week, at 66, of a heart attack, which has its poignancy, given the palpitations he caused an entire generation of girls. I don’t know why his passing saddens me as much as it does. I never mailed him a letter. Never waited for a signed photo. Maybe it’s just that whole end of innocence thing. Or maybe that Jones, unlike so many big names today, seemed to really enjoy being a pop star while never acting as if it was a birthright.

I read that the first night he performed on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” at age 18, he sang, “I’d Do Anything” from the Broadway hit, “Oliver!,” in which he was appearing. That same night, another group gave its first Sullivan show performance: the Beatles.

Davy Jones watched in awe from backstage, seeing the girls go crazy. You wonder whether he knew he was seeing his future.

Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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