Thanks, Michelle, and thanks Ingrid for a new StarLit. piece on Gaimanda (Amanda Palmer + Neil Gaiman…)
Love is the Ultimate Trip by Michelle Soucy
The 1980s were dark times for hair. And for fashion. And for music. I’m not sure what happened to initiate the cultural collapse in judgment, maybe it was a kind of styling product-fueled rebellion against our hippie-parents’ love of all things “natural.” But the whole world looked and sounded like it had been aerosol-hairsprayed into a stiff and angry gloss. Subtlety was dead, or at least in an induced coma. We wore panic-button red sunglasses that zigzagged off the sides of our heads like lightning bolts. And, speaking of lightning bolts, those were also shaved into the buzz-cut hair of the boys in my school.
The clothing we chose to wear was as big as we could possibly get it and still be able to walk, but bunched up and held onto our bodies with fluorescent pink and green belts — many, many belts. Our fingernails, too, were painted in bright neon, and sometimes enhanced with polka dots or, again, lightning bolts, giving the appearance of poisonous insects living on the ends of our fingertips.
And our hair, dear God, our hair. Perms like the summit of K2. Mohawks, spray-painted blue and purple. Rat-tails. Ducktails. Bangs that we burnt into layers with our curling irons and bent upside-down to hairspray into what looked like a wild turkey’s fanned tail feathers. When I look through old photo albums at my parents’ house now, I feverishly flip past the photos of the 80s, pretending that couldn’t really be me… no, no, haha, no. But when no one else is looking I flip back and sneak a peek, because my early-teen face really was quite sweet and doll-like. But you could barely notice it under that maniacally hairsprayed mane. So, yeah, the 80s were a dark time, so dark that I was desperately compelled to dig for some light. And so I dug, and I unearthed for myself love… in the form of The Monkees.
It was The Monkees who saved me from the 80s.
While my friends and I drove to the beaches on weekends, whisper-crooning our blame of the rain, and shouting about being hot for teacher, or whining that we wanted to feel like a virgin, even though at the time most of us still were, I knew deep within that there had to be something better and more deserving of my ears and my soul. Luckily, my friends and I also kept our televisions constantly tuned to MTV when we were at home. One early-fall night, MTV aired a “Monkees Marathon.”
Since it looked like a prime opportunity to make fun of something old — as young 80s teens so enjoyed doing — my good friend Dawn and I, both age 14 at the time, decided to stay up and watch it. But almost from the first “Hey, hey!” I was totally hooked. Here was true carefree zaniness, but with heart and soul like I’d never seen. These four young men stood up for one another, loved one another, and loved the world in which they lived. “We’re the young generation…” they sang. “And we’ve got something to say!” Yeah, right on! The happy, carnival-like colors, the playful clothing, the music full of life and meaning. The exaggerated — but totally full of wit — burlesque tradition jokes (“You’re standing on my foot!;” “She’s”/”He’s”/”It’s/”They’re gone!”) were brand new, to us. And The Monkees spread sweetly absurd slogans like “Save the Texas Prairie Chicken,” “Who Turned on the Dark?,” “Age Only Matters If You’re Cheese,” and other messages of love that really meant something monumental to me, having recently fallen in love for the first time — and, I now realize, perhaps the most purely — of my life. (That part’s… for another blog.)
The bottom line for me was that The Monkees didn’t protest life, they celebrated it. By the morning after the Monkees Marathon, I emerged from Dawn’s family’s TV room a new young woman. I straightened my hair and wore it long, flowing and natural. I went straight out and bought fawn-colored leather moccasin-boots that laced all the way up my leg (and wore them until I began to have problems with my ankles). I wore paisley and denim and a colorful guitar strap as a headband and I handed out daisies to people in the hallways at school. I flashed the peace sign, spreading the message that “Love is the Ultimate Trip!” I pinned “Sock it to me!” and “Can you dig it?” buttons to my grungy denim jackets and and wore beaded peace symbol jewelry that I hand-crafted myself (because such items weren’t available then as they are now). The Monkees opened up life for me — and layers of living. From the Monkees I went on to explore The Beatles (who inevitably blew The Monkees out of the water for me — also, for another blog), The Who, Pink Floyd, The Kinks, The Doors, Donovan, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa and on and on and onto Joni Mitchell and James Taylor and Simon & Garfunkel. Who knew there was this whole vast, immense world out there of great music and philosophy for living? My friends, still stuck in the glossy, angry, hairsprayed 80s, made fun of me. Some called me “Micky” (for Dolenz), which actually pleased me greatly, and my new “hippie” hair was the laughing stock of my school, but I didn’t give up; I could never go back to the way I was prior to The Monkees. Life, for me, was groovy. I was digging it. I had The Monkees and their whole freedom-loving generation behind me. It was as if the world were demanding, “Will the real Michelle Soucy please stand up?” and I could answer: “I am standing up!”
After graduating from high school, though, the world and its brutal realities began to infiltrate. I moved out, moved four hours away from home, to Orlando, for college. There was rent to pay and food to buy and car insurance, health insurance (or lack thereof), tuition, medical bills, taxes. Dark holes, somehow, were everywhere. My Dodge Omni had a hole in the floor into which frogs would climb and travel slime-ily up my legs while I was driving. I had cavities in my teeth that I could not afford to have filled. Loved ones passed away, and I was unable to fund my airfare to their funerals. Life, suddenly, was not so groovy. Life was harsh, and scary, and I was all on my own. I waited tables to put myself through college — attending school during the days and working every night, with never a vacation day. To handle the stress of the days, my server friends and I would take a good deal of the money we made waiting tables every night and spend it at the lightless, seedy bars that were open all night in downtown Orlando. I was dating, too many, too much older than me, too not-good-for-me men. I wore too short, too tight, skirts and shirts. My skin grew paler, my hair darker from lack of daylight. I rarely slept; I drank more than I ate. In school I was reading Milton, and siding with the devil, and Native Son, and rooting for Bigger, and Hobbes, and agreeing that life was nasty, brutish, and short.
When my friend Dawn, still living in Fort Myers, called me one night to insist that I drive down the very next day for the chance to meet Davy Jones, I scoffed, drinking a Michelob Light and turning up my R.E.M. cassette tape. I was too busy, too tired, too broke, for such childish nonsense. She insisted. She begged. It was Davy. Davy Jones! Hardly any tickets had been sold yet; we had the chance to get right up close to the stage and maybe meet him. I sighed, and looked through the piles of single dollar bills scattered around my room from waiting tables. I supposed I had enough money for gas and a concert ticket. But could I really afford to waste it on seeing a washed-up old lounge-act hippie? It wasn’t like it was going to be Davy Davy — the cute, dreamy, angel-faced boy from the TV show that we remembered. I’d seen photos of him recently… he had a perm, and… a mullet. His leathery-tan face was wrinkly and worn. No, the concert would be pathetic and sad… the stage was a place for young men, young musicians. Davy should leave it to them. These were the dark, plaid, grungy 90s, and we didn’t have room for happy, smiling people. But Dawn begged me. She promised me the best day ever. I hadn’t seen my friend for at least a year… so, ok, I decided I’d just go and get it over with.
I wore heavy platform sandals, short denim shorts and an equally short black halter top and drove from the Orlando sunshine down into the even hotter, brighter south Florida sunshine. It was end of September, so the heat had not broken yet. Dawn and her sister Misty were waiting for me, jumping up and down inside the grassy arena, wearing their Monkees t-shirts. I approached them, slow and cool in my black wayfarers, smelling of clove cigarettes. Clearly, I was the coolest, deepest person there. The crowd was made up of middle-aged women (the teens of Davy’s generation), and families, and random groups of 80s MTV Monkees fans, like us. Or, like what I’d used to be. I let Dawn and Misty hug and pet me, their cool friend who’d gone off to the big city and who’d returned dark, bitter, and so very cool. I leaned on the hand rail set up in front of the stage, without removing my sunglasses, and sighed. I wanted to get this silly thing over and done so we could go somewhere and drink.
People, I realized, were already screaming for Davy. I looked around. Yeah, they were screaming, hard, for Davy. They were jumping up and down, totally jubilant. Mouths open, hands in hair, pulling. They waved signs, “We LOVE you, Davy!” “Marry me, Davy!” Wow. Just like the signs they used to wave when Davy was a young pop idol. Dawn and Misty still jumped up and down next to me. But I realized they were jumping around for Davy, not because they were excited I had arrived. Huh. I stood up straighter, feeling a tingle. Huh. Davy actually really was here, somewhere. Behind stage, somewhere. Ready to come out and be here, in front of us. I held my hand against my tingling belly, listening to the screams. Davy would be right in front of us. Feet away from us. In person. Davy. Davy Jones. I thought about the countless hours I’d spent watching The Monkees on VHS, listening to their records, reading about them in books and magazines. I remembered my room in high school, completely wallpapered with posters and magazine pull-outs of Davy. I thought about The Monkees, how their records had sold out The Beatles and The Rolling Stones combined, how they had changed pop culture forever. My belly fluttered and flipped. My heart jumped and throbbed. I stared at the stage, where he’d be in a mere moment. Davy Jones. My Davy Jones.
And then a large bearded man came out on the stage, waving his arms and talking about the day, the event, the venue. I couldn’t even pay attention to him. I wanted Davy. I wanted the large man gone and I wanted Davy there in front of me. The crowd pulsed, jumping, screaming. I jumped, I screamed. The crowd chanted. I chanted. “Da-vy, Da-vy!” And then — there he was. Oh, my God, there he was. Walking out onto the stage, smiling. No mullet, but a nice, clean, short haircut. Black t-shirt and casual jeans. Waving, smiling. Davy. With that infamous glint of almost impossible excitement for life in his eyes and his wide, beautiful smile. Davy! Looking just like he always did. Sure, ok, if someone had taken a photo of him at that moment they’d think, maybe, that he looked something more like an aging Michael Douglas — but not for us, in that moment, watching him walk, smiling, onto the center of the stage. For us, he was the 22 year old Davy Jones of The Monkees. It was 1967 and here we all were, happy and loving. Here was Davy and we loved him. And he was smiling and waving: He loved us back.
And when Davy opened his mouth to sing, it was even more — It was more than time travel… it was maybe the first and only time I’d ever seen a purely talented showman. Davy was the consummate performer, a true entertainer. He appeared endlessly surprised and thrilled by the lyrics he sang, even though I knew he’d sung them thousands of times after forty years in show business. But he never tired, never hesitated. Between songs he’d joke, though; he knew this was pop music, not rocket science. He didn’t take himself seriously, he only told us, and showed us, that this was a time for us to let our hair down and have fun. He was like a light, and all of the crowd pushed forward toward him, attracted, like a physical pull, to that light. Davy’s voice was as perfect and clear as ever, and his eyes genuinely sparkled. And all of us in the crowd, our eyes sparkled, too, like Davy’s love interests from the old Monkees TV episodes, with white and silver cartoon stars popping from their eyes. Like magic. Davy was like magic.
Towards the end of the show, Davy announced that there was a birthday girl in the crowd who shared the name of one of his most famous Monkees songs, “Valleri.” A woman pointed maniacally at the head of her young, perhaps ten-year-old daughter, nodding and laughing. Davy hopped right off the stage into the crowd and swooped the little girl up in his arms, like a real-life Prince Charming. He sang “Valleri” to the birthday girl, dancing with her while he sang. He was a charmer, a ham, a true and wonderful ham.
Davy kissed the little girl’s cheek and set her down as the opening piano chords of “Daydream Believer” began to twinkle from the stage. We screamed even louder than we had throughout the rest of the show. Davy walked in front of the crowd, singing the opening lines, and we all sang along, loudly and happily. Then I heard Davy saying, cheekily, “Who knows the words? Who knows the words?” pointing out at us. The crowd jumped and jumped. Davy walked along the edge of the crowd, closer and closer, and stopped in front of me, then moved into the crowd and next to me, still singing, and I was also singing. He pushed up next to me, while the crowd yelled and pawed at him. He was just my height, maybe a little shorter. His face was smooth and tan, his singing teeth were white. He tipped the microphone near my lips and I heard him say, to me, “Do you know the words to this song?” I leaned to sing them into the microphone — “Cheer up, Sleepy Jean, oh, what can it mean” — while Davy grinned and nodded along, snapping the fingers of his free hand. Up close, his coffee-brown eyes glittered just as brilliantly as they did from a distance. He leaned his head close to mine, sharing the microphone, singing, with me. And I lifted my hand, put my hand beneath his on the microphone. Davy slid his hand down so it covered mine. Davy’s hand was covering mine, tightly. I knew I was singing; we were singing together. We sounded, I realized, good together. I looked at Davy’s youthful, tanned arms, his wrists, his flinching triceps. There was cameras everywhere, people taking photos, videos, and also camera crews from the local news stations. I knew I was singing. I was with Davy Jones and we were singing. Smiling at each other, and singing. I didn’t know, or need to know, anything else. But I was with Davy, and we were singing.
I don’t remember getting from that moment to the line we waited in for Davy to sign our books, albums, and photos. I know it happened, because I do remember meeting him again in line and spluttering a feeble, “Thank you! I love you!” as he signed a photo and t-shirt for me. But what I remember clearly from that day is the purity, the joy. Dawn and Misty jumped on me, hugged me, pointed at me. “We told you it would be the best day ever!” They shouted. And the sun was shining on us, the grass was green, the sky was blue and white with clouds. I wasn’t thinking about money problems, health problems, work or school. I’d just taken part in true and pure joy. I realized The Monkees had again helped me move out of darkness, if maybe only for a day. But I knew it was a day that would last. I felt awake again, that day. I felt love, I felt light.
(photos courtesy of Michelle Soucy & s3tar.tripod.com & thisdayinrock.com)