When I was 13, I thought the Monkees were cool. I wasn't supposed to, of course, but there was no one around to tell me that my musical tastes were politically suspect.
At the time, I lived with my family in the tiny rural burg of Gambier, Ohio, and went to junior high a few miles away in Mt. Vernon, which wasn't a whole lot bigger. On a good day, the population of Gambier was about 2,000, and that included the Kenyon College students. A dozen or so of us were black -- children, college students, grown-ups. We certainly didn't constitute anything you could call a black community. The Civil Rights Movement and Black Power were distant rumors, at least for the kids.
There were a few more black families in Mt. Vernon, but we didn't know them, and I didn't meet any of the children in school. Except for David Taylor, the best athlete around, and me, the worst, all the kids in our group were white. And, when it came to music, TV, and just about everything else, I liked what they liked, and we all liked the Monkees. It would have been hard to add some soul to my musical diet, even if I had wanted to. The black-oriented stations from Columbus and Cleveland were awfully hard to pick up on my little AM radio.
In the summer of '67, my family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, a big city with a large, angry, and deeply politicized black community. When school started that fall, I was going to learn -- and learn quick -- that I was doing blackness entirely wrong. During the summer, however, I was pretty much on my own. There weren't many kids my age of any color in our immediate neighborhood. I had to find ways to entertain myself.
Along came the Monkees. I don't know how I found out that they were going to play a concert at the Cincinnati Gardens (an old, dismal basketball arena that has long since been torn down). [Correction: Another John, who also grew up in Cincinnati, left a comment saying that the Gardens is still standing. Memory is a funny thing.] I may have heard about it on the radio -- I would have been listening to WSAI, a Top 40 station -- or read about it in the newspaper. But I half remember that my father told me about it and offered to buy me a ticket.
I jumped at the chance. I'd never been to a rock concert, and the idea of going to one seemed like a very grown-up thing to do. And, besides, it was the Monkees.
Now, the Monkees weren't my favorite rock band -- that honor went (and probably still goes) to the Beatles. But they were definitely cool and I couldn't wait to see them.
When my father dropped me off at the Gardens, on a hot July evening, it was still light out. I can't remember anything else until I was in my seat and getting a funny look from another father who was there with his daughter and a bunch of her friends. I was in a daze of excitement and didn't think much of it.
The warm-up band was the Count Basie Orchestra. (Yes, I know, that can't possibly be right. But that's the way I remember it, although I admit that I could be mixing it up with some other concert.) In any case, it was sometime after the Basie band stopped playing, while we were waiting for the Monkees to appear, that I slowly began to realize two things -- I was just about the only boy in a sea of girls and the only black person in a sea of whites.
Being the only boy bothered me most. I was used to being the only black kid, or nearly the only one, in just about every place I found myself -- school, church, play... Being the only boy, however, that was new. For the first time, I started wondering if liking the Monkees was truly cool.
Then Davy, Micky, Michael, and Peter came out and banished all doubt. They were cool, and I had a great time.
When my father picked me up after the concert, he gave me the same funny look that the dad in the arena had. I guess he'd been watching the crowd flood out of the Gardens -- 10,000 white girls and me.
* * *
Davy Jones, 1945-2012. Rest in peace.