hey hey it's a Monkee
Friday, January 30 2004
A wonderful thing came in the mail today. It was a letter from Verizon saying that DSL was finally available in our area. Evidently (and I'd heard something about this a long time ago from the phone guy who installed our second line) the necessary equipment had been installed sufficiently close to our house, somewhere (according to that phone guy) near the Hurley Mountain Inn (probably not far from where Art Garfunkel got busted the other day for smoking pot).
I immediately called Verizon and got the ball rolling for our DSL installation. Unfortunately meant that I had to talk to a sales guy, and there's nothing I hate more than the faux-friendly banter these guys have mastered. The only thing that sucks about the form of DSL being made available is that its upload bandwidth (128 kbs) is only an twelth of its download bandwidth (1.5 mbs), an infantilizing arrangement that implies that I, the Verizon consumer, have little to contribute to culture. Such lopsided communication capability corrodes a fundamental principle of the internet, that we are all publishers as well as consumers of information. That said, it's still a lot better than dialup.
Gretchen wanted to do something tonight, and somehow she ended up on the website for a venue called the Towne Crier, which is located in Pauling in southeastern Dutchess County, New York. This was how she learned that they were hosting a performance tonight by
Peter Tork, a former member of the seminal made-for-television rock band the Monkees. Appearing with Peter tonight would be another performer, a gentleman named
James Lee Stanley. Gretchen's connection to the Monkees is from having seen syndicated reruns of their 1960s-era television show during the mid-1980s. The only song I could remember from the Monkees catalogue was "Hey Hey We're the Monkees," which I immediately began singing when Gretchen suggested that we see the show. As usual, I didn't remember the lyrics accurately so this is what I sang,
Hey hey we're the Monkees
We ain't gonna monkey around
We're too busy sangin'
To be getting anybody down.
We drove the hour or so interstate to the Towne Crier, which (despite its very New England sounding name) turns out to be something of an upscale Southwestern-style restaurant. We ordered ordered overstuffed burritos and they were delicious.
As one would expect, the 150-person audience tonight was entirely white and had an average age of about 45, though there was a smattering of youngish women.
James Lee Stanley opened the show by performing a few of his folk songs. He was talented both as a guitarist and as a singer. As he sang, his face had an assertive innocent sincerity appropriate for singing such songs as "Puff the Magic Dragon." I especially liked "The Last Day of Summer," with its warm chords tinged with a creepy melancholy. Stanley later said that it had been a response to 9-11[-01]. It's unusual to find art, politics, or legislation of any value inspired by that tragedy.
Between songs, Stanley became something of a standup comedian. In this capacity he came off as a sweet, self-deprecating dirty old man.
After one of Stanley's guitar strings broke, Peter Tork, the erstwhile Monkee, took the stage. I'd sort of expected him to be sad in the way that one day Justin Timberlake will be sad, but he actually managed to be even sadder than that. He was surprisingly well-preserved for a man his age, looking as much like an unshowered 20-something as a 60-something can look. But he had a nasty arrogance as he took the stage, and his inter-song banter consisted mostly of insults and shallow pseudo-intellectual insights. This might have been forgiveable had he been able to sing, but his voice was weak and his range was limited. He was also a little off key. Had he showed up for an audition for American Idol, he wouldn't have lasted ten seconds. But when he performed the Monkee classic "Cheer Up Sleepy Jean," his limitations were cloaked somewhat by the audience loudly singing along.
Tork played various instruments as he sang, but there always seemed to be a grating absence of control to his performance. Most of it had the level of virtuosity one expects at an open mike night. The only time he seemed the least bit talented was when he played a banjo.
In the third set of the evening, Stanley joined Tork on stage and helped fill in the many voids in Tork's performance. When providing backing vocals, Tork's deficiencies weren't noticeable.
Overall, it was a little depressing to see a marginal talent like Tork still coasting along on the momentum imparted by his days with a fabricated boy band. The consequences of this momentum were obvious - it had allowed him to pair up with a much greater (though less famous) musician, and it supplied him with a steady diet of gigs and a certain base of fandom. But despite the benefits, Tork was also clearly embarrassed by his connection to the Monkees, referring to it only with phrases such as "t-h-a-t b-a-n-d" (voiced in the manner of a swamp monster).
Gretchen and I left before Tork and Stanley's final song, which might have been "Freebird."
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