Davy Jones passed away on February 29, 2012. On March 10th of that year, a memorial celebration was held in his adopted hometown. The following is an account of my visit.
I have written before of my life-long affinity for The Monkees. I’ve made no secret of it. They were my first introduction to “real” music (that didn’t come from some manner of kid’s album); theirs were the first albums I bought with my own money. I’d listen to the tapes over and over again until my tape player ate them and I had to buy new ones. My friends and I would swap vinyl and copy them until we could afford our own. I drew their logo all over my school books and notebooks and folders. My walls were covered with posters and pin-ups from Teen Beat, Tiger Beat, 16, Bop, and any other publication in which they appeared in. And, like so many others, Davy Jones was my favorite.
Davy always got the girl. Davy always got the joke. Davy could sing, Davy could dance, Davy could ride horses, Davy had great hair and cool fashion sense and an awesome accent. Davy got to hang out with Count Dracula. Davy inspired Chekov from Star Trek. Davy was the heart and soul of the group, there for every iteration in their history (I didn’t know at the time that he didn’t participate, either voluntarily or involuntarily, in the three “new” tracks cut for THEN AND NOW: THE BEST OF THE MONKEES [Arista Records, 1986]). Best of all, Davy was SHORT. In (ahem) short, Davy was my God-damned idol.
I have also already written about how unexpectedly hard his death hit me. One never expects to be impacted by the death of a celebrity, you know? I mean, yeah, I always figured that when Shatner or Nimoy beam out, I’ll probably get a little misty. But I never expected such depth of emotion to come forward for one of The Monkees. Apparently, though, even though I out-grew Davy by the time I was 12 (he was only 5’3″, after all), I have never, in all these years, outgrown him.
So when Michael Schoenfelt started a facebook event for a Davy Jones memorial to be held in his adopted hometown of Beavertown, PA (population: 900) on Saturday, March 10th at high noon, it didn’t take me long to decide I wanted to go. For those not in the know, Beavertown is in the mountains of Pennsylvania, two hours north of Harrisburg, and almost 200 miles from me. No way I could make the drive by myself, and — it being tax season — Yarn Girl (being an office manager for her father’s accounting office) was unable to go with me. I got on the horn with my sister Debbie, who’s always up for a road trip, and we were set.
We set off at 8 a.m. The ride was mostly uneventful until we got relatively close to our destination, when the roads suddenly got extraordinarily mountainous. First time in either of our lives we’ve ever seen signs warning of a steep grade, and telling us to reduce gears. Not unlike a rollercoaster, you’d reach the top of a hill, and it looked like the road just dropped off the edge of the world. Like many mountain roads, there was no shoulder; just a guardrail (presumably so authorities would see exactly where a car plummeted to its doom) and a sharp drop into the abyss. It was knee-shakingly harrowing for two people who come from flat farmland; I can only imagine what kind of special hell it must have been for the people in the car behind us, from New York, who kept pulling over to the shoulder afterwards to check and re-check their GPS.
Finally we arrived at our destination: the Fireman’s Carnival Grounds on Sassafras Avenue, literally just around the corner and across the field from Davy’s house on Center Street. After the attendants directed us where to park, they handed us these lovely little prayer cards, and the solemnity of the event suddenly hit me. I don’t know quite what I was expecting, dig? I never stopped to think about it, really. All I knew was that Davy had made this place his home. These were his people, and they were inviting his fans to share their memories and their sorrow with them. Here were people who knew him, interacted with him daily, waved to him on the street as they mowed their lawns. Of COURSE there was going to be a bit of solemnity to the event.
We unpacked our chairs and snacks from the car and, camera in hand, made our way to the carnival grounds. We were still a tad early, so not all the spaces were taken. I was actually worried about that — reading some of the feed on the event page, I noticed that some people had arrived the night prior. Fortunately, setting up shop was rather easy, so no hassle there. Looking around, the variations in age came as little surprise. There were literally people of all ages, from 3 to 83 (give or take); The Monkees are one of the precious few bands to retain their original fans and keep making new ones. All told, the town officials figure there were roughly 500 of us in attendance. Not a bad turnout for what the planners originally thought was going to be three or four guys mourning over a beer.
Right around noon, the program started. First up was a remarkable Monkees tribute group, dubbed The Davy Jones Memorial Band. What was most remarkable, besides their encyclopedic knowledge of the Monkees catalogue, was the fact that these guys had never played 90% of these songs before. It was all impromptu, and all audience requests. And they knew it all, from THE MONKEES through JUSTUS. Number after number, those gathered sang along with the band, called out song titles, laughed along with the inevitable lyric flubs, and had an overall good time.
Intermission followed, and it was time to hit the concession stand. It was maybe 40°F, you see, and sitting around listening to a band did not do much to instill warmth. Thankfully, they were selling copious amounts of coffee, along with hot dogs and some of the best chicken noodle soup I’ve ever had in my life. Hunger sated and core warmed, it was time to settle in once again as the event took on a more somber tone.
Following intermission came a litany of speeches by many who knew him best. Organizer Michael Schoenfelt spoke, followed by Beavertown mayor Cloyd William Wagner; Davy Jones fanpage organizer Sarah Combs; Beavertown residents and close friends of Davy, Kat and Rocky Damelio, Bruce Hassinger, and Skip Kline; and, in perhaps the most unique speech of the day, 17-year-old Alexandra Amrine. Amrine had only discovered The Monkees a little over a year and a half ago, but they quickly became the center of her musical universe, with Davy at ITS center. She told the tale of how she lived the dream of so many teenage girls before her: to get noticed in the crowd at a concert, and have Davy pull her up onstage to dance.
Following Ms. Amrine and several others, Mayor Wagner took to the stage once again to read several letters from those who could not attend. Friend and fellow Monkee Peter Tork said, “I am truly at a loss for words, mostly remembering moments that pale in the telling of them. I carry so many images of Davy through the years: the bright teen at the center of The Monkees TV show, the witty prankster, always with a joke (not always a new joke, but always a joke!), the dedicated horseman, the devoted family man, and the gifted performer who captured hearts around the world.” Monkees drummer Micky Dolenz said, “We worked together. We lived together. We had families together. We played and fought together like best friends in a schoolyard. We were as close to siblings as you can possibly get. He was my brother.” And his friend and co-author (and the man responsible for introducing Davy to Beavertown) Alan Green said, “I’m sure we’re all going through the same blur of emotions and I’ll bet most of you gathered there today are remembering David by recounting your personal memories, either of meeting him – or of meeting each other ‘through’ your Monkees connection that has resulted in lifetime friendships. So even at this time of great sadness and grief, David is again bringing us together – and it behooves us to rejoice in his freedom and not be downcast by our own feelings of loss. He’d be the first to tell you that out of grief comes something good. Always. Good Grief!”
After a few other speakers and another musical interlude by The Davy Jones Memorial Band, the entire congregation started to make the journey on foot to the church on Orange Street that Davy had purchased several years ago in hopes of turning it into a Monkees museum. It was there that things started to get emotional for many of those in attendance. As people started to lay flowers and other gifts (among them, horses, a bluebird, stuffed monkeys) on the church steps, it was impossible to ignore the tears and sobs all around me. Wave after wave they came, leaving tributes and gifts, holding each other, comforting each other, friends and strangers, those who knew him personally and those who only knew his music. All grieving, each of us in our own way, some loud and some silent, but all of us there, together, to honor the man who had left a mark on us in one way or another.
It was strange, you know? I looked around, and honestly wasn’t sure if I belonged there. I almost felt like I was intruding on a private moment; the depth of sorrow some of the attendees expressed made me uncomfortable; not because they were crying over Davy Jones, but because, if I wasn’t, then perhaps I had no business being there, dig? Then, amidst the grief, a chorus of “Daydream Believer” broke out, and it was hauntingly beautiful. Everyone stopped what they were doing, and everyone sang from deep within themselves. And it was then that I knew that I had as much business being there as anybody else. If I could be compelled to drive four hours into the mountains to mourn the man (when half the time I can’t be bothered to drive ten minutes to Wal-Mart), then he meant just as much to me, and deserved my respects and my tributes, too.
From there, people slowly began making their way back to the carnival grounds, and the festivities broke up. Though not on the official itinerary, many of us stopped at his house on Center Street before leaving the quiet hamlet. I was absolutely shocked when I saw the house, in the midst of a quiet neighborhood. It’s modest. Unassuming. Hell, the Christmas lights are still up, and their are old cars in the yard. THIS was the house of a Monkee? My God, he really WAS just a regular guy. Nothing fancy, nothing lavish. It was cozy, very homey. Though he had houses in other states (notably Florida, where he died), THIS was the one he called home. And considering the property, the town, and the townspeople, it really is no wonder why.
There is talk of another celebration next year. Mayor Wagner posted today that the plan is to unveil a life-size statue of Davy at that one. I don’t know that I’ll be able to make it — I’m honestly not sure my sister would drive that far again for a statue. But even if I can’t attend, I’ll always have the fact that I was at THIS one. That I made the effort for the man whose music has been one of the extraordinarily few constants in my life. The man who, besides being the idol of millions of screaming girls, was also MY idol. As I said before, I may have out-grew him, but I have never, and WILL never, outgrow him.