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Be Head

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Davy lost his head.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – When Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers kicked off their Tulsa concert a couple of nights ago, I was pleasantly surprised to hear guitarist Mike Campbell begin playing those opening chords to The Byrds’ 1967 hit “So You Want to Be a Rock N’ Roll Star.” A beautiful 12-string Rickenbacker riff. So dreamy.

As I stood there and wondered how many in the arena were familiar with the song, I leaned over to my companion and said: “This song was written about The Monkees.”

And it was. This cynical little ditty, complete with the screams of girls (which also worked well with Tom Petty, as many in the crowd were yelling and screaming as well), was released in early 1967, arguably at the height of The Monkees success as a manufactured TV band and was a not-so-veiled criticism of the process.

The irony, of course, is that The Byrds themselves were manufactured, as researcher Dave McGowan and others have noted. They were notoriously terrible in a live setting. But in the studio, the Byrds reached heights that were truly astounding (“Eight Miles High,” “Mr. Spaceman,” “My Back Pages,” “Goin’ Back,” etc.).

But The Monkees themselves were hip to their predicament. They always were. They knew the hipster rock critics wouldn’t give them the time of day. But the Laurel Canyon scene embraced them and their money (“What you pay for your riches and fame / Was it all a strange game? / You’re a little insane / The money that came and the public acclaim / Don’t forget what you are, you’re a rock n’ roll star …”

And as is well known, Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork, Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz fought the man and won the right to record their own music – and in 1968 be the creative force in their own film – Head. It’s a rock film like no other, one I have written about multiple times here at Red Dirt Report.

As Head writer/producer Jack Nicholson (yes, that Jack – the same Jack who played The Joker, in Batman) said: “I saw it a thousand and one times and I loved it. It was the best rock and roll picture ever made because it was the anti-rock and roll. It had no form, no structure, and believe me, that’s a difficult, unique thing to achieve in movies.”

And now this avant-garde film is a cult classic and one that I reviewed in 2008, on the 40th anniversary of its release.

Another cult classic, of course, is a film that Jack "The Joker" Nicholson stars in, one we talk a lot about here - The Shining. When Nicholson's character Jack Torrance is being interviewed for the job of being caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, the man interviewing him, Stuart Ullman, has a copy of the Carl Jung book The Red Book, which in 1980 had not yet been publicly released. In that book, Jung refers to ominous premonitions and dreams he had about the impending outbreak of World War I. And in 2014, as in 1914, the war drums are pounding

Head. Head. Head. Been hearing a lot about heads lately. Lost heads. Beheadings. Amidst "humanitarian bombings" and imperialistic nightmares. 

On Feb. 12, 2014, the Twitter account for @DC_TheJoker featured a photo of a young man in a pool where it appears that he is beheaded – his head floating on the surface and his body a foot or so away. The Joker tweets: “Don’t lose your head over this.”

That sounds like something the Batman villain would say.

And the image syncs with the image of The Monkees and Monkees fans Nirvana submerged in a swimming pool, which I ran with my “Wanting to feel, to know what is real” post.

Of course the image of the Monkees underwater was a scene in Head. And in that film, a great live sequence is featured of the band performing Nesmith’s “Circle Sky” as girls scream in the audience. At the end of the song, the band is attacked and literally torn apart – one stand-out image is of Davy Jones’ head cradled in the arms of some teenybopper. Of course it is a mannequin, which is a statement about their manufactured status in the music world. This was the film to deconstruct the Monkees, of course. (Note our post "Jonesy"). And that "Circle Sky" sequence features some shocking Vietnam War footage (which was raging at the time), including the shocking image of Gen. Loan shooting a young Viet Cong soldier in the head.

Davy is subsequently “scalped” (the mannequin’s wig is removed), revealing a bald, stony-faced English singer. Decapitated. Beheaded. Of course the crazed teenyboppers want a piece of their pop-music heroes. Even a head to take home.

 Head would cost under $1 million to make (in 1968 dollars) and would only pull in a paltry $16,111. One could say that this film decapitated the Monkees myth.

But the music is great. The non-linear storyline is fascinating. The name – HEAD – is, well, in your face.

So, during a recent visit to Guestroom Records, thumbing through the bargain bin, I came across a copy of the Head soundtrack. Only I was fooled. Inside was their earlier, best-selling album More of the Monkees. That was the big-seller at the time “So You Want to Be a Rock N’ Roll Star” was released and “I’m a Believer” was the big hit. And yet here was the high-selling More of the Monkees LP in the low-selling, underappreciated Head soundtrack sleeve ... things are not what they seem.

And when it comes to “believers,” it would seem that the true believers are looking for more heads to roll. ISIS has a thing about beheading infidels. We had the Sept. 24 horror in Moore involving the beheading of Colleen Hufford at Vaughan Foods by Alton Alexander Nolen (aka Jah’Keem Yisrael), originally of Idabel. It was business owner Mark Vaughan who prevented Nolen from killing more. And the Vaughan family crest? A serpent wrapped around a disembodied head. Twilight Language’s Loren Coleman has been writing extensively on the Moore beheading and subsequent weirdness. Start here.

And in what the Fat City Times-Truncheon is calling a “bizarre coincidence,” Kenya native Jacob Mugambi Muriithi, working at an OKC nursing home, told a colleague that as a representative of ISIS, a group that “kills Christians,” he was going to behead her with a  blade. Why? Muriithi replied: “This is just what we do.”

In Head, there is an interesting scene where Micky is in the desert, a'la Lawrence of Arabia. Tired and thirsty, he happens upon a Coca-Cola (American imperialism) machine. Naturally, Micky wants a fizzy soda pop. But the darn thing is malfunctioning and he later takes a tank and blasts the machine to smithereenies

Yes, "smithereenies." A very sync-worthy post from last month. And one that takes on war and more (sound familiar?) And one nugget we didn't know about was that John Lennon (who would have just returned from India at the time, spending it with the Maharishi ("Sexy Sadie" - Manson sync)) was allegedly supposed to have appeared in Head, according to Monkees fan site Psycho Jello. And who is the jihadist allegedly behind recent ISIS-sanctioned beheadings that have shocked America and the world? The mysterious, radical Islamist "John the Beatle" or "Beatle John," on account of his English accent. His true identity may or may not be known. The same could be said of one Paul McCartney

And maybe current events involving ISIS (and the allegedly fake Khorasan Group - is that an investment banking firm?) are not as they seem, as the character Ahme tells the audience in The Beatles' film Help! - "I am not what I seem." As the Monkees let us know - war is sold like a manufactured product. Edward Bernays would be proud.

In Head, of course, the Monkees are not as they seem. Peter tells Micky in the boxing ring: "I'm the dummy, Micky. I'm always the dummy." And yet Peter Tork, the person (not the "Monkee" actor) is quite intelligent and thoughtful. Yet, with the surreal nature of The Monkees show and the film Head, lines are crossed.

And in our post "Coo Coo Daddy Long Legs," about "Buddy Holly" hanging upside-down (The Hanged Man - Heath "The Joker" Ledger in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus) he tells Young Ones character Mike (in England) that "I just love your English beetles." Of course he is hanging upside-down after jumping out of a plane. So, he didn't die? (note our "Saul is dead? post).

And of course it has long been said that The Monkees were America's answer to The Beatles. John Lennon loved The Monkees because they reminded him of the Marx brothers. Lennon and Marx, eh? Hmmm.

As Lennon said: "Monkees? They've got their own scene, and I won't send them down for it. You try a weekly television show and see if you can manage one half as good!"

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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