Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Pre-Fab Forty

Davy Jones, the short, cute Monkee, died back in February. Yes, I know I’m coming a bit late to the party…or the funeral, I suppose…on this, but I’ve had a few other things to deal with in my life.

Getting back to the point, for those of you not old enough to remember, Davy Jones was a member of the popular 60s group The Monkees who were derisively referred to by many as “The Pre-Fab Four,” because this was a group built specifically created to cater to the market for “boy bands” among 1960s teenaged girls. It was a group where the members were not selected for their musicianship, but for their showmanship and acting ability (hmm…sounds a little like Big Time Rush, which my nine-year-old daughter watches on Nickelodeon).

But while they were derided by musical “purists,” in 1967 they sold more albums than the Beatles and the Rolling Stones combined. That just made the sting even worse to people who enjoyed “real” musicians. What right did these upstarts, who supposedly didn’t even play their own instruments, have to outsell “legitimate artists” like the Beatles, the Stones, Bob Dylan, and the like?

And the same question has been asked about performers such as Brittney Spears, the Spice Girls, and the A*Teens (anyone remember them?). Don’t people understand that these people don’t write their own songs or play their own instruments, and therefore have no talent? Don’t they realize that they’re just a bunch of people who’ve been trained to look good and sound good while they’re singing someone else’s stuff?

Well, quite frankly, I resemble that statement…and so do about 70 or 80 of the people I hung out with when I was an undergrad. And so do hundreds of students at St Olaf College, and other schools that are famous for their choirs. You see, while I was an undergrad at Syracuse University, I was a member of the Hendricks Chapel Choir, and we not only sang for the regular Sunday morning chapel services, but we gave a concert each semester, and went on yearly concert tours. I will also tell you that we didn’t write our own material, we rarely played our own instruments, and we were most definitely trained by a succession of excellent choir directors to look and sound good while were singing someone else’s stuff.

I suppose you could call us the Pre-Fab Forty.

So I’d love to ask all the music snobs out there what the big difference is between being in the Hendricks Chapel Choir and being one of the Monkees, or one of the Spice Girls, or a member of any of the current groups that I’m too old and out of the loop to know anything about unless my daughter downloads one of their songs from iTunes and plays it incessantly. OK…so they make a whole lot more money than most of us will ever see. But are they only “legitimate performers” if they write their own stuff? Most opera singers, as well as most actors on the Broadway stage, would answer “no” to that.

For his part, Davy Jones was already a professional actor, having played the Artful Dodger in the Broadway production of the musical Oliver! before landing the gig of a lifetime with the Monkees. So was Mickey Dolenz, who those of us of a certain age remember as Corky on the TV show Circus Boy. He went into this thinking that he was simply playing the role a rock star, and ended up becoming one for real.

Were he and his three bandmates, as well as other “made for TV” or “made for the studio” groups “real performers?”

Well…I’m a believer.

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