Last train to Woodstock

A barrelful of Dolenz

Forty years ago this fall, an actor and singer named Micky Dolenz was hired to portray lead singer/drummer on "The Monkees," an NBC-TV show about a Beatlesque garage band in California. The show - co-starring Davy Jones, Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork - debuted a year later, lasted two seasons, spawned an impressive series of hit records, and ignited Dolenz's career as an actor, TV and film director, author, artist and, more recently, Broadway star and inventor.

Four years later, a kid named Lee Smith bought his first rock album, More of the Monkees. Whatever happened to him? Oh yeah, he became a music geek. Sure, he reveres the Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Velvet Underground and all those oh-so-important folks, but his favorite band and TV series remains the pre-fab four. Yes, the made-for-mass-consumption comedy and music machine that was fueled by a slew of talented songwriters including Neil Diamond, Carole King and the cast of the show themselves.

When California-native Dolenz spoke with Creative Loafing, Monkee fanatic Smith remained calm and professional and resisted the urge to scream like a teenage girl in the throes of Monkeemania. A few highlights of their lengthy conversation:

Creative Loafing: I've heard that you have invented some sort of tool.

Dolenz: It's just a little tool that helps to hang pictures. About 20 years ago, I was living in England and the walls there were like solid brick. I thought there must be an easy way to hang pictures here. So I went down to my workshop and I built this device. For 20 years, it just sat there in my tool box, actually being used, and just a year or so ago, some friends of mine in the business of patenting and marketing inventions said, "Hey, that's a good idea!" We just signed the contracts for it last week, as a matter of fact. I'll probably end up doing an infomercial for it.

Very nice. Your paintings fetch quite a bit of money, you just finished a children's book, and now this invention stuff: You're like the renaissance man of rock 'n' roll.

Jack of all trades, master of none! I'm not sure if I'm a renaissance man or dilettante. I've always had a shop and always worked on my own household stuff. Just before the Monkees, I was going to college, studying to be an architect so I could fall back on show business if I couldn't make it as an architect.

And now, 40 years later, people like me are still asking about that show. Any plans to celebrate the 40th anniversary of "The Monkees"?

No plans. We've kinda flogged that horse as much as we can. I don't think there's much else we can do. But you never know. I've learned to never say never.

How do you view the Monkees, four decades later?

To me, the Monkees wasn't a group: It was the cast of a TV show. I was hired to play the part of this drummer on a show about an imaginary group, living in an imaginary beach house, having these imaginary adventures.

And sharing one car.

And sharing one car, exactly. Who does that in real life? It was a total fantasy, so in that sense, it still is. It's like "Star Trek." You don't see William Shatner, walking around going, "Beam me up, Leonard."

But what made it even more twisted was that you used your real names.

Yeah! Well, originally we had character names. When I went to the original audition, the script had different names, like Bill and Biffo, I don't remember now. At some point, they decided to use our real names. So, with the fact that we went on the road and made records, at some point you could argue that it became a real group. Mike Nesmith said it was like Pinocchio really becoming a little boy. But if you start really believing you're the character in a show, you're in trouble.