Backstage in South Florida: Goodbye, Davy; We Knew Ye Oh So Well

Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman shares stories of memorable rock 'n' roll encounters that took place in our local environs. This week: Reflections on the makers of our memories... 

I confess that I was reticent at first to add my comments about the passing of Davy Jones, given the fact that so much had been written already by people more eloquent than I. 

And yet, in the days since his death, I find myself unable to shake the sadness that I felt when I realized that a man who was so much a part of my youth is no longer with us. My colleagues at work made it a point to stop by my office and remark, "I bet it's a tough day for you," expressing the sentiment with perhaps a small hint of sarcasm, given that my long shaggy hair, unabashed enthusiasm for rock 'n' roll and, most prominently, my place in a certain baby boomer demographic clearly makes me partial to all thing '60s... including age and era. 

So, I laughed off their remarks while conceding my sadness, chalking it up to the fact that when I was a kid, my friends often said I looked like Peter Tork, one of Davy's Monkee colleagues.

It may seem a tenuous one, but for me it does provide a connection. Likewise, Jones was one of South Florida's own, surely a supreme compliment to our humble environs, being that he was probably well off enough to live anywhere he pleased. 

I met Jones once, in our TV station newsroom, when he visited us to plug some play he was involved with. The guy was gregarious as hell -- unpretentious, down to earth, and as friendly as you'd want an ex-Monkee to be. He posed for pictures, went around and introduced himself, and entertained all the silly comments we could toss his way. His obit included lots of quotes from Jones' Indiantown neighbors, of all of whom attested to the fact that he was a genuinely nice guy. Given my brief encounter with him, I see no reason to doubt their observations. 

That's the thing about Jones' passing. There's no need to compromise feelings about the life he led in private in comparison to his public persona. He was, by all accounts, an honorable, kind, and genuinely nice person. Sometimes, when a person dies, we tend to brush over their rough edges, their indiscretions, and focus only on the good they did. In Jones' case, there's no need to overlook any aspect of his personality. That in itself, speaks volumes. 

So now, as I deal with my sorrow, I find myself humming one of his signature songs, "Daydream Believer," and emphasizing the lyric that I think I need to hear. "Cheer up, sleepy Jean/What can it mean?" Funny how such a frivolous song can echo with such meaning. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I once met the song's author, the late singer/songwriter John Stewart (for all you unawares, I'm not speaking of the TV personality who bears a similar name). Stewart's legacy extended far beyond that particular song, however; he was a brilliant artist with an Americana pedigree long before the term Americana reaped any popularity. I remember meeting him once backstage at a downtown Miami concert where he was the supporting act for Neil Young. Barely able to control my enthusiasm, I said to him, "I'm a big fan of yours, Mr. Stewart. But I'm sure you hear that quite a bit." 

"No, actually, I don't," he replied, and the tragedy of that honest retort has always stayed with me. 

The last time I interviewed Stewart, he was taking my call while making an exchange at an Office Depot. Clearly, this was a guy who was markedly down to earth and still astute enough to answer every question. Consequently, when he passed away a couple of years back, it hit me hard too.

I've had several losses in the last couple of years -- my mother; my best friend, Rob Noble; and this past December, my other best friend, my beloved dog Britany at the ripe old age of 15. In the weeks and months that have passed, my grief only seems to magnify, not subside. 

Indeed, I'm sure those who cynically question how I can feel so devastated by the loss of a dog will also think there's something wrong in the way I'm so saddened by the loss of a Monkee. I would only say this -- before telling them to bugger off -- when one gets to a certain age, the specter of mortality hangs like a pall over one's existence. The loss of those things so closely tied to youth and memories and coming of age can't be shrugged off like lost pocket change residing in the bowels of the office soda machine. 

I doubt that there's anyone in my age group who has moved on from John Lennon's murder or the passing of George Harrison or, for that matter, the all-too-young demise of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison. For my generation, it's a matter of reckoning. The grief resides not only in the loss of music and its affirmative power and presence but also in the indelible influence these icons exerted over our lives. It's about the promise that they'd lead us further into a world of Woodstock-like utopia, where everything was possible, where idealism and euphoria knew no boundaries and where there would always be a safe haven for those who'd want to grow our locks long and worship at the altar of rock 'n' roll forever. 

I grieve for Davy Jones, just like I grieve for many things that I've lost along with my youth. I grieve for a nation hamstrung by hostility and cynicism, where name-calling and short-sided principles take precedence over logic and civility. I grieve for the fact that some distorted notion of political incorrectness blinds us to the threats from abroad, where rogue nations can get away with killing and maiming and the threat of a new holocaust is lost on those too ignorant to learn the lessons of the past. And I grieve for the loss of a good man like Davy Jones, who brought more to this world in terms of happiness than all the politicos, pundits, and pretenders can ever possibly muster. 

Yes, I was reticent to reflect, but now I'm glad I did. This may have been the most difficult column I've ever written. But in many ways, it's the easiest as well.

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Lee Zimmerman