Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Forgotten Hits Exclusive: Our Interview With Eric Lefcowitz

Forgotten Hits is proud to present an EXCLUSIVE Interview with Eric Lefcowitz, author of a brand new Monkees book "Monkee Business: The Revolutionary Made-For-TV Band". This isn't Eric's first foray into the world of The Pre-Fab Four ... back in 1985 he published "The Monkees Tale". This time around he's got a lot more history to cover ... and offers a few more behind-the-scenes tidbits that were "self-censored" out of the original publication.

And his timing couldn't be any better ... with the recently announced 45th Anniversary Tour coming to The U.K. and The States this spring and summer, Eric's new book sits perfectly poised to become THE "must have" book on the world's all-time favorite "Made For TV" band.


FORGOTTEN HITS: I recently referred to The Monkees regrouping for their 45th Anniversary Tour as perhaps "The World's Worst-Kept Secret" ... I guess I always considered it inevitable that the guys would get back together again to cash in on this milestone anniversary ... with perhaps some extra emphasis on the phrase "cash in".

ERIC LEFCOWITZ: My take on it, first of all, is obviously its being done, in part, for the money. It’s also being done because there is public demand. This is not true of many groups that came out around the time of the Monkees. Of course, there are exceptions like the Buffalo Springfield who are touring. Incidentally, the Buffalo Springfield were great friends with the Monkees. But the Byrds, to use an example, decided to take a pass. It’s not easy to get these legacy groups together. Often it’s like herding cats.

FH: My experience over the years (I've seen various incarnations of the band at least 25 times since the show went off the air) is that there seems to be a very loyal audience for the band ... even their solo shows tend to sell out quickly. How do you think this new batch of shows will do? They've already put together a pretty full schedule over the course of a six week U.S. tour ... and this is coming right on the heels of their tour of The U.K.

EL: I'd love to say that they are always guaranteed box office ... especially in this day and age, when it’s difficult to sell tickets and legacy rock acts are disappearing. But the truth is, it’s just a fun brand. Hearing Micky belting out hits like “I’m A Believer” and “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” and Davy’s classic performance of “Daydream Believer” is usually worth the price of admission.

On a human interest level, there is also Peter’s recent throat cancer ordeal and hard-earned recovery. Peter's courage in the face of such a major health scare is also compelling this time around ... he not only battled the disease but then went straight back to performing live shows with his band, Shoe Suede Blues, within months of completing treatment. So, to answer your question, the shows will sell out in my opinion, but we’ll see. Last year a lot of great artists were playing to half-filled houses and cancelling dates. Still there’s something special about the Monkees. They’re more than a group; they’re also a TV show. It’s not like you see the Partridge Family playing the Beacon Theater in New York or the Greek in LA.

FH: Speaking of The Greek Theatre in L.A., there's already quite a buzz building about the possibility of Michael Nesmith showing up for at least one of these shows as he did back in 1986. What do you think? Will Mike once again thrill the California audience with an on-stage appearance?

EL: The rumor is, yes, Nez will make the trip. I know there’s a tendency to roll ones eyes when you hear about these one (or two) shot reunion moments but Nez answers to a different drummer.

(No pun intended, I'm sure! -- kk)

Anyway if it’s anything like when he showed up at the Greek Theater in 1986 it will be worth a plane ticket out to the West Coast. That was a truly exciting event.

FH: There always seems to be a certain amount of "drama" attached to The Monkees ... they're in sync, then they're on the outs ... it seems like they spend more time criticizing each other and NOT getting along than getting along ... one cannot help but wonder if a milestone tour like this one, most likely the last time they'll all perform together, might permanently mend some of those oft-destroyed fences.

EL: A Monkees tour always produces some drama. From 1967, when Jimi Hendrix opened for them, to 1997 when they last toured together as a foursome, there's always some intrigue. When you think about it, there aren't any other TV show casts touring, unless you include recent arrivals like Glee and American Idol. So The Monkees are a rare breed, indeed.

FH: There does seem to be a certain amount of deep down unspoken love between them, even when they're fighting amongst themselves. While I suppose they've proven over the years that they don't necessarily need each other to survive in this business, I've also got to believe that deep down in there somewhere they also recognize the fact that they're much stronger as a team. Much like The Beatles, they're really the ONLY ones who know first hand what it was like to experience the complete MANIA that surrounded them back in the day. Does it seem at all ironic that all of this is happening right after the passing of Don Kirshner, the guy who spear-headed the early success of the band?

EL: I don’t know if irony is the right word — I think sad is probably more accurate. For all that’s been written about Kirshner, there’s no denying the guy, as a promoter of great songs, was in a league by himself. I was distressed to read that he felt he had been burned by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (the same goes for the Monkees, of course). There are plenty of people from the business side of things that have made that institution and Kirshner truly earned that honor. He helped launch Bobby Darin (a member of the Hall), made the careers of Carole King and Gerry Goffin (members of the Hall) and promoted the hell out of many acts in the 1970s via his Rock Concert TV show. He had an amazing career but I feel it came to a sad end.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Micky Dolenz and Michael Nesmith each issued statements recently regarding the passing of their former mentor ... in fact, Micky's statement ran first in Forgotten Hits:

In regards to the passing of Don Kirshner ... I remember Donnie as one of the "suits" that originally came out the to West Coast from New York and would appear at some of the studio sessions. At first, I really didn't know what he did. It wasn't until years later that I realized what a profound influence he had had on the choice of material that The Monkees produced. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

-- Micky Dolenz

Sad to learn of the passing of my old adversary Don Kirshner. He was a formidable foe and I send my condolences and sympathy to his family and his many friends. Donny, where ever you are -- I want you to know I put my fist thru the wall just for dramatic effect. Apparently it worked. It is all behind us now, and we wrote what we wrote. Rest in Peace.

-- Michael Nesmith

FH: This time around your new book reveals many never-before-told, behind-the-scenes stories ... what are a couple of your favorites?

EL: Well, I avoided a lot of the personal stuff in my first Monkees biography, “The Monkees Tale.” First of all, much of it was hearsay and it really wasn’t my mission to dig up dirt back then. If anything I was hoping to rehabilitate the Monkees’ reputation. So mission accomplished, I guess. But this time through, since the story covers 45 years, I felt I had to add a few flourishes. I do find the business with Davy’s new marriage to Jessica Pacheco very interesting. She seems to have breathed new life into the guy because he’s definitely in control of his career right now. There was a lot of tabloid stuff written about their December - May marriage but, for now, it seems to have paid dividends for the guy and I’m happy for him.

And then there were artifacts that I dug up or came my way. For example, an American fan of Paul McCartney who was stalking the guy back in 1967 interviewed him on her little portable reel-to-reel player. This girl really tries to get McCartney to slag off the Monkees (being a typical Beatles fan of the time) but Paul really rises to their defense. I quote from the interview in the book. I generally find the whole Beatles / Monkees thing fascinating because from all the evidence out there the two groups became fast friends. I can’t imagine that happening today.

FH: You also share some rather remarkable revelations about Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson in your new book ... do you think they'll show up in L.A. for the show?

EL: I think Bob will probably be there. There’s a fascinating interview with Bob on the Criterion DVD of “Head” that was just released (a must see, by the way … five stars all the way). He basically says he was an a-hole and made a lot of executive decisions that were questionable. I found that refreshing. As for Bert, he was, and still is, rather reclusive and I understand he’s not well. I hope he makes it because Bert is the unsung hero of the whole Monkees story in my opinion, despite his post-Monkees abandonment of the group.

FH: Tell us about the mod / penny-cover on your new book ... it's really a rather cool cover!

EL: All credit goes to the amazing Duane Dimock. Some of your readers may be familiar with Duane (nee Ed Finn), who has been operating on the margins of Monkees collectibles since the mid-1980s. Anyway Duane had this idea about ten years ago and I was just waiting for the moment to be able to use it. Now he’s gone and made actual collectible coins with those images. That is truly something that collector’s should track down.

FH: The book has been published under your own imprint, Retrofuture. Tell us a little bit about that.

EL: Retrofuture is my publishing company. It’s not the first time I’ve published a book; that would be “Tomorrow Never Knows: The Beatles’ Last Concert”, which I wrote and published in 1987, along with the late, great photographer Jim Marshall. Today it is so much easier to publish a book. You don’t need to order 5000 copies like you had to do in the past. The trick is to make sure you hire some very talented people to design and edit the book. Fortunately I found Stephanie Thompson who is an up-and-coming designer. She did a great job. And, by the way, Forgotten Hits people, I am looking for other music books to publish, so drop a note to Retrofuture Products, PO Box 1611, Port Washington, NY, 11050, if you feel you have something interesting to share. Mostly I’m looking to re-release great music books that are out of print ... but right now I'm open to reviewing anything that has the potential to reach a music-loving audience.

FH: Thanks for taking some time to talk with Forgotten Hits today ... we really do appreciate it ... and can't wait to read the new book.

One final question: Is there anything that you'd personally like to see The Monkees do on this tour that perhaps might be a nice surprise for the audience?

EL: I’m not sure “Goin’ Down” would be a surprise but I’d like to hear Micky have a go at that. The guy still has great pipes.

FH: That he does ... we saw him last year when he opened for Peter Noone and he blew the audience away ... always one of the greatest, most under-rated singers of this era ... and his brand new CD "King For A Day" is also a very pleasant delight. Thanks again, Eric, for visiting with us today.

Interested readers can learn more about Eric's new book, "Monkee Business: The Revolutionary Made-For-TV Band" via the links supplied below. (kk)