Not the Beatles


From 1975, in the Front Row, from left: Adele, her sister Roxanne, and me.
Back Row: All you need know is Adele’s mother is far left and mine is far right.

When I was a kid in Queens, most of my relatives lived elsewhere, namely Venezuela. Except for my cousin, Adele and her older sister, Roxanne. At the time, they were the only cousins I had in America, and for a few years they lived just across the street from us, so getting together was easy as pie, and we’d have loads of fun when we did.

In 1964, the Beatles arrived in New York. In 1965, they performed at Shea Stadium. I swear Adele had once told me she went to that concert. After all, Shea Stadium wasn’t that far from where we lived. So when I asked her if she’d share her memories of that day, here’s what she said:

“You must have me confused with some other, verrry hip 10 year old, because I did not go to Shea to see the Beatles. I did, however, go to Forest Hills Tennis Stadium to see The Monkees when I was 12–does that help?”

To which I responded, “Not really, but go ahead and write about seeing the Monkees.”

So in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ arrival in America, I give you what I hope will be the first in an occasional series, direct from Adele’s addled brain.

Not the Beatles

by My Cousin Adele

John, Paul, George and Ringo?  Try Michael, Davy, Peter and Micky instead.  Think Junior Varsity Beatles.  The Beatles 2.0.  I’m talking about The Monkees, the imaginary boy band/actors created by Hollywood central casting in an attempt to cash in on the sensation created by the Beatles.  (I’m not joking about the central casting angle:  Stephen Stills, a gifted musician who as a member of Crosby Stills & Nash recorded some of the classic albums of the ‘70s, auditioned for the group/TV show, but was rejected as not “cute” enough.  So instead they cast Peter Tork, with the goofy smile and room temperature IQ.)

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the Beatles invading JFK, NYC, USA, and the Universe.  My cousin Monica mistakenly recalls that I was among the lucky thousands who went to nearby Shea Stadium to see their first stadium concert.  (I can’t say “hear” them in concert because if you’ve seen any of the old footage of the screaming, hysterical female fans, you know no one heard a damn thing at that concert!)

Reluctantly, I had to inform her that the first band I saw in concert was not the Beatles at Shea Stadium but The Monkees at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium.  Night and day difference.  Sirloin vs. McD’s.  Meryl Streep vs. Kim Kardashian.

Hard to imagine, but at the height of their popularity, the phony Fab Four actually outsold the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.  And admit it:  you can still sing along to “Daydream Believer,” maybe even “Last Train to Clarksville.”  You know you can!  So could the thousands of middle-class teeny boppers who filled the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium that summer night to squeal for the bogus Beatles.

I was 12 at the time of the concert and as usual, my family had very little money; I can’t for the life of me recall how I talked my mother into letting me go or how she came up with the money for my ticket.  In the all-white, middle class Jewish neighborhood of my childhood, my Spanish-speaking, low-income Baptist family fit in like an Amish guy at Circuit City:  my father looked and sounded like Ricky Ricardo, my mother was the only working mom in the zip code, and we were all on the far side of “tan.”

Plus, I was crazy tall and wore mostly the hand-me-downs of my mother’s co-worker, a woman who favored a heavy daily dose of Marlboros and drug-store perfume, so I went through junior high smelling like a bowling alley hooker.  Yessirree, I fit right in.

Perhaps buying me a ticket to that concert so I could attend with my friends was my mother’s way of giving me a one-night visa into the land of “normal” teenagers.  She could never give me the fringed suede vest or white go-go boots that were all the rage, but just this once she could give me a single golden ticket to see my favorite “rock” band.

Here is the strangest and most notable thing about that concert, the one element that moves it from mildly embarrassing teenage moment to cultural touchstone:  the opening act for The Monkees was…..wait for it–the Jimi Hendrix Experience!  Well of course!  Why not pair the most vanilla pseudo-musicians imaginable with the acid rocker, Afro-wearing, guitar-smashing Jimi Hendrix?  (Today it would be like taking your kids to see The Wiggles, with Kanye West as the opening act!)

It was, from all accounts, a match made in hell.  Apparently The Monkees thought touring with Jimi would increase their musical cred, while Jimi’s agent thought that riding the coattails of the most popular group of the day would increase his exposure to all of America.  Neither side got what they wanted.  On that July night in 1967, Jimi had evidently had enough of teeny boppers ignoring his music while waiting for their darling Davy Jones to appear (and I can bear witness to the fact that none of us knew what to make of the intense, wildly dressed black man with the giant Afro singing something about a “foxy lady”).  He gave us “the finger,” threw down his guitar and left the stage.  Well all-righty then, bring on The Monkees!

So sadly, I never did get to see the Beatles in concert.  But years later, after The Monkees were a forgotten musical footnote and Jimi Hendrix had blown away the Woodstock crowd with his stunning electric guitar version of the “Star Spangled Banner” and gone on to a brief but brilliant career, I could say, with a smug nod to my less cool friends, “Yeah man.  I saw Jimi.”

So what are your memories of the Beatles or, ahem, the Monkees?

43 thoughts on “Not the Beatles

  1. Pingback: My Cousin Adele | Monica's Tangled Web

  2. Great post! I didn’t know that the Monkees performed live because I thought I’d heard that they really couldn’t (and didn’t) play very well until late in their careers.
    But then there’s this which gives them some cred:

    • As I recall, Mike Nesbit is the only Monkee who was actually a musician before joining the group. I think he even wrote some songs on their albums. (As for Davy, how much musical talent did it take to shake a tambourine?) Thanks for the video link! Glad you enjoyed the piece.

  3. What’s really funny is that no one else in my family (save for Monica) shares my love of writing or my sense of humor. I keep hoping I’m adopted, but my mother still won’t come clean! In any event, I’d have gladly traded the Monkees, the Dave Clark 5, the Beach Boys, and even throw in Jimi, to see the Beatles in their prime.

    Glad you enjoyed the piece.

  4. OMG your family is so talented. Wonderful writing that had me chuckling through every paragraph and had me wondering if I’d missed anything. You are very funny. I never saw the Beatles live, only live on the Ed Sullivan show. I never saw the Monkees live, but heard my sister sing a long “Hey, hey for the monkees” and “Take the last train to Clarksville” through high school. btw JH’s first gigs were in Clarksville, TN. And I never went to Woodstock where JH headlined. Wow! You saw Jimi? with the Monkees?

  5. Classic and very funny. I never did fall into the Monkeys camp, never liked Bubblegum music. By the time they were the ‘rage’ I was already on my way with ‘real’ rockers, in the divide between Beatles and Rolling Stones I fell squarely with the Stones!

    This line, Meryl Streep vs. Kim Kardashian; it is the best and perfectly encapsulates the comparison.

    Monica, thanks so much for bringing this one and your cousin.

    • Oh sure, be a musical snob, too cool for the Monkees! ;~) Can you believe the Stones are still playing? (Can you believe Keith Richards is even alive?) As for the Beatles vs. the Stones: how about Tom Hanks vs. Charlie Sheen?

      Thanks for the kind words.

      • Snobbery-r-us, tis true, but I think it might be an age thing. No I cannot believe either of those but were I to be given the chance to see them I would if for no other reason than to make myself say, ‘dang, I still look good!” 🙂

        Tom, any day and every day.

  6. That is totally cool to have seen Jimi! my friends and I would always do the monkey walk-arms around each other swining one foot than the other in front of each other. Tres fun!

    • I remember that dance! (I think “Hey, Hey we’re the Monkees” played in the background, yes?) And it’s funny that after digging up that Jimi memory, suddenly I hear him all over the tv in those Olympic ads (“‘scuse me while I touch the sky…”). I guess even great music gets recycled.

  7. I never got to see the Beatles live — though I’ve seen just about every other major rock group over the years, and the memory of that Sunday Ed Sullivan Show is forever imprinted. Hard not to get a little sentimental about it all. Love the photo, btw. It could be anyone I know.

    • What?? Next time you’re in San Diego, please stop by. I’ll give you an introduction to the Beatles and play for you my favorite Beatles songs. Shouldn’t take more than 10 hours or so, but it’ll be the best lesson of your life!

  8. Beatles. Monkeys. Jimi.
    I’ll take Jimi, man! I want to hear the Star Spangled Banner on Fire.
    Or better yet, Jim Morrison!
    Nice to meet you Adele. Love that name!
    PS. I did see Davy Jones in Duluth before he died. Still a doll. xx

    • Davy was always my least favorite Monkey: as an inveterate smartass who gets away with lots I shouldn’t just because I do it with humor, I naturally identified more with Micky. Given your blog title, I suspect you might identify with him as well. Nice to meet you too!

    • For me, I kept wavering between Davy and Micky. Davy seemed more out of reach, while Micky seemed like the kid who lived down the street, someone you could hang out with. Ironically they were both out of my reach. Go figure.

  9. What a great story, Monica, and thank you for letting your cousin tell it — it’s easy to see you’re related! Sadly, I never got to hear either the Beatles or the Monkees live and in concert — Central Illinois was hardly a hotbed for concert-goers, and I’m pretty sure my folks never would have let me out of the house at that tender age!

    • Sadly, the world has changed: when my 12 year old wanted to see the Spice Girls, did I just hand her a few bucks for bus fare and say “Off you go!”? Hell no! But I suspect Central Illinois was a pretty safe place to grow up.
      Thanks for the kind words.

    • I have to tell you, Debbie, when I first read Adele’s story I laughed so hard, tears came out of my eyes. She can sure tell a story and I’m hoping she’ll post more in the months to come. Fingers crossed!

    • Exsqueeze me? The Yankees are only third? But I guess after Mariano, Posada and Pettit, it’s okay if they fall to fifth…
      I see you’re a cartoonist – excellent! And yes your page made me smile. Are you familiar with the political cartoons of Kevin Kallagher? He’s a buddy from college and he’s made quite a fabulous life from cartooning. Who knew?

      • I will check out his work. I can do political as well as humor but keep just humor for my blog. He is lucky if made a living out of it, the syndicate’s pick up just two or three newbies a year.

  10. Lovely to meet you Adele.
    Monica, witty and good writing really runs in the family, I see. I laughed out loud. When I saw the Wiggles vs. Kanye West and Merryl Streep vs. Kim Kardashian.. analogy. Oh my, you are funny Adele.
    I love the Beatles and wished countless times as a child, I had seen them in concert. Jimmi Hendrix.. now, there’s a story..I listened to my cousin( who influenced much of my music today) who played his music, very loud and with his guitar, I felt I was at a concert. It was a treat going to his house. Daydream Believer goes off in my head every now and then, I find it is every bit as infectious as Yellow Submarine or Yesterday.
    The only concerts I can compare, are seeing U2 in Australia and Duran Duran( my childhood crush Simon Le Bon, still looks pretty good ) here in California.

    • I must say, the image of the Wiggles and Kanye West made me laugh as well! But really, seeing the Monkees with Jimi Hendrix was just like that! Glad you enjoyed the piece.

  11. I can hear the family resemblance in your cousin’s style. I can only imagine what fun it must be to hear your whole family telling stories together! Great story!

    • I’m pretty sure Monica and me got the only smartass genes in the Zerpa gene pool…..the rest of the family is swimming in the shallow end of the humor pool!

  12. Great post, Adele and Monica. Your cousin can really write, and she’s funny! I must admit to having seen neither in concert. I wasn’t born till 1962, so concerts were out of me in ’63. I was always a bit precocious, but, alas, not in the rock-concert department. Hope you have a wonderful weekend!

    Hugs from Ecuador,

    • Actually, Kathy, I think you’d enjoy meeting Adele. She, like you, has a bit of talent in turning mundane or discarded pieces of furniture into a thing of beauty. Very artistic, indeed! Maybe you’ll see us both down there in your neck of the woods!

  13. Ah New York where 10 and 12 year olds could go to rock concerts …. Actually I think the Beatle’s/Monkeys divide is the true test of if you fall in the baby boom generation or gen. X. I was a Beatle’s fan and my sister (18 months younger) was a die-hard Monkeys fanatic. We were indeed born on that ever moving line between those two generations. Here in the midwest opportunities to see those rockers (either set) were very few and the venues weren’t in the neighborhood – but in the “big city”. You had to have very hip parents to talk them in to letting you go.

    • Can you imagine? In 1967 NYC, my mother gave me 40 cents to take the bus back and forth to Forest Hills, we walked the remaining 1/2 mile or so, and were home by 10! Not too long ago, I went to see Eric Clapton in concert at the Pepsi Center, and between the tickets, parking, and a few beers, the tab came up to roughly half the cost of a Ford Fiesta! Give me the cheapo Monkees any day!

  14. Hello Monica.

    I enjoyed the story of not seeing the Beatles. I never saw them either. To be honest I am not and never have been a fan of their music.

    The Monkees had a following here in the UK and most likely if I dig deep enough they still do. Davy Jones of course was British and born if I remember correctly in Manchester.

    Your Cousin Adele’s name reminds me of the joke….
    What do you call a computer that sings? Answer…. A Dell.

    Never mid it’s a terrible joke…

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