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.”