Into this scene of 1960s LA, there came into view for me an awful and enormous force besides television and its internecine dramas. It is thick, rank, and overwhelming, and it comes in the most beautiful shapes and sizes, and yet it is not a physical force. It is not gender specific or age specific. It passes through the gates of economics and social scenes unchallenged, its only credential being the necessary pulchritude. I have come to call it Celebrity Psychosis.
This force is not an effect but a cause of behavior. It is most like a pathogen, and it has many symptoms. There are those who are sometimes able to resist the malady, but if one is not inoculated by the art of being human, it is almost impossible to avoid.
Whatever character flaws may exist in an otherwise simple, sincere person, Celebrity Psychosis amplifies them by almost inconceivable orders of magnitude. Whatever beneficial or admirable qualities of thought one may have, CP hides them behind arrogance, willful pride, and a Stygian night. It is not a demon, but if it were, no fairy tale could describe its destructive power.
Still, I will tell you my tale of it, and you can laugh with me through the tears – or vice versa – as it came like a monstrous gladiator of unimaginable power into the arenas where the Monkees were performing.
When the second Monkees LP came out, I recoiled in defense and anger. Don Kirshner seemed comfortable setting the Monkees up as a scam, especially if he controlled the music, and he positioned the four of us, under our own names, as a “phenomenon” who had created the record and were on a parallel track with all the other fantastic bands of the time. We had, of course, done nothing of the sort.
I had not even heard the record. A couple of my songs were on it, but that was little comfort. It felt wrong to me – and not like in a play or a movie where something non-diegetic can be seen as “wrong,” as in “not of the world of the play.” This false band album crossed a line somewhere. At the time I wasn’t sure where, so faint had the line become on television.
I went to Bert and asked what the intent of all this was, and he said he felt it was part of the bigger picture of the show – that the show was coming to life, and we had an opportunity to set the Monkees up as a real enterprise and make music and television all under that rubric. He positioned it as all very legitimate inside the world of make-believe.
I couldn’t really argue with him, because I didn’t really know precisely what he was talking about. His was the magic of the Hollywood Mind.
The Hollywood Mind sits hidden and protected behind the curtains, wearing camouflage. The main metric for this mind’s understanding of value is popularity, as gauged through things like ticket sales that are disguised as a public mandate. In the beginning, I felt that Bert was a sincere producer, wanting his creation to explore all aspects of expression. I got the feeling he wanted the music to pour forth from the four of us just as the show poured forth from the writers, in a creative effort. I assumed he recognized that such effort might provide the public mandate. But I misunderstood, since this was before I had come to know the intricacies of the Hollywood Mind.
A public mandate is only a stone’s throw from mob rule, but the Hollywood Mind understands enough not to get in front of an angry mob. There is usually enough of a signal for the Hollywood Mind to know when to take the money and run. The Monkees and Kirshner had not quite gotten there, but Bert’s Hollywood Mind was already gathering justification from a benign public’s willingness to receive what the Monkees had to give even before it paid for it.
The Monkees were coming off several No. 1 records, but I don’t think anyone knew how many units were really being sold. The only thing sure was the power of the desire that Monkees fans had to see us live.
That the show’s creators had never thought we would actually perform live concerts went unnoticed and unremarked upon. When the opportunity arose, all the powers that were acted as if it had been part of the plan all along, but there was no preparation for it, no planning for it, and felt to me like a desperate cash grab by the execs.
No one knew whether the four of us could play as a band, but it seemed pretty simple to me. The show was about a struggling band, so if we were to actually play, we wouldn’t need to be all that good, just sincere. Playing like a garage band would suffice, and I had the notion we could pull that off easily enough. We were already structured like a band kids would put together. A couple of us could play stringed instruments, a couple of us could sing, and somehow it would come together well enough to fit with the sentiments of the show.