I’m not sure how many people remember their preschool years the way Rye and I can. Maybe it’s a bit unhealthy, this clinging to the past, this attachment to things that happened in life not long after we had learned to properly use a toilet. Nobody really talks anymore about what a wicked collection of Hot Wheels they had. Nobody talks about what it felt like to find a really awesome stick on the ground, one that you could drag along a fence all day long making that perfect, percussive da-da-da sound.
It’s sad, really. In many ways I felt more on top of things between the ages of two and six, than I ever have since. Probably because life was so impossibly immense, that you knew your place in it; stay close to you parents (they have the money, food, car, toys, etc.), stay away from dark areas (closets, mysterious cars), and keep your eyes open for a good stick.
It was simple. Eat the crust of the sandwich, don’t touch electrical stuff, don’t use bad words, don’t go up on the roof, and don’t mess up the pillows on the nice couch in the living room. There was little space for illusion. We were so very small, the thought of even surviving to live as long as our parents was an absurd assumption. Not because we were living in wartime or something—quite the opposite in suburban Silicon Valley (what was it called before the silicon?). It was just that life was so very big, and we were so diminutive, how could it last? Rye and I used to be absolutely certain we would be beaten up by big kids, run over by trains / cars, electrocuted, drowned, or just left somewhere accidentally before we were sixteen. Sounds morbid, but it was just kid-logic; we are small, and there are a great many large and dangerous objects around that we don’t stand a chance against. Best to be realistic.
Don’t track mud in the house, don’t fight with your sister, try to find a good stick.
Oh, and listen to The Monkees as much as you can, because they are absolutely the greatest band to ever walk the earth.
Every kid needs a soundtrack, and most kids are capable of creating their own, but a little inspiration never hurt. The Monkees were the perfect band for a kid—the tunes were catchy, the themes were innocent, and the guys in the band were likeable and unthreatening. For my best friend Rye and me The Monkees were the entirety of our rock and roll world in the preschool universe, and there was nothing better. We found them when my aunt left the first two LPs (The Monkees, and the aptly titled More of the Monkees) over at my house, and from that point on nothing but Monkee-rock ruled the soundtrack of our lives.
I was partial to “Mary, Mary” and “Sometime in the Morning,” and Rye preferred the harder edge of “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” and “Last Train To Clarksville.” We both, of course adored “Gonna Buy Me a Dog” and would roll around on the carpet in hysterics at the sheer comic brilliance of it. I don’t think we were the target demographic for The Monkees, but the art cut deep to our souls.
Rye and I spent our time running wild about the neighborhood, humming Monkees tunes, looking for good sticks, smooth rocks, and the occasional lizard, none the wiser to the fact that The Monkees, if they had ever been a real band, had splintered years earlier, and The Monkees shows we watched on television were reruns from another era. We didn’t have the concept of ‘break-up’ in our understanding yet. Why would a band as awesome and mighty as The Monkees ever break up? They lived together in a house that had a firepole, rode motorcycles, got into all manner of hijinks from week to week, and were the most kick-ass rock supergroup in the world. How could it go wrong? We hoped we could be so lucky as to grow up and live exactly like them. I once sent a handwritten letter to the fan club address on the back of the record in an effort to join. When the letter came back, I just thought they’d moved to a bigger office and forgotten to leave a forwarding address.
My favorite Monkee was Mickey. Like every young boy, I was partial to the drums, and I loved the way Mickey’s voice sounded, so smooth and thick, like there where two of him. On the show he was clearly the leader, the frontman, and also the funniest. He was zany in a charming way. The girls loved Davey Jones but his songs were crap. We always picked up the needle and tried to skip over ‘On the Day We Fall in Love’ and ‘I Wanna Be Free.’ Even at the age of six, we could identify these offenses as sentimentalist pap aimed at young girls. Mickey’s songs had edge,verve, and rock-swagger. Willingly or not, I sported a bowl-cut hairdo just like him.
Rye was partial to Peter Tork, mostly because there was a shot of him riding a motorcycle indoors during the opening of the show. Rye had a big green plastic motorcycle that we could ride (only outdoors, much to our chagrin), so whoever was on it while we were ‘playing Monkees’ was obviously Peter.
We both liked Mike Nesmith. With his skullcap and southern twang, he was a likeable Monkee, but lacked the mysterious allure of Peter, or the command of Mickey. I think it was the hat. Nobody can be taken completely seriously living in LA wearing a ski hat at all hours. When we tried out for our school’s talent show lip synching to ‘I’m A Believer,’ our friend Ray wore his navy blue toque and played his best Mike Nesmith, but we didn’t make the gig.