Thursday, March 01, 2012

Death of the Daydream Believer

Oh I could hide 'neath the wings of the bluebird as she sings
The six o'clock alarm would never ring
But it rings and I rise wipe the sleep out of my eyes
The shavin' razor's cold, and it stings

Cheer up, sleepy Jean, oh what can it mean
To a daydream believer and a homecoming queen?

You once thought of me as a white knight on his steed
Now you know how happy I can be
Oh, and our good times start and end without dollar one to spend
But how much baby do we really need?

The Monkees, Daydream Believer, 1967

Like many of my fellow boomers, I was shocked to hear of the death of lead singer of the Monkees, Davy Jones, yesterday. In a time where 66 is still a fairly young age at which to die, to say his death was unexpected is an understatement.

I have many fond memories of watching the Monkees on black and white television, listening to their records and singing and dancing along. In particular, I remember sitting up until 2 AM listening to WLS in Chicago (this in the days before widespread FM radio when local AM stations cut their power at sundown) playing the top 100 hits of 1967. The Monkee’s Daydream Believer featuring Davy Jones in the lead was the number one hit that year. Hurray!

At some level, Daydream Believer seemed to capture the phenomenon of the Monkees, a made-for-television band that ended up actually being musically talented and productive. After the show – and thus the band – ended, its individual members continued to produce music and appear in television shows. It was a bit of fantasy becoming reality, yet one more version of the American Dream.

Harmony in a an Unharmonious World

More importantly, Daydream Believer topped the charts amidst the angry chants of Vietnam protests, the increasingly bloody campus revolts and the still smoldering cinders of our major cities reeling from racial rioting. The Monkees provided a chance to laugh at their antics, to imitate their famed Monkee Walk down the beach, to joyfully sing relatively mindless lyrics in harmony in a world where very little harmony presented itself on a day to day basis.

Clearly there was an element of escapism, of avoidance of reality in the music of the Monkees. Yet even in the occasional social commentary which appeared in songs like Another Pleasant Valley Sunday, a critique of the soulless superficiality of life in the Stepford Villages of suburbia, there still remained an innocence, a hopefulness that refused to be drowned by the grim realities confronting America in the late 1960s.

As I found myself moved to tears this morning looking at footage of the Monkees from the 1960s, I heard echoing in the back of my mind the words of John Donne: “Don’t ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” But I think it is more than the ever-increasing sense of my own mortality I experience these days that prompted those tears. I think it is more the realization that it is not only the Daydream Believer who has died but also the dream he allowed us to dream.

A Very Different Place

America 2012 is a very different place from America 1967. The conflict of the 1960s grew out of a sense that the status quo could and must change, that a better way of being America was not only possible, it was imperative. Amidst the echoes of prophets like Edwin Starr who confronted us with the question “War…what is it good for?” there was a sense that if human beings could construct societies in one particular manner which had proven pathological, we were capable of constructing them differently in ways that would perhaps be more life-giving.

But that was a very different America.

As I near the end of my sixth decade of life, I find myself increasingly resigned to what appears to me to be an unstoppable momentum toward the devolution if not dissolution of an America I once believed in with all my heart and have gladly devoted most of my adult life serving. Like many school children of the early 1960s, I took John Kennedy on his word when he called for us to ask not what our country could do for us but rather what we could do for our country. But unlike many of my Boomer cohorts, I chose not to sell out to the lures of self-focused yuppiedom in the Reagan 80s. Kennedy’s charge to serve America continues to inform my life right into my pending retirement.

But the dreams of the 1960s were never fully realized. Indeed, that failure may well have set the stage for the nightmares of the 21st CE. What I sense today is that knowingly or not, we are gradually choosing to no longer be a single people with a common culture in a unified nation.  We see that extraction from the embrace of each other amidst the DOMA states v. the states actually marrying gay couples. We see it in the angry reactionaries seeking to deport all foreigners v. the urban cultural creative enclaves which recognize and value their contributions.

Dissolution is the unforeseen consequence of the textbook wars in Texas where ideologues have canonized Phyllis Schlaffley while demoting Thomas Jefferson from the pantheon. We see it in the defunding and demonizing of public schools even as tribal academies and charter schools are awarded public monies to indoctrinate their charges into tribal lore. And we see it in the real class war being waged in places from Florida to Wisconsin in legislatures stacked with ideologues seeking to destroy unions which protect the most vulnerable - and often demonized - workers in America.

In the same day’s news which brings the sadness of Davy Jones’ passing, CNN reports this story:

Texas is getting its own navy. Next month, the state's Department of Public Safety will deploy the first of a fleet of six gunboats on the Rio Grande, the river that forms the border between the state and Mexico, CNN affiliate WFAA-TV reports. The 34-foot-long boats, each powered by three, 300-horsepower outboard engines, will have bulletproof plating and six machine guns apiece, not unlike the river patrol boats the U.S. Navy used during the Vietnam War.

States do not need navies or armies. Those are the concerns of national governments. But that states like Texas increasingly seem determined to go their own way, often in the name of states’ rights if not sovereignty, it’s little wonder they’d feel the need for armed forces to defend their sovereign republic. What next, an Arizona Air Force?

Does the Bell Toll for Us? for U.S.?

America appears to be pulling apart at the seams and we Americans seem either incapable or unwilling to prevent that. In a mere 50 years, I wonder what we will hold in common to talk about with one another even if we wanted to.

I sense that the dream of America, so vibrant in the 1960s of my youth,  is dying. We no longer have the luxury of innocence even as media-driven escapism has been perfected into an art form, often in the guise of the former news media who today no longer inform us so much as entertain us. The fresh scrubbed, cherubic faces of Davy Jones and his fellow Monkees seem like another lifetime these days. And what lies ahead appears to be anything but hopeful.

And so I mourn this day, not just for sweet Davy, the Pied Piper of Daydreams, but for the innocence and hope he once embodied and for the America who once had the luxury of entertaining his daydreams. To paraphrase Donne, we need not ask for whom this bell tolls this day; ultimately, it tolls for us.

Rest in peace, Davy. You will be missed.

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

 If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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