The Monkees found success to be a little bit frightening
Image credit: The Everett Collection
Whenever The Monkees were playing a show somewhere, the world knew about it. They couldn't step foot in a city without screaming fans, mostly dedicated women, stopping traffic, camping outside of the venue or making a rush for one of the members.
The band was made up of four men: Mike Nesmith, Davy Jones, Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz. Nesmith was the oldest out of the four. In a 1967 interview with St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nesmith said he knew exactly what the screaming fans sounded like, and often times he had trouble getting the noise out of his head.
Nesmith compared the sound of his fans to the volume of a gun going off in someone's ear.
"I wear earplugs," Nesmith said. "My doctor says that every time we give a concert, it's the same as a gun going off, only it lasts for an hour. I've lost 12 percent of my hearing."
According to the interview, The Monkees would travel with four 200-wat amps and 18 large speakers, but Nesmith said that the screaming fans would out yell any amp by almost 50 to 1. It wasn't the sound system that did the damage, it was the crowd of screaming women. "It's frightening," Nesmith said. "You step out there sometimes and wish you could go back. It's really enough to shake you. We can barely hear ourselves."
It wasn't just the sound of the shows that Nesmith and the band had to deal with, it was also the super groovy light show that accompanied them onstage. Hundreds of lights would go off behind the band, and often they would have to turn away from them.
The Monkees needed highly elaborate logistics in order for them to go on tour and to go from show-to-show unscathed by fans. On tour there were 32 people and $50,000 worth of equipment being moved between different airplanes and states. "Fame was groovy at first, but now it's kind of a drag. I just sit in my hotel room and wish I could go outside," Nesmith said.
Nesmith said he was the most shy member of The Monkees. He said he had tried many things to keep his privacy: Black out any windows, live in a fortress of a house, put on makeup, disguises and even... face putty.
"Remember how big The Beatles made it when they came to the states?" Nesmith asked in the interview. "Well, multiply by four. That's how we hit Europe."
The Beatles, however, never had their own TV show. The Monkees' fame on TV added an extra layer of swoon. The Monkees were among 437 young men who all answered an ad in Variety for "a quartet of hip, insane, folk-orientated rock n' rollers, 17 to 21, with the courage to work."
And boy, did they end up working.
When The Monkees premiered on NBC in 1965, both teens and adults experienced love at first sight, and at first listen. Their record Last Train to Clarksville had been released before The Monkees was on air, but after the show aired, it sold so fast that it shot up to No. 1 on the charts.
After their tour, Nesmith and the band went back to the studio to make a new record, and to film the series. According to Nesmith, filming The Monkees would take up to 20 hours of their day.
"Television is a vast wasteland, so we went in and said, let's waste it," Nesmith said. "Even so, I think what we do is pretty important for the kids because it takes a little edge off the pain of having to grow up. From the way they react to us, it's obvious that they have something to let out, and we're the outlet."
Nesmith said that as long as the screaming lasted, The Monkees had a big responsibility to keep providing fans with timeless music and a place to escape.