Whenever a celebrity dies, there’s a ton of media hoopla. Like most people, I’m reminded about life’s brevity and saddened by the loss of a unique and irreplaceable talent. But nothing could have prepared me for the shock I got on Wednesday afternoon, when I logged onto Facebook and discovered that, at the far-too-young age of 66, Davy Jones had died that morning at his home in Florida from a massive heart attack. At the news of Davy’s death, my own heart broke into a million pieces. This wasn’t just another celebrity. This was different. This was Davy, and this was intensely personal.
You see, in my thirteenth year, Davy Jones was the Great Love of My Life. Like a million other teenage girls in those days, I was going to be the one to grow up and marry Davy. The walls of my bedroom were papered with his face, pictures culled from album covers and from TV Guide, 16, and Tiger Beat magazines. Every week, I was glued to the television when The Monkees came on the old black-and-white TV set. My friend Jean and I played our Monkees records until we wore them out. We begged her mother to take us to see them when they played a concert in Boston (she didn’t). And everything in my young girl’s world was colored with Davy.
I can’t tell you what I ate for lunch three days ago, but I can tell you, without any hesitation, that David Thomas Jones was born on December 30, 1945, in Manchester, England, to Thomas and Doris Jones. He had three sisters named Hazel, Beryl, and Lynda. His mother died when he was young, and Davy, who loved horses and was five-foot-three with his boots on, left home as a teenager to become a jockey. Instead, he ended up on the London stage, playing the Artful Dodger in a stage production of Oliver!, a role he reprised on Broadway. In his late teens, he released an album of show tunes, and around the age of twenty he was the first actor chosen to play a member of the fictional rock band known as The Monkees.
The Monkees have gotten a bad rap over the years, a reputation I believe is undeserved. They were what they were, a bunch of kids who sang wonderful, catchy little pop songs, written by some of the legends of the music industry: Neil Sedaka and Carol Bayer, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Neil Diamond, Harry Nilssen, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, John Stewart, and Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. More than four decades later, the music is still as fresh and wonderful as it was back then. Those songs have stood the test of time, and the four young boys who sang them have never received the respect they were due.
Eventually, inevitably, as time passed, my passion for Davy faded. By the time I was fourteen, the show had been cancelled and the boys were no longer making weekly visits to my living room. The records were still being released, but with increasingly lengthy interims between releases. The day came when I took down Davy’s pictures and replaced him with Bobby Sherman. Bobby was more of a standard schoolgirl crush, a mild flirtation, nothing in comparison to the passionate love affair I’d had with Davy.
Time marched on, and eventually Bobby Sherman left my walls, too. I moved on to real boys. I got married, divorced, remarried, had a couple of kids. Life happened. When I was 30, I saw the Monkees live at the Cumberland County Civic Center during one of their reunion tours. But the magic was gone. I was too old to still be in love with Davy, and too young to appreciate the significance of what it had all meant. Too caught up in real life to recognize and appreciate that, for a brief couple of hours, Davy Jones and I were in the same place at the same time, breathing the same air.
But he always held a special place in my heart. My husband has probably heard me say a hundred times over the years, with warmth and nostalgia, “Aw, it’s Davy,” whenever I heard our local oldies station playing “Daydream Believer” (which, regrettably, seems to be the only Monkees song they ever play). I’d listen to the song with a sort of reverence, and when it was over, I’d put Davy back where he belonged, in the distant reaches of my memory.
It was all so very long ago. So why, after so many years, did his death feel like I’d taken a hot poker to the heart? Why was it that, 45 years after the fact, when I heard he’d died, this 57-year-old grandmother cried for four days straight?
I had to look for an explanation, so I took a journey into my past, via YouTube, where I watched clips from that silly, silly TV show, listened to the old songs (I still remember all the words to all of them), and spent hours looking at videos and photos of Davy. I found the screen test he did for the TV show, and songs from the album he released pre-Monkees, which I bought at LaVerdiere’s drugstore for $2.99 in mono ($3.99 for stereo, but who cared, because most of us had portable mono record players and didn’t need stereo anyway) and played until it was no longer playable. And I was struck by a couple of things.
The first was how terribly young he was. Just a little boy really, who, at nineteen or twenty, hadn’t yet begun to grow facial hair. He emanated an incomparable sweetness, an innocence, a niceness that was irresistible. And that face! That beautiful young face. How could any thirteen-year-old girl have looked at that face and not fallen in love? I’ve never been attracted to bad boys; the boys (and men) I’ve loved were nice guys, sweet guys. I’ve been married to one of them for nearly thirty years. And Davy was one of the sweet ones.
The second revelation was that, despite all the intervening years, my feelings hadn’t changed. Despite the fact that at my advanced age, I’m old enough to be the grandmother of that sweet-faced young boy I loved when I was thirteen, when I look at him, I’m thirteen years old again, and the feelings are still there, as strong as ever.
In the annals of literature and movies, a lot has been said about men’s coming-of-age. Women’s has been largely ignored. I find this unutterably sad, and I’m not ashamed to say that Davy was my coming-of-age, the last bastion of innocence in those halcyon days when I hovered on the cusp between childhood and adolescence.
It was a different world back then. Or perhaps it was just my perception of it that was different. Halfway around the world, there was a terrible war raging. Back home, a different war raged, on the streets of Montgomery and Selma and Los Angeles. The free love generation was in full swing, and on college campuses, kids were dropping acid. Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were gunned down by madmen determined to put an end to their visions. But for those of us who lived quiet lives in small towns, untouched by this turbulence, it was an amazing and marvelous time to grow up. And for young girls like me, who were just starting to spread our wings in preparation for flying, nice boys like Davy Jones were a safe place to experiment with those wonderful but terrifying emotions we were beginning to feel. It wasn’t about sex; at thirteen, that wasn’t even on my radar. I never heard Davy referred to as the sexy one. Davy was the cute one, the sweet one, and the kind of love that young girls like me felt for him was pure and untainted by the reality that would inevitably come with growing up.
I’ve tried to explain some of this to my husband, but he doesn’t get it. He told our dinner companions on Friday night, “Laurie is freaking out over Davy Jones.” It wasn’t true. I wasn’t freaking out, I was grieving. Quietly, solitarily, and very painfully. What told me that he truly didn’t understand was when he said, from his relatively youthful fifty-one years, “The Monkees were before my time.” Nope. He didn’t get it at all. And he never will. How can I ever explain to the man I’ve loved for thirty years that, even though I was just thirteen, the love I felt for Davy was every bit as real, every bit as deep, as the love I felt for him when we got together a dozen years later? Every woman remembers her first love. For me, that first love was Davy.
I’ve tried to watch the videos of his recent performances, but I can’t watch them. It’s too painful. That’s not the Davy I’m grieving for, that 66-year-old man, with his graying hair and his slight paunch, his baggy old-man pants and his third wife, a decade younger than his eldest daughter. That’s not my Davy. My Davy will always be that sweet young boy with an angel’s face who sang songs of love and innocence in that charming British accent.
As I watched YouTube videos and news report after news report about his death, I read many comments from the public, and I was surprised by the outpouring of love and grief. In spite of the snark, the nastiness, the negativity that abounds on the internet, most of the comments I’ve read were positive. There were a few of the expected trolls, but what I discovered, as I read, was how many people are truly grieving his death. Not just the middle-aged women who were young girls during the late sixties, but people—both male and female—of all ages. I’m not alone. Everybody loved Davy. And the comment that I kept seeing, over and over again, says it all in a nutshell: a piece of my childhood just died.
Yes! That’s it, exactly. How do so many people know what’s inside my head and my heart?
Which is why on Sunday, I made a pilgrimage, driving eighty miles alone, to a deserted strip of beach at low tide, to say good-bye to Davy. With “Daydream Believer” playing on my iPod, a lump in my throat and tears blurring my vision, I pulled a quarter from my pocket and scratched these words in the wet sand:
Heaven has a new angel.
I’m not a religious person. I don’t know if there’s an afterlife. But if there is, I’d like to think that Davy is up there wearing a straw hat and a striped jacket and carrying a cane, doing one of his goofy soft-shoe routines. And if by chance heaven is real, all I can say is they’d better be taking good care of my Davy.