As a critic you have your beat, and that sometimes means you find yourself covering an artist in a situation that doesn’t quite track. That’s where the legendary music critic Lester Bangs found himself in the dog days of 1977, sitting with press colleagues in CBGB, listening to Peter Tork, former bassist for the Monkees. “Our attitude was best summed up by an editor/writer friend who said on the way down, ‘Look, whether he’s great or awful it’s still gonna be depressing.’ I’m not sure whether I would have to explain why or not, although I know that it probably has something to do with loss of innocence (you’ve all heard of that stuff), and the Monkees were great because everybody knew they were a bunch of shit (even though they had some great records) and nobody cared, including them.”
Here in 2019 we are sorry to hear of the passing of Tork, and want to emphasize that all those years ago Bangs gave the somewhat dimmed star his due:
He played a classical solo on piano which was really refreshing to hear in this place, and, as another friend pointed out, “harder than hell.” And, er, also for all you aging Monkees fans he winged us back to yesteryear with such never-forgottens as “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and “Take a Giant Step Outside Your Mind,” and, while they lacked the old punch without a band, you still can’t deny they’re great songs.
Bangs, as always, called it like he saw it:
One thing I’m glad to be able to say is that Peter didn’t come to pander either to Monkees nostalgia (if you don’t believe it exists in totally sick form just check out Dolenz, Jones, Boyce, and Hart sometime) or to what CBGB’s supposedly represents. In the dressing room before the show I asked him why he wanted to play there, and he said, “Because I like the atmosphere. The other guys like being up onstage with a full-scale show, and I played one country ’n’ western set with them, but I like being right down face to face with my audience. It’s like, their jokes are pre-scripted, and I’d rather have my own sense of humor for the between-song patter. This is pretty much a one-shot for me; I was booked in here by a journalist friend of mine who’s helping me do a book on the Monkees trip, and after it’s over I’m gonna go back to California and teaching. I couldn’t do this on the West Coast; CBGB’s is psychedelic.
Good for Tork — and Bangs. Neither one was afraid to take those giant steps outside of their own minds.
¶ For a look at a classified ad Tork placed in the Voice a decade later, check out this story: