This article appeared as printed below in the Austin American-Statesman on Saturday, July 27, 2013. I’ll be posting periodic newspaper and magazine articles of mine on this blog once the first-publication-rights embargo period is past.
Micky Dolenz reflects on fiction versus reality in advance of Wednesday’s Long Center concert with bandmates Nesmith and Tork
BY WES EICHENWALD – SPECIAL TO THE AMERICAN-STATESMAN
In their time, they were phenomenally successful — in 1967, they sold more records than the Beatles and Rolling Stones combined — and also were dismissed equally resoundingly by most critics and tastemakers over the age of 16. The Monkees were never a cult band who labored in obscurity — they just played one on TV — but nevertheless, they’re still kind of underappreciated. As Mike Nesmith, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork undertake a five-week-long “Midsummer’s Night with the Monkees” tour — Wednesday’s stop at the Long Center hits about the midpoint — it’s a fine time to consider the enduring appeal of this custom-engineered group. It’s been 45 years since the show was canceled, but still they come again, rapturously welcomed by a loyal multigenerational fan base as if the Summer of Love never ended.
“To me, it’s like the revival of a show,” says the ever-congenial Micky Dolenz, the self-described “wacky drummer” character — offstage, the guitar is his instrument of choice — over the phone from his L.A. home. “I’ve done a lot of musical theater over the last 20 years. I did Broadway a couple of times. I just got back last year doing ‘Hairspray’ in London, ‘Aida,’ the Elton John-Tim Rice musical, ‘Grease.’ When we get back together, it’s like the revival of ‘Cats’ or ‘Oklahoma’ with the original cast. … If there’s three of us we figure it’s the Monkees, and it happens.”
Sidebar: Micky Dolenz’s Austin roots
The Monkees’ three Texas stops — Wednesday at the Long Center, Thursday in Houston and Friday in Grand Prairie — likely hold a special resonance for two of the three band members. Longtime fans know that Mike Nesmith is a bona fide Texan, born in Houston and raised in Dallas, but they may not know that Micky Dolenz’s mother, the late actress Janelle Johnson Dolenz, was born and raised in South Austin’s Travis Heights neighborhood and studied drama at the College of Fine Arts at the University of Texas.
“I remember every Thanksgiving we had to watch the Aggies and the Longhorns,” says Dolenz. “I love Austin, it’s beautiful. Been there many times, loved it.” His mom, he added, “used to tell me about how she would go out to that swimming hole, what’s it called?”
Uh, Barton Springs? “Yeah! But when she went out there was a dirt road, and the kids would just go out there and swim and make out. It was totally off the beaten path. Of course, now it’s developed into quite a local hot spot, right?”
Academic records from UT show that Janelle Dolenz, then known as Ja Nelle Johnson, lived at 1003 Milam Place, just south of Riverside Drive and west of Interstate 35; the 1940 U.S. census also shows her at that address with her mother, grandmother and younger brother Jack. Johnson was valedictorian of her high school class at St. Mary’s Academy, a Catholic girls’ school near the present Saint Mary Cathedral (although when enrolling at UT she listed her religion as Baptist). Johnson was only 16 when she started college in the fall of 1940 and appears to have left at 18, after finishing her sophomore year in the spring of 1942. She married fellow actor George Dolenz the following year.
Before leaving Austin, Johnson performed on her own local radio show, “Janelle Sings,” an impressive accomplishment for a teenager. “She also sang with some big bands in the area, if I’m not mistaken,” Dolenz says. “And then she headed west with her mom and her brother, packed up an old Ford coupe and came out to Hollywood to be a star, and so did my dad.”
Although Janelle Dolenz appeared in a few plays and a couple of minor films, she largely gave up performing to raise her family. She died on Dec. 2, 1995, her 72nd birthday.
— Wes Eichenwald