For more than 25 years, Eric Lefcowitz’s career as a self-described “pop archeologist” has taken him in unpredictable directions. His latest book, “Monkee Business: The Revolutionary Made-For-TV Band” (Retrofuture Products), is a case in point.
It’s a follow-up to his bestselling biography “The Monkees Tale,” which is only one of his eclectic projects. Would you believe he resurrected the astronaut snack Space Food Sticks? They are now sold at the Kennedy Space Center and Smithsonian.
He’s also created the U.S. Immigration History Timeline which is sold at Ellis Island, and he’s currently at work on a new protein drink called “Splashdown” which he hopes will revolutionize the beverage industry.
He also creates content for the Web site Retrofuture.com which includes an interview he conducted for The New York Times with legendary film director Stanley Kubrick.
He denies he is a “Renaissance Man,” saying, “I follow where my gut tells me to go. If people look at me crazy that usually means I’m on to something good!”
He sat down with TheImproper to discuss his new Monkees book, which comes just as the band is gearing up for another reunion tour.
IM: Tell us how your fascination with The Monkees came to be?
Lefcowitz: It began in the 1980s after the punk and new wave movements had taken hold. Suddenly, the orthodoxy of rock criticism (San Francisco psychedelic jam bands equals good; bubblegum rock equals bad) no longer seemed to be the order of the day. Fun was an accepted element in music. Well, the Monkees, if nothing else, have always been fun and the idea took hold from there. How did this band come into existence? Who pulled it off? How was it done? What did the members think? These were the questions that came to mind.
IM: There are some terrific revelations in the book; did you find that the people you approached were eager or hesitant, to reveal their intimate stories?
Lefcowitz: Oh, there’s a lot of dirt on the Monkees! Like any group I guess. But, no, I would say people were hesitant to talk. I interviewed everyone that was crucial to the making of the project—[band members] Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork, Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, as well as their two creators Burt Rafelson and Bob Schneider.
IM: Were there many stories that didn’t make the cut?
Lefcowitz: Yes there were stories. For example, I used to receive fan mail that was directed to the group and one time I received a letter addressed to one of the guys that revealed a secret night of intimacy that had been shared between them. I would never divulge what was said and which Monkee it involved. I handled it discreetly.
IM: Do you have a favorite Monkee?
Lefcowitz: I admire them all, in different ways. I very much admire Nesmith’s stubborn streak. Because without that you don’t have the band rebelling, asking to make their own music. I admire Tork’s sincerity. He’s really not a “celebrity type,” but I feel he’s a very real guy who speaks his mind. He’s more an everyman.
I’m in awe of Dolenz’s sheer talent. I maintain Micky is the most talented of the bunch, the purest entertainer. And without Davy you don’t have the Monkees. He was the essential ingredient from the get-go—the teen idol with the perfect smile.
IM: Tell us about Don Kirshner; in a recent interview on WFUV’s Sound Opinions, you said that he was a key player in the success. Did you ever meet him or talk to him? Any more observations on him?
Lefcowitz: Well, that interview (which was a good one) was taped before Kirshner passed away which is why it’s not mentioned. I only spoke to Donnie over the phone. He was pretty brassy and slightly defensive, but then, he’d been burned.
I mean he was fired at the peak of his success, selling millions of records, having every single go to No. 1. That’s a pretty rare combination of events—success and failure—on a large scale. You could detect that he was still very proud of the Monkees and still very hurt.
IM: What are you favorite songs by the group? Favorite moments?
Lefcowitz: I love the spontaneous moments on “The Monkees” TV series. Like in the second season, there’s an extended outtake scene where Nesmith keeps flubbing his lines and Micky is cracking up. Finally he gets the line out: “Save the Texas Prairie Chicken.” Just bizarre stuff like that.
As for music, I like almost everything they did as an original four-piece unit up to the movie “Head.” My favorite album is probably Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones, Ltd. There are some lovely tunes on that one.
IM: Any expectations for this upcoming tour?
Lefcowitz: Oh, I expect backstage tales of intrigue galore! Knock-down, drag-out fights, harsh words, recriminations…all that good stuff. You know, I am the group’s biographer and the more drama the better!
IM: Tell us why they’re beginning in England first.
Lefcowitz: Perhaps to ascertain the level of interest. The UK has always been the second-biggest market for the Monkees. Remember, back in 1967, the Monkees were one of the few American bands that went across the pond and made money. Mostly it was a one-way flight of US dollars to jolly old England.
IM: The book is on your own imprint, RetroFuture … tell us about the company and your goals with that?
Lefcowitz: The author has been empowered to become the publisher like never before. It takes an extra level of commitment to make sure everything is done professionally (copy-editing, design, promotion) but I feel it’s so much more satisfying to know where every copy is going. Print-on-demand and e-books have really changed the game.
IM: Tell us why The Monkees are perhaps more relevant than ever before?
Lefcowitz: The Monkees take on different meanings at different times. Back in the 1960s, they were the first signs that rock ‘n’ roll was going show up in people’s living rooms. Long hair, rock music—that was considered edgy stuff for the time.
Then in the 1980s, when MTV came to prominence, they were seen as the original video band and had a major comeback tour. In the 2000s, you could begin to see the Monkees a new way, as the original reality TV stars. In the future they will probably assume new meanings. They really are avatars, and I’m not talking about those blue people in James Cameron’s movie!