Archive for October, 2012

REWIND: Haunted Toronto

- October 30th, 2012

UPDATE: Here’s the third of three Halloween blog posts I wrote in October 2009.

 

Toronto is full of haunted places — both public buildings and private homes.

Now I personally don’t believe in ghosts — yet I’ve seen two of them.

I know that sounds contradictory, but reality is contradictory.

I don’t believe in ghosts because I have yet to see a satisfactory explanation of how they can exist. But just because I don’t understand something doesn’t mean I dismiss it or that it doesn’t exist: The universe is big and complicated; I am small and simple. Many things can exist between those two co-axials.

The first ghost I saw was long ago, when I was a child, and I don’t remember the specifics. But I remember clearly and deeply in my soul that I saw a presence in my immediate vicinity that didn’t exist in the physical world.

The second ghost I saw was about a decade ago in the last house I lived in  a house I once lived in (I won’t mention the address because I’m not sure the current owners know they have a co-habitant — or would want to deal with the knowledge).

I had finished a late shift at work and was watching television in the basement TV room about 3-4 a.m.

I felt a presence to my left and looked over. By the laundry/furnace room door there was the very thin, wispy white image of an older woman hovering about a foot off the floor and looking at me — not staring, not glaring, just looking.

We made eye contact for 2-3 seconds and then, like a cat breaking interaction with a human, she scudded up the stairs and out of sight.

She was a very benign ghost, not territorial or threatening or even wanting to make her presence known. I felt rather like we had just stumbled across each other by accident, acknowledged each other’s presence and gone our separate ways.

That house was built in the 1920s and I know its history (as I know the history of every house I’ve lived in — I think that’s spiritually important, but that’s just me. I don’t think I’d ever like to live in a new house unless I built it myself) — and I know at least two women died in that house.

To balance that, I have to tell you I saw a cow wandering down Pharmacy Avenue this summer. When I got closer, it turned out to be a fat cyclist on a bicycle with saddle bags.

So I don’t know. The ghost I saw a decade ago may have been a tired, overworked brain connecting the dots between ciphers of dust in the air. I will accept that as a possibility. But I will also accept as a possibility that I saw a ghost I can’t explain. I’m old enough and humble enough to accept that I may not know every secret of the universe before I die.

(By the way, I don’t understand CDs — or even Edison’s wax-cylinder sound recordings — either, so just because I don’t understand something is no evidence it doesn’t exist.)

Back to haunted Toronto, I’m going to tell you about a few of the more prominent haunted public places around the city.

Then I’ll give you the online address of a very good site that tracks both public and private haunting locales throughout this big city.

So here we go:

Gibraltar Point Lighthouse
Hanlon’s Point, Toronto Islands

Personally, this is the place I get the spookiest vibes from in all of Toronto (although I haven’t been inside the old Don Jail —the much-ballyhooed tours this summer were shut down before they got started. A pity).

The lighthouse was built 1803-09 at the entrance to Toronto Harbour, across the water from Fort York. It is taller now than the original structure and stands inland, but only because the forces of nature have built up the land around it; originally the lighthouse was on the water’s edge.

The original lighthouse keeper was Johan Rademuller (or Radan Muller), German by birth and a former member of the royal Hanoverian (German) household in England before he emigrated to Canada to start a German school in Toronto.

The school failed (most of the German settlers — and there were a lot of them in the early 1800s, far more than English — were living up around Markham and Holland Marsh but Johan wouldn’t move out of T.O., the silly sod). Because of his royal connection, the self-impoverished Johan was appointed lighthouse keeper.

Since the lighthouse only required attending at night, Johan spent his days brewing beer and selling it to the troops stationed at Fort York, a short paddle across the harbour mouth.

Just after the New Year in 1815, that led to the death of Johan Rademuller (or Radan Muller).

Johan was murdered on Jan. 2, 1815, by three drunken soldiers from the Fort York garrison. The three were charged with murder but not convicted — because Johan’s body was never found.

I could never understand what caused the murder until a month ago — when I learned Rademuller (or Radan Muller) was watering his beer: The soldiers’ tankards developed a crust of ice in the January cold and they realized they were being shortchanged.

So enraged, drunken soldiers murdered the lighthouse keeper. They either chopped up his body and buried the pieces or threw it into the raging winter lake. I favour the latter theory.

In any case, the lighthouse keeper’s body was never found and there have been continuous reports over the last two centuries of an apparition wandering around the lighthouse, supposedly the chopped-up Rademuller ( Radan Muller) looking for his lost limbs. That’s what the official plaque on the lighthouse says (in more diplomatic language) anyway.

I’ve never seen the ghost, but in the times I’ve been around the lighthouse in recent years, I’ve been uncomfortable and only too willing to move away.

 

Keg Mansion (Now called Mansion Keg)

515 Jarvis St. at Wellesley

The Mansion has been a Toronto steak house since the 1960s, and part of The Keg restaurant chain since the 1970s, but long before that it was the fabled residence of Hart Massey, scion of the Massey-Harris/Ferguson farm implement empire and one of the richest men in Canada.

From the late 1800s to the mid 1900s, Massey Ferguson was the largest employer in Toronto, and Hart Massey was a major benefactor of the city, paying for everything from Massey Hall to the Fred Victor Mission to Hart House at U of T.

But the Massey family had many personal tragedies and many of them happened at Hart’s Jarvis Street mansion — including the death of daughter Lillian in a second-floor bedroom of the mansion. Her ghost is sometimes encountered in the second-floor women’s washroom of the Keg Mansion.

There are also reports of children’s footsteps heard running up and down stairs, but the creepiest apparition of all is the Hanging Maid. The appearance of the maid’s body is supposedly sometimes seen in the central foyer of the mansion.

She apparently committed suicide by hanging herself out of grief either because of the death of Lillian or because she was impregnated by one of the Massey boys and could not bear the shame. The latter seems more likely to me, but it’s all legend anyway.

Mackenzie House
82 Bond St.

When journalist/revolutionary William Lyon Mackenzie was allowed to return from exile in the U.S. after his failed Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837, his followers bought him a house on Toronto’s Bond Street in which to live out his final years.

Mackenzie died in 1861 of an apoplectic fit (it was a stroke, but I much prefer the “apoplectic fit” designation of the time. I want my obituary to read “apoplectic fit” not “stroke”).

Now his final home is a museum and includes one of his printing presses. Legend has it that the press is heard clattering at odd times of day and night. A piano in the parlour is also heard playing on occasion.

But a guy I knew in high school (Don Mills Collegiate, Class of 1969) was terrified of Mackenzie House because of a childhood incident. On an elementary school trip to the museum, the kid encountered a snarling, enraged female spectre on a staircase that sent him fleeing.

Granted, I was told this story in the period of the late ‘60s-early ‘70s when pharmacological enhancements often distorted reality. So it was a good stoner story, but the guy was clearly still deeply traumatized by an incident that had occurred long before he encountered mind-altering drugs.

Winter Garden/Elgin Theatre
Yonge Street north of Queen Street

The beautifully restored Winter Garden Theatre is said to be the home of a wandering spirit named Sam, once a saxophonist in the house band of the 1920s who accidentally fell into the orchestra pit and died. Sam still wanders the Winter Garden at odd hours and plays his sax … supposedly. I’ve never met anyone who actually encountered Sam and it sounds to me like a made-up story.

Old City Hall
Queen Street at Bay

I know ghosts walk the halls of the Old City Hall courthouse. I’ve heard too many stories from reporters who had to wait there alone late into the night for jury decisions.

Once the real city hall, Old City Hall has been a courthouse for more than half a century.

The stories include moans from the basement holding cells, the sound of footsteps in hallways where no one could possibly be, to strange doings in Court Room 33 (hmmm, 33 x 2 = 66) where the last two men executed in Canada were condemned to death.

There are dozens and dozens more haunted sites throughout Toronto.

One of the best ways to pursue this line of inquiry is through the Toronto and Ontario Ghosts and Hauntings Research Society website . (NOTE: This website has changed a bit since I wrote this piece but it is still a good gateway to information on spooky, creepy and unexplained things in Toronto and vicinity.)

Go to the left sidebar of their home page and call up “The City of Toronto.” You will then be able to delve into local areas with listings for both public and private haunted sites.

Good luck and good hunting. And Happy Halloween.

REWIND: Creepy Cemeteries

- October 27th, 2012

UPDATE: Here’s another Halloween blog post that originally appeared in October 2009.

I like cemeteries. I find them peaceful, calming, often quite beautiful, sometimes dramatic and always full of the stories of interesting lives.

I made a road trip in 2008 based on driving from grave to grave of once-famous people I was interested in (sort of necro celebrity stalking … but the celebs can’t run away — and most people don’t know or care who they are anymore, anyway) — Louise Brooks to Rod Serling to Mark Twain to Jayne Mansfield to Billie Burke and Flo Ziegfeld and many more in the NYC area (like Sergei Rachmaninoff, Judy Garland, Basil Rathbone and Babe Ruth), and on to Dash Hammett, Lee Marvin, John F. Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy (the last four are all in Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C. Hammett and Marvin have the simple white stone government-issued markers of ordinary soldiers).

(UPDATE: Here’s a link to a piece I did last year on The Bizarre Death and Mysterious Burial of a Hollywood Oscar Winner based on that same 2008 cemetery tour.)

Granted, cemeteries are generally full of dead people. But I truly think the creepiest aspect of cemeteries is not the dead — it’s the strange and bizarre things the living do to memorialize the dearly departed.

Here then, in no particular order, is a look at some of the weird and macabre ways the living have chosen to honour/display the dead.

hanging coffins

sagada coffins

Hanging Coffins
Sagada, Philippines

By the hundreds, coffins are wedged into caves and crevices, balanced on outcroppings and supports and suspended by ropes and vines across the limestone cliffs near the town of Saganda about 275 km north of Manila on the main Philippines island of Luzon.

Nobody knows how the practice began — or at least no one is telling — but the oldest coffins are about 200 years old and the most recent from the 1960s and 1970s.

Some coffins are made of boards nailed together, but many are carved from whole tree trunks.

One thing that is known is that it is a sign of communal respect to be placed among the hanging coffins — you have to have been married and had grandchildren to qualify.

Hanging coffins are not confined to the Philippines. Several societies in different parts of China also engaged in the hanging-coffin practice as long ago as 700 B.C.

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Capuchin Catacombs

Capuchin Catacombs
Polermo, Sicily

The Catholic Church seems to have become especially adept at displaying its dead — particularly the pious and holy — in startling, dramatic fashion.

The practice of keeping mummified corpses (in their daily clothing) in underground crypts began (at least in Palermo) when the Capuchin monastery there ran out of space in its graveyard in the 16th Century.

First to be mummified and stored in the catacombs was a monk named Silvestro of Gubbio in 1599. The last (known) catacomb interment occurred in 1922. The early mummies were all monks, but slowly it became a status thing among the rich and noble of Palermo to be mummified and displayed in full attire in the catacombs under the monastery.

About 8,000 mummies now line the walls of the Palermo catacombs.

The catacombs are very dry, but the mummifying effect was done by dehydrating the bodies over racks of heated ceramic pipes and washing the bodies in vinegar.

In later years, many bodies were embalmed using a solution with the following formula: 1 part glycerin, 1 part formalin saturated with both zinc sulfate and chloride, and 1 part of an alcohol solution saturated with salicylic acid.

One of the last bodies to be interred there was that of a two-year-old child named Rosalia Lombardo, who died in 1920. Her body was embalmed using the above formula and, as you can see from the accompanying photo, it is still remarkably preserved.

Rosalia

The practice of keeping mummies and bones in catacombs and underground vaults — known as ossuaries — was widespread in Europe. Again, it was in large part due to the unavailability of burial ground in the cities that were growing around the monasteries and churches through medieval and Renaissance times.

The bones of thousands of monks and ordinary people are collected and on display in the catacombs of Paris and the Santa Maria della Concezione crypt in Rome, as well as elsewhere.

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ossuary sculpture

Sedlec Ossuary
Near Kutna Hora, Czech Republic

As common as the practice was, the Sedlec Ossuary takes the prize for both Most Creative Display of Bones and Tackiest Disposal of Human Remains.

A Cistercian monastery and graveyard had been on the site since the 13th Century but, when a new church was built there about 1400, the monks began storing skeletons and bones in the church’s underground crypts because the burial ground was full.

The ossuary eventually held the skeletons of somewhere between 40,000 and 70,000 people.

It was a huge mess down there, so a local handyman and woodcarver, Frantisek Rint, was hired in 1870 to put the ossuary in order.

Rint began by making four great piles of bones, but his creative instincts eventually took hold and he began making elaborate, intricate designs with the bones.

chandelier

He made altars, statues, garlands, coats-of-arms, a giant chandelier (above, using at least one of every bone in the human body) and even spelled out his own name on a wall in bones.

bone signature

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Chamula
Chamula/Ben Kilgour photo

Chamula Cemetery
San Juan Chamula, Mexico

Thousands of bodies lie in the rows of raised graves surrounding the church at San Juan Chamula in Mexico’s southern Chiapis state, although formal mass has not been held in the church since the 1960s when the last full-time priest left.

A priest from a neighbouring village visits once or twice a month to perform baptisms, but for the most part local shamans occupy the church, dispensing magic potions and medical — as well as religious — advice. Chicken sacrifices and ancient healing ceremonies are par for the course around this creepy cemetery.

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Saint Louis

Saint Louis Cemetery
New Orleans, Louisiana

Three old above-ground cemeteries in New Orleans bear the name Saint Louis, but the oldest and creepiest is Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1, opened in the 1780s.

Because the water table was so close to the surface in New Orleans, the dead had to be buried in crypts and vaults above ground. It’s a very spooky place and not particularly safe to explore alone.

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cemetery cafe

cafe

Cemetery Café
Ahmedabad, India

The New Lucky Restaurant is a popular eatery and tea shop in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad in Gujarat state. It just happens to sit on top of an ancient Muslim graveyard — and eight of the old graves pop up randomly in the middle of the restaurant.

Staff and guests treat the graves with respect — although the shin-high structures occasionally trip an unsuspecting passerby — and the restaurant owner places one fresh flower on each grave every day.

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glad graveyard

Gladiator Graveyard
Ephesus, Turkey

Not much to say about this. It’s the first scientifically authenticated cemetery for warriors of the bloody Roman arenas.

Archeologists have found the remains of 67 individuals aged 20-30. Most had multiple wound markings from different episodes, so it appears these were honoured gladiators who had fought repeatedly before dying. Normally the arena dead were thrown to the lions or dumped on a midden garbage heap to rot.

gladiator skulls

glad gravestone

The graveyard was first identified by gravestones which showed drawings of the dead in their gladiatorial attire.

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sapanta

The Merry Graveyard
Sapanta, Romania

Local carpenter and woodcarver Stan Ioan Patras decided in 1930 to start telling the lives of his fellow villagers in Sapanta when he made the wooden crosses to mark their graves in the local cemetery.

Stan would carve a picture of the dead person, showing him or her at work or even illustrating how the person died. The grave marker would often be accompanied by a short poem about the person.

Stan continued his happy work through the Depression, World War II and the repression of the communist regime, filling the Sapanta cemetery with joyful, brightly painted memorials to his dead friends and neighbours.

When Stan died in 1977, his two assistants built the biggest and brightest grave marker in the cemetery for their teacher and mentor.

stan the man

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Bonus Graveyards

ship graveyard
Ship Graveyard
Nouadhibo, Mauritania, West Africa

air graveyard
Aircraft Graveyard
Davis Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona

REWIND: Five Spooky Castles

- October 25th, 2012

UPDATE: I first posted this piece just before Halloween 2009. Obviously a lot has changed over the past three years: Daylight Savings Time ends on Nov. 4 this year, for example, and Michael Ignatieff was not on the speakers list at Harbourfront’s International Festival of Authors this year. So I’ve crossed all that out.

But the creepy castles are still interesting so let’s look at them again.

We’re coming up on a very scary time of the year this weekend, kids — the end of Daylight Saving Time at 2 a.m. Sunday, when we have to figure out how to turn all the clocks on stoves, microwaves, TVs and radios back an hour.

Oh, and it’s Halloween on Saturday.

 

In honor of those two scary events, this week’s Nosy Parker blog posts will be all about ghoulish, creepy things. (I know, I know, they usually are — speaking of which, did I mention Michael Ignatieff was on stage at Harbourfront’s International Festival of Authors on Sunday?)

 

For starters, let’s look at Five Spooky Castles.

 

Orava Castle

1. Orava Castle, Slovakia

You know Orava Castle if you’ve ever seen Nosferatu, that great 1922 silent German horror film based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, directed by F.W. Murnau and starring the incredibly weird Max Schreck as Count Orlok.

Nosferatu
Max Schreck as Count Orlok in Orava Castle, above, and the real actor Max Schreck, below.
Max Schreck

(Nosferatu’s producers didn’t buy the rights to Dracula, by the way, so Stoker’s estate sued and won — driving the fledgling film production company out of business.)

Anyway, Orava Castle/Castle Orlok — built in the 13th Century on the edge of a towering cliff — has to be one of the spookiest castles ever — if only because of its association with Nosferatu.

Poenari

2. Poenari Castle, Romania

Poenari really was a lair of the living Dracula — Vlad the Impaler, Prince of Wallachia (although he invaded Transylvania a couple of time and hid out there when he was overthrown in Wallachia).

Vlad the Impaler — Vlad Tepes — was actually considered a hero of Christian Europe because his fiefdom was on the cutting edge of Europe’s war with the invading Muslim Turks.

Vlad was constantly at war with the Turks (and many of his noblemen and relatives, too, when he had time). He was a ruthless and bloodthirsty battlefield commander who struck fear in his enemies by impaling his prisoners on spikes.

Vlad Tepes
Most well-known portrait of Vlad Tepes, above, and an old woodcut print of Vlad impaling his victims, below.
vlad woodcut

After winning a battle, Vlad would supposedly impale thousands of captured Turks and their allies at a time. Vlad was even said to have banqueted on the battlefield, eating and drinking, while he watched the slow, agonizing deaths of his victims.

Poenari was one of Vlad’s fortresses, originally built by his grandfather, guarding a strategic pass. It is in ruins now but can still be visited — if you’re willing to climb the 1,480 steps to reach it.

Wikipedia calls Poenari “one of the most haunted places in the world.”

(Vlad got the nickname Dracula because “dracul” means “dragon” in Romanian. Vlad’s dad was made a member of the Holy Roman Empire’s Order of the Dragon for his defence of Europe from the Turks. So dad was Vlad Dracul. “Dracula” is the diminutive of Dracul, so sonny boy became “Little Dragon” — Dracula.)

I’m writing most of this from memory, so if I’ve got anything offbase, I’m sure Dr. Elizabeth Miller, Toronto’s own Baroness of the House of Dracula, will let me know — and I’ll correct it.

Bran Castle

3. Bran Castle, Romania

Bran bills itself as Dracula’s Castle — but it isn’t. Bran was never the residence of Vlad the Impaler, although he may have spent one night there while passing through. Still, any place that can get away with calling itself Dracula’s Castle has got to get at least a nod — even if it isn’t as authentic or scary as Poenari.

Leap castle

4. Leap Castle, Ireland

Leap Castle in County Offaly (awful things involving offal happened there) is considered Ireland’s most haunted edifice. The first part of the castle was begun about 800, so there has been a lot of time for terrible things to take place there.

Most owners of the castle have met bad ends and any number of spectres are said to haunt its halls. The worst is a small, hunched creature that scuttles through the castle, trailing the stench of death.

About 15 years ago, workers found an oubliette just outside the castle. An oubliette is a dungeon where prisoners are thrown and left to die, without food or water. This oubliette has spikes at the bottom of the pit (still there, although covered up now). Workers were said to have had to haul away three carts of human bones when they cleared out the pit.

Machecoul

5. Chateau Machecoul, France

The chateau, now in ruins, was one of the residences of Gilles de Rais, a comrade-in-arms of Joan of Arc and a monstrous serial killer, convicted of raping, torturing and murdering anywhere between 60 and 200 local children in western France in the 1430s. It is said no one can look on the ruins without being overcome by a massive, wrenching sadness. (I just made that part up, but I can’t conceive of being in that place of misery and not being overwhelmed by grief.)

Dragsholm

Bonus: Dragsholm Slot, Denmark

“Slot” is castle in Danish and, although it doesn’t look like much of a castle now, Dragsholm has a long and storied history with at least three murdered ghosts said to be in residence.

My favourite is The White Lady, the daughter of one of the castle’s noble lords who defied her father to marry a commoner. Dad supposedly locked her away in her wedding gown and left her to die.

It has been reported (and it’s too good a story for me to bust the myth) that workers installing new plumbing in the building in the 1930s found a skeleton in a white dress in a bricked-up, windowless room. Ooooooooooooooooooo.

Take This Anti-bug Gun With A Pinch Of Salt

- October 15th, 2012

bug-a-salt-gun

Inventor Lorenzo Maggiore demonstrates his Bug-A-Salt gun which kills flies and other insects with a small blast of table salt.

 

This is not a joke or a hoax.

 

That’s good news but it also says something a little disturbing about the human condition — and North American consumerism — that a toy gun designed to kill flies and other insects with a blast of table salt from a few feet away (see video) has become an overnight success and best-seller on the Internet.

bug-a-salt-drawing

Well, “overnight” success in the sense that the first production run of 22,000 Bug-A-Salt plastic fly blasters sold out in a matter of weeks online.

 

Not so “overnight” when you consider that the idea first came to California artist and surfer dude Lorenzo Maggiore, now 51, when he stuffed sand into his BB gun to try to shot flies as a teenager.

 

Maggiore fooled around with the idea off and on for the next few decades, hitting on the transition from sand to salt in the 1990s, but didn’t get serious about bringing his idea to market until 2008.

 

Maggiore then hooked up with a toy design company in China to develop a prototype and refine the design of his salt gun (which uses pump-action air compression to fire a 1-mg blast of ordinary granulated table salt).

 

 

In the process, Maggiore estimates he spent about $300,000 of his own savings and money borrowed from family, friends and by maxing out seven credit cards. A venture capitalist in San Francisco threw a little more cash in the pot and this past summer the Bug-A-Salt was offered up on the Indiegogo crowdfunding website.

 

Maggiore was only looking for $15,000 to get the first production run underway, but he ended up with more than $500,000 in new capital when thousands of people paid $30-a-pop in advance for their anti-fly guns.

 

Here’s a link to the Bug-A-Salt site on the Indiegogo platform.

 

 

And here’s a link to the Bug-A-Salt home page.

 

 

A new production run of Bug-A-Salt guns is now underway in China but you may have to wait a bit before they’re available again here.

 

In the meantime, you can decide: Do I really want to be shooting pinches of salt all over the house or is a simple fly swatter a better idea?

 

Sometimes the mousetrap — or fly swatter — just doesn’t need to be re-invented.

Fly-Killer

 

This is the illustration Robert R. Montgomery of Decatur, Illinois, submitted to the U.S. Patent Office in October 1899 as part of his application for the first formally recognized fly swatter. Montgomery was issued Patent # 640,790 for his “Fly-Killer” on Jan. 9, 1900. I’m still not sure how Montgomery was able to get a patent on a concept that’s been around as long as human beings and flies have occupied the same living space.

When Monkees Go Bad

- October 8th, 2012

Monkees-still

 

That Michael Nesmith is some kidder.

 

Really.

 

The 1960s TV Monkee — the one with the wool toque — is a Facebook “friend” of mine, has been for years.

mike-nesmithnesmith-now

Michael Nesmith, then and now

 

Not that that’s a big deal. I’m also FB “friends” with Barak Obama (since looong before he was president, I might add) and the Russian lawyer for Pussy Riot (whose Cyrillic posts I have to Google Translate) and all sorts of interesting people from the nutbar far left (more anarchistic than I am) to the nutbar far right (more libertarian than I am).

 

I know “friends” aren’t friends, but they’re all interesting people with a wide variety of different perspectives on the world.

 

I like my “friends” and hearing what they have to say — including Michael Nesmith.

 

Anyway…

 

A couple of days ago, Nesmith posted a wacky message on Facebook.

 

If I had to describe it (which I do), I would call it a midnight ramble.

 

Maybe it was or maybe it was wasn’t. You decide.

 

The Monkees, by the way, are getting together again for another reunion tour in a few weeks. Three of the four Monkees, anyway. Usually — over the past three or four decades — the “three of the four Monkees” have been Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Davy Jones, with Mike Nesmith sitting out the dance.

the-monkees-tour-2011

Tork, Jones and Dolenz in 2011

 

With Jones having died of a heart attack on Feb. 29, 2012, the “three of the four” this time are obviously Dolenz, Tork and Nesmith.

 

The Monkees, if you don’t remember or are too young to know, were a created band, auditioned and hired to fill the roles of members of a wacky, loveable rock band on a 1960s TV music-comedy show.

 

The show (of which I was an actual fan) was on NBC from 1966-68, but the four hired actors/musicians actually morphed into a real group that became bigger, more popular and more successful than the TV show.

 

From the very beginning, the Monkees had a string of hit songs, mostly written (and often performed in the recording sessions) by the song-writing team of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart.

 

Last Train To Clarksville, I’m A Believer, Daydream Believer and a few more Monkees songs were No. 1 on pop music charts around the world. They were even more popular in Canada than the U.S., with (I’m not Your) Stepping Stone and Pleasant Valley Sunday hitting No. 1 in Canada while topping out lower down the charts in the U.S.

 

It was a wild, wacky and rather fiery ride — almost like a surrealistic TV show — that was cancelled by NBC in 1968 and in real life in 1971 when the Monkees — the group — called it quits as a performing act.

 

You have to understand that pop culture in the 1960s — including television — was not as controlled and programmed as it is today. Everybody knew the old model was broken but nobody knew exactly what the new model was — so there was an incredible amount of leeway and experimentation allowed.

Zappa-Nesmith-grab

Michael Nesmith as Frank Zappa and Frank Zappa as Mike Nesmith on a 1968 episode of The Monkees

 

Frank Zappa, for example, was a guest on the TV show and in the 1968 Monkees movie Head (along with boxer Sonny Liston, stripper Carol Doda and a strange collection of other celebs). And Jimi Hendrix was the opening act for a Monkees tour in 1967 (although he quit mid-tour because the teenie-bopper Monkees fans kept shouting “Foxy Davy” on the chorus of Hendrix’s Foxy Lady).

hendrix-monkees-opening

Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork listen to Jimi Hendrix early in the 1967 tour

 

A few years later, Dolenz and Jones teamed up with Boyce and Hart for a while, then Dolenz, Jones and Tork went out on tour as the Monkees again in the late ’80s (tied to the group’s 20th anniversary and the awarding of their Hollywood star).

 

In 1996, all four Monkees regrouped for a 30th anniversary recap — but Nesmith pulled a Hendrix and walked out halfway through the tour.

 

Last year Dolenz, Jones and Tork headed out again for a successful 45th anniversary tour.

 

And then, in February, Davy Jones died of a massive heart attack while tending his  stable of race horses in Florida.

 

But Jones’ death brought Nesmith back into the fold and the three remaining Monkees — Dolenz, Tork and Nesmith — are now preparing to head out on a short tour starting Nov. 8 in Escondido, California, and ending Dec. 2 in New York City (with a few more casino/resort dates lined up in March 2013). They’ll be in Buffalo on Nov. 18 if anyone in southern Ontario wants to catch the show.

 

Sooo…..

 

We’re finally up to Michael Nesmith’s wacky Facebook posting from last week.

 

According to Nesmith, there’s an incipient boycott of the current Monkees tour brewing — unless actor Kevin Spacey is allowed to sing Daydream Believer “as a tribute to Davy.”

kevin-spacey-singing

It’s a joke, of course, a publicity stunt, a whatever-you-want-call-it into which Nesmith has dragged his pal Spacey. Or is it?

 

It really doesn’t matter. The Facebook post stirred up a buzz — on social media if not in the mainstream media. I didn’t know the Monkees were going out on tour again before Nesmith posted his message and you probably didn’t either. Now we do. (And my bet is Spacey will show up to sing Daydream Believer for at least one show on the November tour.)

 

Here’s with Nesmith wrote. It’s worth a read:

 

OK now this is getting out of hand — or maybe out of control — or something.

Apparently there is a fan group — Monkees fans — who have formed a large contingent to boycott the upcoming tour unless and until we invite Kevin Spacey to sing ‘Daydream Believer’ as a tribute to Davy.

Now, I like Kevin. He is a close friend that calls all the time, at least he says he is Kevin Spacey, and we talk a lot, but there are too many things that are just plain wrong with this, if I may be so bold as to scold.

First Micky and Peter and I are in rehearsals now and working very hard to put together a great show that includes a solution to what to do about ‘Daydream Believer.’ We have some very good ideas, and we think they will work out well.

None of them include having Kevin sing, and as good a friend as he is — he calls all the time, really, like at 3 a.m. and so forth — I just can’t agree to this.

Yes, I think David would like the Bobby Darin connection, and, yes, Kevin is a good singer, a really fantastic impressionist, but he is waaay too old, and he cannot, as far as I know do the Davy dance. Not that he would ever need to, but I don’t think he can do it.

I mean, he limped a little in ‘Usual Suspects’ — but that is a very long way from the Davy dance — a really, very, very long way.

And now these so-called ‘fans,’ as they call themselves, want to boycott this concert tour unless and until we invite Kevin to sing ‘Daydream Believer’ at the end of the show.

I am beside myself with worry over this, and don’t know what to do. To have such a revolution among people who should know better and who have never even talked to Kevin as I have, sometimes for hours and hours when he was thinking about maybe leaving show biz, just makes me so sad and confused.

But for you ‘Spacey Cadets,’ as I will now call you disparagingly, Peter and Micky and I have got this whole Daydream Believer thing right at the top of our list of things to bring to the concert in the best and right way. It is important to us, and we don’t intend to mess around with this. There are times when the Monkees just have to get serious and this is certainly one of them.

So, pushing us around, and making the three of us have agonizing conversations in the rehearsal studio, and sometimes during meals, even, is just not helping at all.

Please stop — and please do not boycott the shows, and please do not poison anyone else into boycotting the shows. I am asking nicely because I just don’t know what else to do.

These shows are going to be so much fun, and will represent the whole Monkees part of our lives so well, that you just don’t want to miss them. (Micky and Peter are sounding better than ever, BTW).

 

BTW, even though Davy Jones was the designated “cute” front man/lead singer on the TV show, Micky Dolenz sang lead on most of the hits — except Daydream Believer, of course — and is the real “voice” of the Monkees. So their sound is pretty much intact — apart from the occasional age-related quaver.