Thursday, February 21, 2019

“Recording Academy” Overlooks Peter Tork’s Passing: They Missed the Boat Again

As one of probably thousands of media members on the distribution list for press releases for “all things Grammy,” my inbox has been waiting for about twelve hours now. I’ve been wondering whether “News from the Recording Academy” would land, to let me know what most of America already knows, that a Baby Boomer favorite musician, Peter Tork, passed away today at the age of 77. So far, I’ve received two communiques from that august body known simply as the “Recording Academy,” neither of which referenced Tork.

The first missive arrived at 5:02 CST, “Recording Academy™ Statement RE: Fred Foster. Everyone knows Fred, right? Fred was a good fellow alright, and he had a 60-year career as a “famed producer, songwriter, and music business executive” who is credited with the “...launch of many iconic artists into the spotlight, including Kris Kristofferson, Dolly Parton, and Roy Orbison.” The release continues: “Fred will be deeply missed by many, but remembered as a pioneer within our industry. Our thoughts are with his loved ones during this difficult time.” Signed by (good ol’) Neil Portnow, President/CEO Recording Academy.

My thoughts at 5:02pm ran something akin to “Hey Neil, Peter Tork died today. Anyone run down the hall to tell you?” I must confess I pictured the former head of Casablanca Records with a cartoon balloon over his head with the caption: “Unless someone brings me something to sign, I don’t have anything left to do today.” Again, I’m miffed, and my emotions could possibly be guiding my dispirited thoughts.

But wait, there’s more! At 6:18 pm CST, there was a new e-mail in my inbox from the “Recording Academy” alright, but this time it was a “Recording Academy™ Statement RE: Dominick Argento.”

Naturally, he’s an important figure in classical music with unquestioned contributions to the music industry—no disrespect there. However, I learned only today that “Dominick was a GRAMMY® and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer recognized for creating musical masterpieces inspired by the literary works of renowned writers such as Charles Dickens, Edgar Allen Poe, and Virginia Woolf…In 2003 he was honored with the Best Classical Contemporary Composition GRAMMY for ‘Argento: Casa Guidi at the 46th Annual GRAMMY Awards®.”

Here’s the thing. Fred Foster and Dominick Argento are most deserving of recognition and remembrance in their fields, unquestionably so. But the point is that Peter Tork also deserves a statement from the Recording Academy®.

To be sure, the individuals in the made-by-TV-for-Baby Boomers group, The Monkees, may arguably not top your list of favorite singers, musicians, and none of them were (at that point, save Mike Nesmith) considered composers, at least initially. They were actors who brought personalities on paper to real-life pop music fun, the remembrance of which has endured for six decades now. The popularity of The Monkees, however, and the death of Peter Tork has spread across social media today. The notice of his passing made a real impact. The Monkees’ vocals were unique at the least and considered the very best, especially if you were an impressionable teenage girl who read “Tiger Beat,” “16 Magazine” and similar publications among those that advertised Dippity Do, Noxema, and Breck and Prell shampoos. Let’s face it, in the summers of love that were the 1960s, the eyes heard what they wanted to hear.

The Monkees, created in the clever mind of Don Kirshner, were manufactured to meet the need that Kirshner was visionary enough to see—four “zany” guys who could capture the hearts of teenage girls sufficient for them to buy their albums. Estimates are that The Monkees sold over 75,000,000 records. Their first label, of course, was Colgems, because of Don Kirshner’s relationship as director of Screen Gems’ Music Division as he’d sold his Aldon Music to Screen Gems-Columbia Music. (Those interested in the definitive book on Don Kirshner should check out Rich Podolsky’s “The Man with the Golden Ear.”)

And, cards on the table, those in the know realize exactly who it was in the studios and on their instruments, and whose voices were augmented now and again, same as virtually 90% of every other 1960s pop band in the country—manufactured for consumption. Also, as virtually everyone knows, without The Wrecking Crew, virtually every single album pressed in California for at least a decade of pop-rock would not be the hitmakers they were for the performers whose photos were all over the album covers and teen magazines.

To be fair, the musicians portraying The Monkees on TV, without much time to learn their instruments and practice together certainly did a terrific job of coming together sufficiently to perform their hits for audiences’ delight and 100% satisfaction. You could estimate that millions of approving fans who respect and regard Peter Tork have seen him over the decades, whether in the first go-round of The Monkees, or his own band, Shoe Suede Blues, or since 2012, the various configurations of Dolenz-Nesmith-Tork as whomever could work their schedules around appearing together for tours of varying lengths. Micky Dolenz, of course, was a popular regular in the “Happy Together” reunion tours, currently enjoying their 10th anniversary season.

Those at the “Recording Academy” who overlook the contribution made by Peter Tork by not noting his passing today along with two others who died have missed the boat…again.

The most recent example of missing the boat before this was their failure to include the 2016 passing of songwriter/musician/recording artist, Rob Meurer in their 2017 ‘In Memoriam’ segment, in print and on the GRAMMY® telecast. It’s like the lyricist to cowrite nearly 50 songs with Christopher Cross wasn’t important enough. I’ve stated my opinion on that topic before. But here today, the “Recording Academy” has done it again. As we say in Texas, “Y’all goofed up.”

Anyone who’s slogged through the GRAMMY® telecast the past few years has been dragged through the sea of banality and boredom that comes with pyrotechnics, yelling, and a few performers pretending they deserve to be on stage, attempting to add to the case for why various musicians are deserving of adulation, even if they’re 100% autotune and Brylcreem. Your mileage may vary. Some acts (can’t bring myself to call them musicians) you simply cannot unsee.

One might argue that The Monkees were not (originally) accomplished musicians, though Peter Tork played keyboard, guitar and banjo, but very quickly they became a genuine musical group. Their music is still in demand in concert today. So are the performances of their contemporaries, the pop-rock veterans. For example, the latest Concerts at Sea cruise currently sailing has The Buckinghams, Paul Revere’s Raiders, Joey Molland’s Badfinger, 1910 Fruitgum Company, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Peter Rivera (original singer/Rare Earth), and Danny & the Juniors.

Their genre is still wildly popular as the same group that includes The Monkees. The upcoming Flower Power Cruise is similarly packed with 60s acts who have lodged themselves well into the hearts and minds of Baby Boomers who can afford a week or two away from the office to have the opportunity to meet favorite musicians from their teenage years. It’s not just floating concerts—these artists still fill arenas, theatres, state fairs, and perform individually and in package shows.

Of Tork’s passing, fellow Monkee, Micky Dolenz (@TheMickyDolenz1), said, “There are no words right now…heart broken over the loss of my Monkee brother, Peter Tork.” Rolling Stone (@RollingStone) magazine tweeted Monkee Michael Nesmith’s words, ”I can only pray his songs reach the heights that can lift us and that our childhood lives forever—that special sparkle that was the Monkees.” Iconic songwriter Brian Wilson (@BrianWilsonLife) tweeted, “There are no words right now…heart broken over the loss of my Monkee brother, Peter Tork. #paperwork #Themonkees.”

Actor Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself) tweeted, “So sorry to hear we lost #PeterTork. The Monkees never got the respect they deserved. Their music catalogue remains one of the richest in Pop History. Thanks for being such a big part of my childhood & beyond, Pete. #RIPPeterTork”.

It would be my hope that, given the number of people who’ve posted their photos of, or with, Peter Tork on Facebook today, they’d all appreciate the “Recording Academy” doing the decent thing. Well, I guess, if Neil has a few spare minutes tomorrow, he can do the right thing. I'll be right here watching my inbox.