Life, some say, is a series of binary choices, the outcomes of which somehow reveal what we’re like as people. Betty or Veronica? John Lennon or Paul McCartney? The Beatles or the Rolling Stones?
The Beatles or the Monkees?
Of course, the correct answer is the Beatles and the Monkees. The Monkees may have been a TV invention created to capitalize on the success of the four Liverpudlians, but the two bands knew and respected each other. They were both part of that rarified, exciting, scary world of extreme fame. And, in their different ways, they each created some pretty good music.
Which is why it’s nice that there will be a Monkees tribute Monday as part of the holiday weekend’s big Beatles fest at National Harbor, Abbey Road on the River. A Beatles tribute band called the Blue Meanies will do the honors, and sitting in with them will be David Alexander, a multi-instrumentalist who toured with both Davy Jones and Mickey Dolenz and will soon go on the road with the remaining Monkees.
“The funny thing is, I was a Monkees fan as a little kid before I knew about the Beatles,” David, 47, told me from Lynn, Mass. “Since I learned about the Beatles around age 14, they were it. When I first started hanging out with Davy, we would just spend our time singing Beatles songs together. That goes for Mickey, too.”
In 1993 David was the musical director for a national touring play called “The Real Live Brady Bunch,” which brought scripts from the old TV show to life on stage. Davy Jones played himself in one famous episode. (Marcia: “But I promised my whole school he’d sing at our prom!”) Two years later Jones asked David to be in his band.
“He was a really stand-up guy,” David said. “He was a big part of my life, treated me like a father, a brother, a best friend.”
David later joined Mickey’s band, which Davy wasn’t too happy about, though the two had reconciled when Davy died in February.
Of course, the point of Abbey Road on the River is the Beatles, the best band there ever was, right?
Bruce Spizer is a New Orleans tax accountant who has immersed himself in Beatles lore and written numerous books on the band. He’ll be delivering two lectures at the festival, one Saturday on the rise of the band in England and one Sunday on how Beatlemania overtook America, a chain of events so unlikely that Bruce still marvels at it.
“If I had written the book as a work of fiction nobody would believe it,” he said. And Washington figures in the creation myth, since it was the site of the band’s first live U.S. concert, Feb. 11, 1964, at the Washington Coliseum.
Bruce called me from a bus in Liverpool, where he was attending International Beatles Week, just one of the many Beatle-centric events that draw fans from around the world.
“It’s funny go to a convention and see a band from Japan and they’re on stage and their English sounds pretty good,” Bruce said. “Then they walk off stage, and when you say how much you enjoyed them, they look at you with a blank face because they don’t speak any English.”
That might describe the members of the Beatrips, a band from Kyoto appearing this weekend. I interviewed them through e-mail, sending questions to a Japanese fan who translated.
Takao “Batty” Kawabata — the band’s “Paul” — always loved Beatles music, but it wasn’t until he saw a Beatles tribute band in Tokyo that he thought he could play it professionally. “I wanted to be and I believed to be,” he wrote, which may not be perfect English but pretty much says it.
Takayuki “Andy” Hojo (“George”) said he likes performing in the United States. “In Japan, we must work hard to excite the audience,” he wrote. “They don’t excite like the American audience.”
They agreed that the hardest part of the job is pronouncing the lyrics. “In fact, I don’t understand most of the meaning of the lyrics,” Andy wrote. But he followed that up with an emoticon — :-p — so maybe he was joking in a droll, George-like way.
I had to ask about the biggest link between the Beatles and Japan, the person who either gave John Lennon the love and inspiration he so desperately needed or drove a wedge into the world’s greatest rock band. Well, Beatrips, what do you think of Yoko Ono?
“In Japan, she is well known as a wife of John Lennon,” Batty wrote. “I take great pride in her.”
Andy wrote: “The media [in Japan] report her very favorably. We respect her for her having had a great influence on John.”
I’d keep that to yourself this weekend, lads.
To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.