On the evening of April 14, 1969 I was left alone in front of a television set. If we're being brutally honest that probably happened more often than my parents would have liked to admit, but on the other hand just look how I turned out. What I saw that particular night was so scary and inexplicable that it stayed with me…though it became so muddled as the years went by I began to wonder if I'd simply dreamed the whole thing. A supervillian or magician or mad scientist had kidnapped a quartet of rock musicians and turned them into robots. (Or had he built robot doubles to take their place while they remained in captivity? I wasn't sure.) I couldn't recall the rock group escaping and defeating their captor. I remembered something about the villain laughing as the show ended. Could the bad guy have won in the end? Surely that couldn't be right? For many years, I would remember bits of this at odd moments and wonder. Honestly, I would literally be lying awake in bed at night thinking what the hell was that?
As a teen, I wondered if this was some tv appearance by the Beatles, or if I was misremembering something from the movie Help!, but further investigation quickly proved that wrong. In my twenties, it seemed obvious that unfortunate quartet of abducted musicians must be the Monkees, and when the series aired as a marathon on cable I watched it closely. When nothing showed up matching my recollections, I became even more convinced it must all have been some kind of delusion on my part.
It was four decades after the original airing before I found out what it really was: I had seen the ill-fated NBC broadcast of 33 & 1/3 Revolutions per Monkee, a legendary fiasco of television history. I'd remembered the plot pretty accurately, as it turns out, and watching it as an adult my confusion was easily explained: it really was as strange and hallucinatory as I'd remembered it. The difference was, now I utterly loved it. That something so chaotic and undisciplined and shambolic, something so unfiltered and utterly of its moment, could have found its way onto national television is remarkable. And as I've said elsewhere, some of the music on this show is just spectacular.
More discussion of 33 & 1/3 Revolutions per Monkee can be found here and here. Here's the finale of the program, featuring the Monkees joined by The Buddy Miles Express, Paul Arnold and The Moon Express, Brian Auger, Julie Driscoll and the Trinity in a jam session. This is one of my favorite tv musical performances, even if it took forty years to realize that. Just once, almost by accident, this aired on network television: