Monkees get high and dry on sixties nostalgia

We all live in the past to an extent but some groups like the 1960s TV band sensation the Monkees take it to the extreme.

Their recent gig at the Chumash Casino proved that baby boomer nostalgia is alive and well, but we kind of knew that already. The Monkees were in fact created as an American equivalent to the British Invasion and the Beatles.

However, there’s an important difference between them and the Fab Four: the Beatles wrote their own songs and played their own instruments – quite well I might add.

The Monkees were basically the first boy band long before Marky Mark and Justin Timberlake were a gleam in anyone’s eye.

None of this really seemed to matter to the nearly sold-out crowd of mostly yuppie boomers, who came to relive their carefree, innocent and idealistic youth for a few hours. And they weren’t disappointed as the band busted out all of their big hits while scenes from their TV show illuminated a big screen behind them.

Nothing wrong with that except this “reunion” show seemed totally contrived and forced from the start. As Hal Holbrooks’s character in “Wall Street” says to Charlie Sheen: “that’s the thing about money son, it makes you do things you don’t wanna do.”

Billed as “An Evening with the Monkees, 45th Anniversary Tour” — Peter Tork, Mickey Dolenz and Davy Jones pranced around the stage, took turns singing and played an occasional instrument. They didn’t have to worry too much about the latter since there were eight other musicians to back them up. It was like Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey had a bad acid trip and found themselves in 2011 playing sixties bubble gum pop. Strange.

And they actually had three drummers on stage, including Dolenz. Really?

Other than a bass/drum heavy mix that thumped interminably drowning out guitars, keyboards and the periodic sax/trombone, overall the music overall sounded crisp and in tune. The lead guitarist looked like your dentist but played like Eddie Van Halen.

The problem wasn’t the music, it was the passion, soul and emotion behind it. Or lack thereof.

In all fairness, how do you find that deep feeling in a song you didn’t even write and mimicked on television a generation ago? But the three lads did their level best to recapture that spirit of 66.

Tork seems to have the most personality of the trio — often making fun of himself and playfully interacting with the crowd. But he was also clueless when suggesting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame come calling and that unlike some other bands already inducted, the Monkees actually play their own instruments.

If that’s the case, why do you need an 11-piece band on your tour? Plus, I can think of 20 groups without even trying who deserve a Hall of Fame spot before the Monkees.

New Bookstore in Hopewell Borough To Specialize in Works From the Sixties

New Bookstore in Hopewell Borough To Specialize in Works From the Sixties

Anne Levin

The phrase “stuck in the sixties” doesn’t usually apply to members of the Bar. But Tom Gombar, a longtime corporate lawyer who now focuses on criminal and matrimonial law, is a wistful veteran of the Woodstock era. While Mr. Gombar, a Princeton native, is hardly mired in the past, he revels in such memories as attending Woodstock in 1969 and meeting poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti at San Francisco’s City Lights bookstore a few years later.

Starting in September, Mr. Gombar will be presiding over a bookstore of his own. Dharma Bum Books, named after the novel The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac, is currently taking shape at a storefront at 45 West Broad Street in Hopewell. The store will carry works by Kerouac, Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, and other literary giants of the Beat Generation. Gombar sees the shop not as a money-maker, but rather as an antidote to big-box stores and a refuge for people who share his nostalgia for an era gone by and his love for the printed word.

“I was a literature major in college. But what do you do when it’s the sixties, the Vietnam war is going on and you’re a literature major? You have to become a lawyer,” Mr. Gombar said with a chuckle. “But books are my abiding love.”

The lanky and ebullient 60-year-old was sprawled on a sofa near the entry to the shop. Wooden shelves along the walls were awaiting their contents, which Mr. Gombar hopes will start arriving once he opens the store on weekends in August to buy books from members of the community. The store will open officially for business in September, operating Wednesdays through Sundays. On the shelves will be not only books by Mr. Gombar’s literary idols, but publications by various university presses.

“I want to make sure people have access to these books, which you can’t find at places like Barnes & Noble,” he said. “There are hundreds of university presses here and in England, and they publish wonderful books. I can get these books. I won’t have everything, but I want to focus on social commentary and current political issues. I also want to have small imprints that don’t get into the big box stores.”

A member of the Trenton-based law firm Kamensky Cohen and Associates, Mr. Gombar plans to continue his practice once the store opens. “In order to keep this place alive, I’ve got to keep working as a lawyer,” he said. “I’m not in this to make money. If I break even but create a forum for people to talk about literature and politics and world events, I will have done what I set out to do.”

Running a bookstore has long been Mr. Gombar’s dream. On a recent trip to Ecuador, he happened to meet an American professor who was operating a small book shop. “We got to talking, and he said to me, ‘If you want coffee money and a great lifestyle, open a bookstore.’ It really made me think.”

Not long after, Mr. Gombar was renting a small office on West Broad Street in Hopewell when he noticed a “For Rent” sign at a shop across the street. “I happened to be driving through and I saw the sign,” he recalled. “I had just turned 60. I said to myself, ‘If not now, when?’ I struck a deal with the realtor almost that same day.”

A graduate of Princeton High School and American University, Mr. Gombar fell in love with writing at an early age. “I know that when I read Kerouac, it changed my life,” he said. “I think he made it okay for a lot of us to be us. I’d like to have this store as a nod to Kerouac, Ginsburg, and Ferlinghetti. Some of the best times of my life were during those days.”

In the process of planning the store, Mr. Gombar and his wife Roxanne visited about 200 small bookstores to observe their operations. They have decided to use the back room for paperbacks. Children’s books are still under consideration. Books of special interest to women will be included. “Everybody who has stopped in here to see what we’re doing and express enthusiasm has been female,” Mr. Gombar said. “Not one guy! So I know we have to appeal to women.”

Instead of the usual coffee, Mr. Gombar is mulling over the idea of selling Bronx Pop, a sweet, carbonated beverage he recalls fondly. “It’s an old formula for soda. So instead of getting fried on coffee, we’ll be fried on sugar,” he said with a laugh.

Two years ago, Mr. Gombar attended the 40th reunion at Woodstock. It was disappointing. “They couldn’t recreate that sense of community,” he said. “I miss that. I don’t see that replicated in the experiences of my daughters, who are 28 and 30. They have interesting lives, but there isn’t that sense of inquiry that I remember. And the discourse in the sixties and beyond was about literature, politics, and world affairs. That isn’t the focus now.”

Opening Dharma Bum Books will allow Mr. Gombar to make use of his memories. “I’ve been running my mouth off since the sixties about the anti-intellectualism in this country,” he said. “I have to put my money where my mouth is.”