A bearded Peter Tork, around the time of his 1977 CBGB solo set. Can we call this his “head” shot?
In 1977 The Monkees TV show was nine years in the rearview mirror, the Monkees hadn’t been active for six years, and an outfit going by the name Dolenz, Jones, Boyce & Hart had released an album a year earlier.
The post-Monkees years had not been easy for Peter Tork. He tried to start a band with his girlfriend Reine Stewart that was to be called “Peter Tork and/or Release,” but they never, ah, “released” anything (Tork says that he possesses Release demos to this day), and in 1972 he got busted for possession of hashish and did three months in an Oklahoma penitentiary. By 1975 he was a teacher at Pacific Hills School in Santa Monica.
This pic comes from the September 22, 1977 issue of Rolling Stone—the same issue that memorialized the passing of Elvis Presley
As improbable as it sounds, in 1977 Tork played a solo set at CBGB, the legendary venue catering to punk and new wave on the Bowery in Manhattan. The date was July 31, and no less a personage than Lester Bangs wrote a review of the show for the Village Voice.
Tork’s jaunty, amateurish set was all over the map. Playing some guitar but mostly piano, Tork played “Prelude #2 in C Minor” as well as a two-part invention by Johann Sebastian Bach and Elvis’ “Don’t Be Cruel” and Jimmy Cliff’s “The Harder They Come” and Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” and Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.” One of the numbers was a Russian folk tune titled “Kretchman” that I recommend a certain DM contributor adopt as his new personal anthem. He played “I’ll Spend My Life with You” off of Headquarters and “Pleasant Valley Sunday” off of Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.
This CBGB ad appeared in the Village Voice, August 1, 1977 issue
Lester Bangs quotes Tork as saying before the show, “This is pretty much a one-shot for me; I was booked in here by a journalist friend of mine who’s helping me do a book on the Monkees trip, and after it’s over I’m gonna go back to California and teaching. I couldn’t do this on the West Coast; CBGB’s is psychedelic.” (To which Bangs blandly responds “If you say so.”)
Bangs thought it was terrible, of course, but in the review Lester laid off the heavy artillery, reserving his contempt for the Dolenz/Jones combo and noting that he failed to see anyone in the audience “foaming in anguish or tearing their hearts out of their chests” (read the whole thing—we’ve included it below—it’s pretty funny). Greil Marcus did not think the review worthy of inclusion in his essential collection of the great critic’s writing Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung.
The entire set was recorded and is on YouTube, and you can listen to it right here:
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Liberace gets all avant garde and artsy fartsy on ‘The Monkees’