Coming down from a weekend of marking a couple of hundred exam problems, I spent a highbrow night in watching documentaries about Britain’s Coast, its buildings and, by no means least, the Monkees. The Monkees — the 60s manufactured TV band — have always held a fascination for me: not just because of their more than a few great songs (even the Sex Pistols covered “Stepping Stone”), but because their music was manufactured by my cousin (first, once removed) Don Kirshner. Kirshner (“cousin Donny” to everyone in my family) was known as “the man with the golden ear” for all the music that he created (in a business sense), centered around the Brill Building and songwriters and performers like Neil Diamond, Carole King, and Bobby Darin. True to form as a product of this assembly-line environment, the Monkees sang on their songs but, at first, didn’t play the instruments they held on TV.
Unfortunately (in my view—blood is thicker than water), Donny is set up as the villain of the piece, described as a “rag trade salesman dressed up as a pop merchant” (which might be taken as mildly anti-semitic if the speaker weren’t also Jewish, I think). OK, he did release their second album without bothering to tell them about it, but it’s also clear that their music was never as good (and certainly not as popular) once the group themselves took over. (And none of the rest of them seemed to get along, either.) Afterwards, he created the completely fake bubblegum of the Archies and, later still, the late-night music show Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert with acts introduced with a remarkable lack of affect by Donny himself.
Nowadays, Don Kirshner’s got big plans, but I’ll always remember him for the nice Bar Mitzvah present.