Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Monkee Is a Penguin on Boynton's "Blue Moo"

Recommended Children's Book with CD

A Monkee Is a Penguin on Boynton's "Blue Moo"

(from brinkzine.com 11/12/07)

  • picture Sandra Boynton, illustrator, author, composer
  • picture
  • picture
  • picture Davy Jones

"It's great to be back on Broadway," Davy Jones tells an adoring audience before charming them with one of the most familiar singing voices in show business. "It's been more than forty years!" Actually, the one-time Tony nominee isn't back in a Broadway Theater, but in a nearby Broadway hot spot, Ellen's Stardust Diner, on West 51st Street. Typically, extremely talented young singers--all wait-er-ing for their big breaks—perform Golden Oldies and show tunes for customers feasting on burgers and shakes. But tonight, Jones is the star entertainer at a party being thrown by Workman Publishing for renowned illustrator and Grammy-nominated songwriter Sandra Boynton's marvelous new children's project "Blue Moo." (Also on hand is the impressive and lovely girl group, The Sparklets—Boynton's daughter Darcy and her high school classmates, Madeleine Lodge and Kylene D. Ramos—who sing an energetic version of the title tune and briefly back up Jones.)
Like Boynton's previous "Rhinoceros Tap," "Philadelphia Chickens," and "Dog Train," "Blue Moo" is a lavishly illustrated music book populated by her popular hippos, pigs, cows, dogs and other animals; plus an accompanying CD featuring friends, family (husband Jamie McEwan and kids Darcy, Keith, and Devon have star turns), and an incredible line-up of "A"-list stars singing and playing Boynton's clever and catchy children's songs. The Marcels are nowhere in sight for Boynton's fifties-and-sixties-flavored "Blue Moo," but she somehow managed to recruit a sparkling roster headed by, get this, Brian Wilson ("Speed Turtle" could have been a Beach Boys hit), an hilarious B.B. King ("One Shoe Blues" ranks with his classics), John Ondrasik of Five for Fighting, Patti LuPone, Steve Lawrence, Gerry Marsden and the Pacemakers, Bobby Vee, Neil Sedaka--who sings along to "Daydream Believer" with the rest of us at the party--and, of course, the man of the hour, Davy Jones.
The one-time teenage idol follows his most beloved Monkees song with "Your Personal Penguin," his contribution to the CD. Boynton, who will soon pick up a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Cartoonists Society, tells me, "When I was writing it, "I kept hearing Davy Jones singing it. When I finished, I asked my editor Suzanne [Rafer], if I should I go after him to do it." Obviously, she said yes. And then Jones—who has four daughters, two grandsons and a new granddaughter—said yes, too.
Jones says "Your Personal Penguin" has given him respect and credibility with his daughters, grandchildren, and others who weren't around for the Monkees phenomenon, as well as the elderly nuns who live across the street from him in Florida and sing it to him every time they see him. It's a potential new signature song for Jones, a seductive and sweet melody--like "Daydream Believer"--that stays in your head. He sings it with ease and care:
I like you a lot
You're funny and kind
So let me explain
What I have in mind
I want to be your personal penguin
I want to walk right by your side
I want to be your personal penguin
I want to travel with you far and wide
Wherever you go, I'll go there too
Here and there and everywhere and always with you
I want to be your personal penguin
from now on…
I'll leave Davy in mid-song and flash back several months to another bash for my pal Sandra Boynton, whose acclaimed kids books (including various board books for kids) are edited by my wife (which almost guarantees my receiving an invitation to such jolly events). Jones performed then, too, again finishing his set with "Your Personal Penguin," the one song on a CD that accompanied Boynton's board-book of that title. (It's the lone song on "Blue Moo" that had a prior life.) At the celebratory dinner afterward, I got to talk to my favorite Monkee and tell him that like so many others I was surprised that the manufactured-for-television supergroup actually turned out to be so good; that "Daydream Believer" remains one of the best songs of the era; that I really liked the innovative, anarchist Monkees' TV show with it's wild humor and pioneer "music videos"; and that I had even written about the cult movie "Head" in one of my books.
But preceding all that, I regrettably mentioned to him that I had been telling friends for four decades that I'd first seen him on "The Ed Sullivan Show" singing "Standing By a Lampost." You know how embarrassing it is when you remind somebody of a past event that you feel bonds the two of you and it turns out to be someone else you're thinking of? Well, it's a whole lot worse when it's two celebrities that you mix up. I always had avoided that humiliation until Davy gently informed me, "That wasn't me—that was Peter Noone." As I became smaller than Davy Jones, he actually sang "Standing by a Lampost" to me and then explained that I hadn't been terribly wrong. I had indeed seen him for the first time on "The Ed Sullivan Show" but nowhere near a lampost and on another night, the most special of all nights when the Beatles made their unforgettable first appearance on American television and the millions of people who were watching barely noticed the other guests.
Okay, back to the "Blue Moo" party.
Now, lots of other penguins seem to do fine
In a universe of nothing but ice
But if I could be yours
And you could be mine
Our cozy little world would be twice as nice
I want to be your personal penguin
I want to talk with you night and day
I want to be your personal penguin
I want to listen to whatever you say
Look at these wings
So perfect to hold you
I'd like to say again what I have already told you
Let me be your personal penguin
from now on...
This time I am better prepared. Early in the day, I had watched the classic "Ed Sullivan Show" that was broadcast on February 9, 1964, and there, between two appearances by the Fab Four singing five hit songs, and following Fred Kaps' "Card and Salt Shaker Trick," was the cast of "Oliver" performing "I'll Do Anything (for You)." (Perhaps this where the Beatles got the inspiration for the "From Me to You" lyrics "If There's Anything That You Want.") In the spotlight were Georgia Brown as Nancy and the cute-as-a-button teenage Davy Jones as the Artful Dodger. I tell Jones at our second meeting, following his set, that I had watched the real first time I ever saw him perform and had finally gotten things straight. He doesn't recall the gaffe that has been bugging me for months and I wish I hadn't reminded him. Wanting to change the subject, I don't know whether I should bring up the fact that when he and Georgia Brown sang together she peculiarly kept rapping him on the side of the head, as if she had Tourette's Syndrome. "For some reason," Jones tells me without prompting, "Georgia kept slapping my head. It was annoying. I don't know why she did it. Maybe it was because she was trying to get a rhythm. Or maybe it was because…there was a lot of 'smoking' in her dressing room in those days."
I don't ask him if he partook of the evil weed, but he offers, "I was only sixteen but everyone treated me like an adult, and I was always being given gin and tonics." Apparently, he did a lot of partying at Judy Garland's apartment. "I was there over a hundred times," he says. "She was high a lot. I once saw her go all the way around in a revolving door. Another time she was on stage and fell down and when she got up everyone gave her an ovation as if she'd done something special. Liza was always a little odd. Now I see her on an airplane and she's all covered up and looking like an old woman."
Getting back to that historic night in '64, I ask if he has memories of Ed Sullivan and he says the logical thing, "I was more interested in the Beatles." Before I can ask about his memories of the British foursome that was the inspiration for the Monkees (consisting of the British Jones and three Americans), Jones is mobbed by fans who tell him how much they or their mothers loved him and his songs. Between autographs, I squeeze in questions about the Monkees. "Did you guys hang out together off the set?" "Not really. We spent so many hours filming our show that afterward we went our separate ways. Eric Clapton wrote in his autobiography, 'The first time I took LSD was with the Monkees.' He said it as if he did it with all of us not just one or two, but I know Eric Clapton didn't take LSD with me." "What was it like working with Bob Rafelson before he directed 'Five Easy Pieces?'" "Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider took all the credit for the success of "The Monkees," but I had been on Broadway, Mickey Cochrane had been a kid actor on "Circus Boy" and knew all about television, and Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith were experienced musicians and knew what they were doing. We were talented. Then we made "Head," and Bert, Bob and Jack Nicholson took credit for writing it, but we all wrote it. We got only $1,000 to make 'Head!' $1,000! It's a good movie, it still holds up."
Today, Davy Jones continues to sing and does some regional musical stage productions. And, of course, Monkees fans hope for another reunion tour. His goal, however, is to return to Broadway. "Theater was so great in the 1960s, when I did 'Oliver.' There were so many huge plays with big stars. I'd love to be in something that recalls that era." What he has in mind are two plays that he has written himself, most notably a musical biography of the storied Johnnie Ray, the post-Sinatra, pre-Presley heartthrob known as the "Cry Guy." But for the time being a highlight for Davy Jones is "Your Personal Penguin," which he'll perform On November 25 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. along with several other Boynton singers on "Blue Moo" and her three previous gold-records. "When you sing for Sandra Boynton," he tells everyone at the party, "You become part of her family."
Now, lots of other penguins seem to do fine
In a universe of nothing but ice
But if I could be yours
And you could be mine
Our cozy little world would be twice as nice
I want to be (want to be) your personal penguin
I want to walk right by your side
I want to be (want to be) your personal penguin
I want to travel with you far and wide
Wherever you go, I'll go there too
Here and there and everywhere and always with you
Please may I be your personal penguin?
Imagine me your personal penguin!
I wanna be your personal penguin
from now on.
Please? Be funny, kind...

"Your Personal Penguin," words & music by Sandra Boynton ©2006 used by permission
instrumentals & Bass Hippo Michael Ford
To see the "Making of Blue Moo" go to WWW.Workman.com and click on Sandra Boynton for the link to her page. You also can find this video and Davy Jones recording "Your Personal Penguin" on YouTube.
dannypeary@aol.com

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