It Looks Like We Made It

It feels oddly important to me that I can actually remember the first time that I saw the Monkees movie Head — not just in the sense of, “if I sit down and really think about it, I can work out where I would have been when it happened,” but as in, I can actually remember the feeling of where I was when I saw it for the first time like a sense memory.

It was the 1990s, and I was in Aberdeen, an art student who was both very much into POP as an idea and an aesthetic — of course I was, I was in my early 20s and it was the era of Britpop, who like me wasn’t into pop at that time? — and into the idea of a counter culture that commented on and hijacked the mainstream for its own ends. I had been reading Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles at the time, and following all the threads that came from that (situationists! Autocritiques! The joy of the spectacle!), and also seeing things that connected from that to other reading I was doing at the time (Lipstick Traces by Greil Marcus, and other pop-culture writing that focused on punk and rebellion; again, I was in my early 20s), so it proved to be a very surreal experience watching Head for the first time knowing nothing about it other than it starred the Monkees, and finding it to be this weird, wonderful collection of a million things that had been living in my head for awhile, disconnected.

I watched it on television, late at night. I think it was either after a night out or a party at mine — the former, I think, although I did put a video of it on after a party months later, sharing the joy — and I wasn’t prepared. I’d grown up with The Monkees, the TV show, which seemed on re-runs pretty often when I was a kid, strangely enough, and that was reason enough not just to tune in, but to record it at the time. (I did the same thing with Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, which I seem to remember was shown immediately before or after it; that one, at least, was advertised as a messy counter-culture classic.) I can remember lying on the couch while everyone else was asleep and just being amazed by what I was seeing, thinking, “This is the movie I always wanted to exist and didn’t think could.”

Thirty years later — well, almost, at least 28 — and I still think that about it; it’s a movie that I think of worryingly often, and still with no small amount of hushed awe that it was ever made, or fit so clearly and so easily into what I was thinking at the time. To this day, Head still feels like a magic trick that I can’t work out how it was done.

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