Bears and Monkees: Jan Berenstain and Davy Jones

It is a strange feeling when figures from your childhood pass away. You can become nostalgic for your past, while also feeling time and your own age more on the shoulders.

I remember when Charles M. Schultz and Mr. Rogers passed away. I could have sworn I knew them and I had just lost two dear relatives. That is silly, of course; I didn’t know them. After reading books on both later on, I’m sure I would have been disappointed in meeting Schultz (he is not Snoopy in person, and did not listen to jazz at his house no matter how cool the soundtrack for the cartoons were), while Mr. Rogers would have been just like he is on TV. Why? Because he was just plain awesome like that.

This week we lost two other individuals that had an impact on my own young years.

Jan Berenstain

Jan Berenstain was the last of the team (with her husband Stan) that created the Berenstain Bears.  When one considers how wholesome and overly nice the world of the bears became, it is kind of funny to think that the first draft of the first book was called Freddy Bear’s Spanking.

Yes, Brother Bear would have gotten a spanking. Can you imagine???

I was always a bigger fan of the earlier works, and the more I rediscover children’s books as a parent the more I wonder if that can all be thanks to Dr. Seuss.

Dr. Seuss was the editor in the early years of Beginner Books, and he was known for working aggressively with the authors under him, challenging them and their work. P.D. Eastman, like the early Berenstain Bears books, seem to have bits and pieces of Dr. Seuss humor throughout  (I read once that Seuss was known for autographing Eastman’s books, thinking he actually deserved credit for books like Go Dog Go. Wow.).

This silly humor with a know-it-all dad is something the Berenstain Bears definitely lost when they started to become a children’s publishing powerhouse and they were taking on issues like the dentist, as compared to finding a good picnic spot.

My favorite book of the Berenstain Bears—Bears in the Night— might not even be considered a real book in the series. For one, there is no Papa Bear in the story. Yup, he is nowhere to be seen. Also, there is more than one Brother Bear in the story.  A lot more Brother Bears, which kind of makes you wonder if there is a sad hunter-related story there someplace that wasn’t published.

I remember this book fondly because it is one of the first I was able to read by myself. Now as a parent I read it to my son and we both pretend to be scared of the owl (we do things like that).

While I find a majority of their books boring and a little too formulaic (as compared to the creativity in their early work), there is a warmth and endearment to the world that the Berenstains created that a child would easily feel at home in. You know at the end everything will be okay with the family before you turn even the first page.  Everyone will learn their lessons, life will go on and you will be safe. In our fast-paced world where the news is terrifying and explosive, how could a child today not want to live in Bear Country? Security is quite a gift for children and Jan and her husband Stan gave that to children around the world.

Davy Jones

I first discovered The Monkees in the mid-80’s when MTV did a marathon of their shows. My mom was especially excited to be revisiting their music and TV shows and I think I watched every show with her. I must have been in 5th or 6th grade at that time, but I remember being captivated by their energy and friendships. They were always having fun and even while tied to a bunch of chairs by bandits, they were laughing and making jokes.

How could a young boy not want friends like that? It definitely made me reconsider all of my elementary school friendships. Seriously, someone was not living up to my new expectations.

The Monkees (well, three members of them) went on tour that summer and I went with my family to see them. While it was fun to see Mickey and Peter, it was obvious that Davy was the most at home on the stage. This is not surprising considering his theatrical background.

After the show I went on to collect a few albums (even at one point I went to an auto show to get Mickey’s autograph… I also saw the Batmobile there, which I thought was pretty neat) and I had most of the episodes on tape.

For some reason, I have always felt sorry for Davy. Did he know when he auditioned that he would forever be a Monkee and his acting/stage career would disappear? Did he know all the burden and scorn he would get  from people mocking their music or wanting something more from them musically (In other words, perform their own instruments, say something important in their songs like other rock acts of the 60’s, or write their own music)? Or was it just an acting gig that got carried away?

The time of The Monkees is long gone. No one was expecting any more music from them, nor was anyone asking for something new. But that has been true for decades now, making Davy’s passing more sad for me. Did he want to do more acting? Did he want to branch out in music? Was he satisfied?  Whatever the case, I had fun with the shows and music, and I spent a good part of last night rediscovering the tunes with my children. Even my baby daughter wanted to dance.

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