SOMETIMES, a piece of news socks you in the gut. It may not be momentous, like Mitt Romney winning his home state by a whopping three-point margin, and it might not be entirely unexpected, like the death of Amy Winehouse. But when it happens, you stop whatever you are doing, lean back in your chair and take a deep breath. It's worth a moment of reflection.
That's what happened when I heard that Davy Jones had died of a heart attack at age 66.
I hadn't thought about the ex-Monkee in a very long time until, last month, when I caught that old Brady Bunch episode in which he croons to a flaxen-haired Marcia, "Gehl, look whut yeuve dun too mee." Watching a very young Davy train those liquid brown eyes on an undeserving Marcia made me sigh, despite my 50-year-old self.
And seeing him then made me think of my true love, Bobby Sherman, and his sweetly innocent (and somewhat marsupial) smile. I don't know if Julie loved him, but I sure did.
And then of course there was David Cassidy, the "dangerous" member of the teeny-bopper crowd who just dared you to rip that puka-shell necklace from his Adam's apple. The first time I actually came close to lusting in my heart was with Keith Partridge, although I'm not sure I realized it at the age of 8. I did know that from the looks that Susan Dey was giving him, she was definitely not his sister, unless they were living somewhere in Appalachia.
I say these things because the death of someone like an early '70s teen idol reminds me of happier times, when falling in love meant nothing more than getting someone's designer lunch box or plastering his posters all over your wall, or even cajoling your favorite aunt to take you to the Spectrum to rub shoulders with the other swooning 10-year-olds as they listened to "Easy Come, Easy Go," "Daydream Believer" and "I Think I Love You." There was no thought of adolescents' getting pregnant, anti-drug campaigns or anti-bullying messages.
True, girls did get "in trouble" and mysteriously disappeared from the seventh grade, only to emerge, a little sadder, months later. And, true, there was that group of kids you needed to steer clear of because they were hard-core drug users, and being near them might infect you (back then, kids weren't "substance abusers"; they were addicts.)
And, true again, there were probably some teens trying to navigate their way through strange feelings that "dared not speak their names," but we neither bullied them nor really wanted to hear about their inner struggles.
In those days, things were a lot less Sturm und Drang and a lot more Sonny and Cher. Children might have been a bit more sheltered than they are today, even naive, but I can't help but think that we were better off back then. Given a bit of breathing space from the encroaching reality of an omnipresent adult world, we could dream about dreamy young men who were boyish enough to pass muster with our parents, but had enough testosterone to give us a promise of spicier things to come.
Today, when I watch the young girls passing on the sidewalk below my office window in South Philly, I have to remind myself that the "Jersey Shore" look, with heavy eyeliner, melanoma tans and cigarettes dangling from fingers that months ago held jump ropes is par for the course. And when I see young men strutting their stuff in front of the "Snook-alikes," with pants that barely cover their buttocks and attitudes right out of Rahway prison (apparently "Scared Straight" is no longer available on Netflix), I understand that I have gotten, finally, old.
And when I see commercials on Nickelodeon for Bratz dolls, the kind of toy that comes with its own street corner and price list, I want to scoop up my 3-year-old nephew and tell him that any little girl who wears spandex is trouble. (And don't get me started on "Toddlers and Tiaras," a show that artfully mixes sequins with child abuse.)
And yet, there are moments of reflection in this sea of reality when I can reach back to happier times, remember when boys crooned silly songs to silly girls, and when "hooking up" meant tuning in to "Here Come the Brides."
Or daydreaming about a wonderful guy named Davy.