Last week marked the one-year anniversary of Peter Tork’s death, but thanks to some confusion on behalf of the good people running the official Foghat Facebook account, word of his demise spread all across social media like it was fresh news. This was surely baffling to Monkees fans who have been mourning him for a year, but it did provide another chance to celebrate the man who brought a hippie spirit into the band.
“If you were lucky enough to see the Monkees live over the past decade, you know being in the room with Peter Tork was one of the planet’s happiest places to be,” Rob Sheffield wrote last year shortly after Tork’s death. “He was the funniest Monkee, their Ringo, their truest hippie, always happy to pitch in with a banjo solo or a bit of his dazed flower-child wisdom.”
Tork was diagnosed with the rare tongue cancer adenoid cystic carcinoma in 2009, but he recovered and continued to play with the Monkees through the end of their 50th-anniversary tour in late 2016. He never went public with his health problems, but things felt very ominous when his bandmates Micky Dolenz and Michael Nesmith announced they were touring without him in 2018. They pinned his absence on a Lead Belly tribute album Tork was recording, but it felt like they weren’t giving the whole story.
“I’m afraid I would betray a confidence if I said any more than, ‘This is not a right time for him,’ ” Nesmith told Rolling Stone at the time. “He has his reasons. They are very private.”
In a statement, Tork attempted to put a more positive spin on the situation. “I have in general made no secret of the fact that all these recent years of Monkees-related projects, as fun as they’ve been, have taken up a lot of my time and energy,” he said. “I’m shifting gears for now, but I wish the boys well, and I’ve learned to never say never on things further down the line.”
He died almost exactly a year after that statement went out. His final shows, beyond a few quick guest appearances, were with the Monkees, but his main touring outfit during the past two decades of his life was his band Shoe Suede Blues. They played largely blues songs, but he never left the stage without breaking out a few Monkees classics. Here’s video of Tork and the band playing “Daydream Believer” at the Open Arts Stage Theater in Bordentown, New Jersey, on November 29th, 2014.
Tork didn’t sing lead on the original, but it was still one of his favorite Monkees songs. “I was on the piano and I came up with this opening lick, which I thought was just sparklingly original,” Tork told Rolling Stone in 2016. “What really makes the song work, I think, is the chord change on ‘Jean’ in ‘Cheer up sleepy Jean.’ It goes from a IV chord to a V chord to a III. That’s a very unexpected and sweet chord change. It really grabs your attention.”
The lyrics have been baffling people for decades, but Tork managed to make sense of them. “There’s the line, ‘What can it mean to a daydream believer and a homecoming queen,’” he said. “It doesn’t go right in your face, but when you think about it you figure it out. You’re like, ‘OK, the guy is in a workaday world and he’s got his head in the clouds. His girlfriend was a homecoming queen, but they’re still scratching.’ You don’t get all that until you think about it for a long time.”
The Monkees are hitting the road this spring for a U.S. tour that kicks off April 3rd at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver and wraps up April 26th at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville. The core band just consists of Nesmith and Dolenz at this point, but they pay tribute to both Tork and the late Davy Jones every single night.