The Virtues of Being Silly

Like so many others, I was shocked this week when I heard that Davy Jones of The Monkees passed away. I was a big Monkees fan when they made their mid-80s comeback—I was glued to the TV episodes and bought several of the reissued LPs, which I played to the point of distraction during summer vacation. So while I missed the first wave of Monkeemania, I was definitely part of the second. I suspect that it is a big part of why I remain fond of 60s-era design, music, and movies (I remain convinced that TV and movie theme tunes from that time make the best ringtones!)

I haven’t thought much about that time in the last 20 years or so, but when I heard the news on Wednesday, I was immediately nostalgic and started devouring YouTube clips and news articles. It’s a little bit like being in high school again, and it’s also an opportunity to see how music memory works. Despite the fact that I haven’t heard a lot of their songs in about two decades, the tunes and the lyrics come right back.

The thing that strikes me most about the music videos online is how downright madcap a lot of them are. And of course, that makes sense since the show was meant to be zany and slapstick. “This Just Doesn’t Seem to be My Day” is a great example of both:

And for a bit of contrast, there’s “Gonna Buy Me a Dog”:

Neither of these songs are among the band’s best-known tracks, but both of them encapsulate the feeling that it’s okay to be goofy and silly, or just to do something fun. Most of us learn by the time we get to school that we’re not allowed to have fun anymore, or that we have to do it according to someone else’s rules and restrictions. I challenge you not to smile while watching “Gonna Buy Me a Dog”—and to fight the urge to go play with a bunch of puppies like you might have as a child. Most of us are terrified of looking silly, but in that same video, Micky doesn’t even remember half the words to the song and the others rib him about it. Would you make that the track you released? Probably not. The Puritan ancestors of  American culture frowned on anything that might seem even slightly frivolous or fun, and while sentiment underpins a fair chunk of our culture, I’m here to tell you this: The Monkees had it right.

Life is too short to waste it being serious all the time. Some of the time, sure. (I’m not advocating complete cultural anarchy!) But many of us are jealous of small children precisely because they know how to have fun, and a lot of us have forgotten. Kids haven’t been taught to follow everyone else’s rules yet, and the side effect of that freedom is that their imaginations regularly run wild, generating ideas that make adults just sit and stare in awe and, if we’re honest, a bit of envy. How do they pick up and carry on if they forget the words? Or make up new ones? Or take things in a completely different direction without a second thought when the first attempt or idea hits a wall?

They do it because they embrace play and fun, and it leaves them more creative and flexible than they would be if they tried to force themselves into someone else’s rules. I think it’s time to ask ourselves which rules are really worthwhile and which ones just make us miserable and drown our creativity. Which rules feel like someone put you in an uncomfortable, ill-fitting suit—and which ones are now so much a part of your life that you forgot long ago how uncomfortable they are? Which rules are just arbitrary and which ones are necessary? And what new rules—of your own making and designed to be more fun— can take their place? Maybe you want to spend some time playing with your kids in the hope not only of some quality time but of getting back in touch with your own creative child. (Reconnecting with a childhood friend can also have this effect.) Perhaps it’s time to take a few baby steps toward that dream you had as a kid but gave up as you grew up—you know, the one everyone else thought was silly, so you never admitted how crushed you were when they said so).

My challenge to you is to channel your inner child (or if you prefer, your inner Monkee) and let yourself have some fun this week. Let your imagination run wild and laughter be your best medicine. (And let me know if you do—I’d love to hear about it!)

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