"Now I'm a believer": Inside Monkees drummer Micky Dolenz's FBI lawsuit

The last surviving member of the Monkees seeks his unredacted FBI file, which describes the band as "beatnik types"

By Alison Stine

Staff Writer

Published September 1, 2022 4:23PM (EDT)

Musician Micky Dolenz of The Monkees performs on stage at The Magnolia on September 18, 2021 in El Cajon, California. (Daniel Knighton/Getty Images)
Musician Micky Dolenz of The Monkees performs on stage at The Magnolia on September 18, 2021 in El Cajon, California. (Daniel Knighton/Getty Images)

The last surviving member of the Monkees, drummer and vocalist Micky Dolenz, is going up against the FBI. Dolenz, who is 77, has filed a suit against the Justice Department, seeking the release of a file the FBI kept on the rock band during the late 1960s. As The Washington Post reported, the file contains FBI agent observations of "'subliminal messages' on a screen at one of their concerts, depicting racial-equality protests and 'anti-U.S. messages on the war in Vietnam.'"

The agent, whose name is redacted in the part of the file available to the public, described the so-called subliminal messages at a Monkees concert as "left wing intervention of a political nature."

A decade ago the FBI file on the Monkees was declassified. However, the public document is heavily redacted, almost unreadably so, and Dolenz seeks the full, uncensored one. As Dolenz's attorney Mark S. Zaid told The Washington Post, "If the documents still exist, I fully expect that we will learn more about what prompted the FBI to target the Monkees or those around them." 

The Monkees were assembled by TV producers in the 1960s, hoping to capture some of the success of mod British bands like the Beatles. The redacted FBI file describes the Monkees' TV show, which ran from 1966-1968, as "quite successful, features four young men who dress as 'beatnik types' and is geared primarily toward the teenage market." The file also spells the band's name wrong. 

Fronted by actor/singer Davy Jones, and including the talents of Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork along with Dolenz, the Monkees had multiple No. 1 hits, including "I'm a Believer" and "Last Train to Clarksville." 

It was that hit song, catchy, upbeat and melodic, which Dolenz said in a 2016 Rolling Stone interview is "about a guy going off to war. Frankly, it's an anti-war song. It's about a guy going to Clarksville, Tennessee, which is an army base if I'm not mistaken. He's obviously been drafted and he says to his girlfriend, 'I don't know if I'm ever coming home.' . . . I was always surprised that the record company even released it unless it just went right over their head."

It has not been made public why precisely the FBI started surveilling the band and those close to them. But as Rolling Stone, who broke the lawsuit story, wrote, "The Monkees were one of the most popular bands in America in 1966 and 1967, and they sprinkled anti-war sentiments into songs like 'Ditty Diego-War Chant.'" 

Zaid told Rolling Stone, "The Monkees reflected, especially in their later years with projects like [their 1968 art house movie]  'Head,' a counterculture from what institutional authority was at the time . . . And [J. Edgar] Hoover's FBI, in the Sixties in particular, was infamous for monitoring the counterculture."

Zaid has personal reasons for representing Dolenz, and is doing so pro bono. Exposed to the Monkees as a kid in the 1970s, after his babysitter gave him all the band's albums, he attended the Monkees' reunion tour in 1986, seeing the band live about eight times. "I mean, literally, this is fun for me," Zaid, a Freedom of Information Act litigation expert who was a member of the team representing the whistleblower in Donald Trump's 2019 Ukraine scandal, told The Washington Post

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Dolenz's lawsuit comes on the heels of a similar lawsuit by Angelina Jolie. The actor is suing the FBI for the release of a file in which she gave statements to investigators about abuse allegedly perpetrated against her and her children by her then-husband, actor Brad Pitt. Like Dolenz, Jolie received a copy of the file previously, but it was heavily redacted. She is also seeking the complete, unredacted file.

Months ago, Dolenz tried to access his file via a Freedom of Information Act request. The FBI did not comply within 20 working days of filing, as is legally required, which Zaid said meant a court date is imminent. "It's not just a fishing expedition," Zaid told Rolling Stone. "I mean, we're still fishing, but we know there's fish in the water."

By Alison Stine

Alison Stine is a former staff writer at Salon. She is the author of the novels "Trashlands" and "Road Out of Winter," winner of the 2021 Philip K. Dick Award. A recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), she has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, and others.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

1960s Brief Fbi Foia Micky Dolenz Music The Beatles The Monkees