Thursday, July 31, 2008

Magic and The Monkee

There’s a magic that happens when liked-minded individuals gather together for a common purpose. Their commitment creates a kind of whirlwind that gathers momentum and strength well beyond the limits of the group. Against all odds, they seem to be able to move against the tide and create small miracles in their wake.

“If you look at the science that describes what is happening on Earth today and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t have the correct data,” writes Paul Hawken in Blessed Unrest. “If you meet the people in this unnamed movement and aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a heart.”

Characteristic of these groups is their fundamental understanding that their local efforts extend out into the greater whole. One shining example of this is a small community group called The Friends of Utopia. For almost two decades they have struggled to save an old gristmill and the conservation area that surrounds it. They are currently raising money to renovate Utopia’s old town hall, which will be used to host wedding, parties and other events. The money raised at these events in turn will be used for conservation initiatives. One-third will be used to restore and maintain the 144 year-old Bell’s Gristmill, one-third will go to national conservation projects and the balance will fund international projects dedicated to wildlife conservation. Not bad for a community that boasts a population of exactly 100.

The group’s leader, Susan Antler explained, “When a group of people get together for a common goal, it’s amazing what can happen. The pool of talent and resources that becomes available to you can knock you out of the ballpark.”

Perhaps this is why pop superstar Micky Dolenz offered to perform at a benefit concert for the Friends of Utopia in Toronto earlier this month. Dolenz, the former lead singer of The Monkees, was introduced to Antler by Tyrone Biljan, former president of the Canadian Monkees fan club. Biljan worked at Susan’s marketing company, Visions of Utopia.

“If it’s something that people believe in, they’ll respond,” said Antler. They’ll give you the path, but you have to push the door open.”

When I first heard about the concert, I thought that Dolenz was an odd match for the dedicated Friends of Utopia. After I had an opportunity to speak with Micky before the concert, I realized that his own sense of optimism about our planet was perfectly in line with the optimism and hope of Utopia.

Monkee in the Middle with the two Sue's - Suzanne Elston (right) and Susan Antler (left)

For Dolenz, who had planned to become an architect before his success with The Monkees, the idea of saving an old mill and the lands around it was very appealing.

“I love historic buildings,” he said. “And I’m quite a naturalist. I love to hike out into the Mountains near Soho. Because I understand the science of what’s happening, I’m not going through the current alarmist phrase.”

As Micky explained, natural disasters are part of nature. “I’m not as concerned about greenhouse gas emissions as I am about air quality, and what we’ll do when we run out of energy and have no infrastructure, hospitals or schools.”

He believes that we need to focus our creative energies on finding alternative solutions.

“I have tremendous hope for the future,” said Dolenz. “Everybody talks about saving the planet. The planet will be just fine. And then he added with a smile, “It’s the people that I’m not so sure about.”

“When I lived in Los Angeles in the 1960s, it had the worst air quality on the planet. 40 years later and the air quality is so much better. It’s really quite amazing,” he said. “It could only happen in California because of the lawyers, the politicians and the social infrastructure and mechanisms that existed to make that kind of change happen.”

As Dolenz explained, in terms of the history of the planet, these changes happen in the blink of an eye.

“The beauty of our system is that it can literally change the consensus of a nation in a very short period of time. If you had told anyone in the U.S. five to ten years ago that the top contenders for the presidency would be a black man and a woman, they would have told you that you were out of your mind.”

“Change can come like that,” he said. “I’m an optimist. The Earth heals relatively quickly.”


Blessed Unrest explores the diversity of the movement, its brilliant ideas, innovative strategies, and hidden history.

For more on the story of Utopia, please check out my previous post.


Post a Comment

<< Home