Shades of Gray

themonkeesFor those of you under 50, The Monkees were a band that was big in the 1960’s. Though they started out as a marketing contrivance by record producers hoping to compete with the Beatles, they quickly asserted their independence and sang out with their own unique voice to help define the times we lived in. For many pre-teens like me growing up then, The Monkees were incredibly influential in shaping our worldview.

It is difficult to analyze what made them so influential for so many. Attempts to do so only diminish their uniqueness, like describing a frog by dissecting it. Perhaps it was partly the innocent seriousness of their music and lyrics. Perhaps it was partly their counterculture attitude and their defiant questioning of establishment norms. But it was also the damned catchy way they did it, with unfailing musicality and uplifting positivity underpinning their protest messages, so pop and so unlike the relatively somber dirges of Dylan and many other folk era voices.

Their influence manifested in little ways like a Daydream Believer posing the question “how much baby do we really need?” It inhabited their observations about suburban life in Pleasant Valley Sunday. And it was reflected in the angry backlash of mainstream culture shouted out in Randy Souce Git.

Why don’t you be like me?
Why don’t you stop and see?
Why don’t you hate who I hate,
Kill who I kill to be free?
Why don’t you cut your hair?
Why don’t you live up there?
Why don’t you do what I do,
See what I feel when I care?

No where was their magic more deeply felt by me than in the music and lyrics of a song called “Shades of Gray.” Like the soft murmurs of a siren song, this unassuming little ballad draws the listener deep into heart of the human condition. This magical spell permanently transformed many of us kids from the dogmatic, religious worldview of black and white morality into a generation cursed evermore to perceive a world revealed as an ever shifting kaleidoscope of greys.

When the world and I were young
Just yesterday
Life was such a simple game
A child could play
It was easy then to tell right from wrong
Easy then to tell weak from strong
When a man should stand and fight
Or just go along
But today there is no day or night
Today there is no dark or light
Today there is no black or white
Only shades of gray
I remember when the answers seemed so clear
We had never lived with doubt or tasted fear
It was easy then to tell truth from lies
Selling out from compromise
Who to love and who to hate
The foolish from the wise
But today there is no day or night
Today there is no dark or light
Today there is no black or white
Only shades of gray
[Instrumental interlude]
It was easy then to know what was fair
When to keep and when to share
How much to protect your heart
And how much to care
But today there is no day or night
Today there is no dark or light
Today there is no black or white
Only shades of gray
Only shades of gray


Those lyrics were immensely powerful in 1966, and they are just as relevant and meaningful today, 50 years later- especially so after our last election.

But please don’t just read the lyrics. The music and the harmonies are so gorgeous, you really have to just listen… really listen.


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