Monkees’ Micky Dolenz sues FBI over ‘secret dossier’ on band

<span>Photograph: AP</span>
Photograph: AP

The last surviving member of the Monkees is suing the FBI over a “secret dossier” he believes the agency holds on him and his former bandmates.

Related: The Monkees: why I’m a believer in their perfect pop

Micky Dolenz, 77, the former drummer and vocalist for the popular British-American 1960s combo, filed the lawsuit through his attorney, Mark Zaid, a freedom of information specialist and music fan who told Rolling Stone magazine it would be “fun”.

Zaid said he met Dolenz, whose band recorded hits including I’m a Believer, Last Train to Clarksville and Daydream Believer, through mutual friends.

According to Rolling Stone, Zaid said he suggested to Dolenz “it might be fun to see if the FBI had a file on him or his former bandmates”. Shortly afterwards, Zaid learned that such a file did exist, and that a heavily redacted, seven-page snippet was released in 2011.

“That just kind of reinforced for me that there was actually something here,” Zaid said. “It’s not just a fishing expedition. I mean, we’re still fishing, but we know there’s fish in the water.”

The cover of the FBI file on the agency’s website erroneously refers to “the Monkeys”. The documents provide few clues as to why the band was of interest to federal agents, other than it was the time of the Vietnam war and the government was sensitive to criticism from prominent Hollywood actors and pop musicians.

In a section marked “Additional activities denouncing the US policy in the war in Vietnam”, almost an entire page is blacked out. But the file does describe the Monkees as a “quite successful” band featuring “four young men who dress as ‘beatnik types’ … geared primarily to the teenage market”.

Related: Bob Rafelson, Monkees co-creator and key Hollywood new wave director, dies aged 89

During a Monkees concert, it says, “subliminal messages were depicted on the screen which, in the opinion of” an agent whose name is redacted “constituted ‘left-wing innovations of a political nature’ including video footage of ‘anti-US messages on the war in Vietnam’.”

The Monkees were not known as an overtly political band – they were created for television – but the song Last Train to Clarksville was about a man heading for war and not knowing if he would see his loved ones again.

Zaid said he submitted a standard freedom of information request in June, asking to see the band’s complete FBI file along with any individual files for Dolenz and his late bandmates, Davy Jones, Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith.

When the agency failed to respond, Zaid said, he decided to press ahead with the suit.

From Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and John Lennon to more recent rap performers, the FBI has a long history of monitoring and sometimes charging recording artists.

The agency amassed more than 300 pages on Lennon amid efforts by then president Richard Nixon to deport the former Beatle in 1972, for his involvement in the peace movement.

Disclosure of the FBI’s Lennon files in 2000 revealed bizarre details including the logging of a parrot’s subversive remarks.

Sinatra, who was tied to the mafia, appeared in numerous FBI files, while Presley came to the agency’s attention in the 1950s and 60s allegedly because of the influence he was deemed to have over a generation of teenagers.

Despite his name being featured in multiple FBI records, however, officials insisted Presley was never the subject of an investigation.

The Washington Post reported in 1978, a year after his death, that “the King” even volunteered to become an FBI informant, reporting on “the Smothers Brothers [American folk singers and comedians], Jane Fonda and other persons in the entertainment industry of their ilk [who] have a lot to answer for in the hereafter for the way they have poisoned young minds by disparaging the US in public statements and unsavory activities”.

The FBI’s chief researcher, MA Jones, rejected the offer, the Post said, because “Presley’s sincerity and good intentions notwithstanding, he is certainly not the type of individual whom the [FBI director would wish to meet.

“It is noted at the present time he is wearing his hair down to his shoulders and indulges in the wearing of all sorts of exotic dress.”