Remembering Peter Tork of The Monkees, a former Carl

Peter Tork, best known as the wise-cracking bassist, keyboardist, and sometimes singer in the iconic 1960s pop rock band The Monkees, passed away today at the age of 77. What’s perhaps not as well known is that Tork, born Peter Halsten Thorkelson, was once a student at Carleton College.

 

Feb. 21, 2019

Peter Tork, best known as the wise-cracking bassist, keyboardist, and singer in the iconic 1960s pop rock band The Monkees, passed away today at the age of 77. What’s perhaps not as well known is that Tork, born Peter Halsten Thorkelson, was once a student at Carleton College.

A member of the Class of 1964, Tork attended Carleton for, as he said in a 2015 Pioneer Press interview, “two and a third years,” before reportedly flunking out twice and ultimately settling in New York City. There, he became a fixture on the folk music scene in Greenwich Village, performing under the shortened last name, “Tork.”

In a 1967 interview, Tork told 16 magazine, “I went to Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. Guess what? I flunked out.”

According to a 1982 article in The Carletonian by Sam Delson '82, "Tork Talks: A Carl's evolution from man to Monkee and back again," Tork had a Friday morning KRLX radio show called “Dawn Patrol.” He studied the French horn, sang in folk groups, played piano and participated in several theater productions.

Not much else is known about Tork’s days at Carleton, but given the popularity of The Monkees, his name lives on in college legend. In 1979, a group calling itself the Gang of Three—which later became the Gang of At Least Three and Not Over 1,600—stole a portrait of Carleton’s first president, James Strong, from Laird Hall, and replaced it with a Day-Glo velvet painting of Elvis. The group later agreed to return the portrait on the condition that the Carleton administration dedicate an area of Sayles-Hill to Tork. In March 1980, the college officially dedicated the now-defunct “Peter Tork Pinball Area” in Sayles-Hill.

"I actually have rarely been so graced with an hono," Tork told Minnesota Public Radio about the pinball stunt in a 1987 interview. "As a matter of fact, I think I can truly say it's one of the singular highest honors I ever received. When I heard about the news, I practically collapsed in gratitude." 

Tork’s father, renowned economist and University of Connecticut professor H. John Thorkelson, graduated with a BA in economics from Carleton in 1938. His brother Jeffrey graduated from Carleton with a BA in biology in 1962.

Read Tork's obituary from The Washington Post and a statement from Tork's family.