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Remembering Michael Nesmith

Remembering Michael Nesmith – Not Just Another Monkee

By Debbie Brautman

The Monkees’ Michael Nesmith passed away from heart failure at the age of 78, on Dec 10, 2021. It was just weeks after the completion of The Monkees Farewell Tour, which concluded Nov 14, 2021, at The Greek Theater in Los Angeles. The tour had included a stop in Ft. Lauderdale at the Parker, on October 12, 2021. The sole surviving Monkee, Mickey Dolenz, posted, “I’m heartbroken. I’ve lost a dear friend and partner.” Other band members already gone were Davy Jones who died in 2012, and Peter Tork who died in 2016.

The Monkees were a Los Angeles Pop/Rock Band formed in 1966 and conceived by television producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider for a tv sitcom of a band that wanted to be The Beatles. The tv show ran for only two years, from 1966-68, and the group officially broke up in 1970. The show has run worldwide in syndication for all these years and is still gathering new fans. The Monkees sold more than 75 million records with international hits, including: “Last Train To Clarksville,” “Daydream Believer,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and “I’m a Believer.” They were truly a pop band sensation. The Monkees tv show producers did not want Nesmith’s song “Different Drum,” so he gave it to Linda Rondstadt and the Stone Poneys, which gave Rondstadt the start on her road to superstardom. Nesmith fought for creative control and ultimately was able to get some of his original songs onto The Monkees’ albums, but he was traveling to the beat of a different drum and left shortly after Peter Tork left the Monkees.

Life after The Monkees began with its ups and downs, but was always an eclectic adventure for Nesmith, with infinite possibilities. For those who only knew Nesmith as a member of this iconic 60’s band, there were many more dimensions to this multi-talented pioneer and pop music visionary, known as the “smart” Monkee. Here are some interesting observations and accomplishments of this true American original talent:

  • In 1980, a substantial inheritance from his remarkable mother, Bette Nesmith Graham, who invented the typewriter fluid, Liquid Paper, and sold the company to Gillette for 47.5 million dollars, gave him the capital to pursue his dreams. And big dreams they were.
  • When the Monkees first dissolved in 1970, Nesmith formed the First National Band with its rootsy, country-rock sound, which was innovative at that time. They caught the eye of Gram Parsons and opened for Parson’s band, The Flying Burrito Brothers. The First National Band’s debut single “Joanne” made it up the charts to No. 21, but the album did not do as well and neither did the other two albums that followed before the band disbanded.
  • John Lennon and Nesmith hung out together in swinging London in 1967. Lennon was blown away by Jimi Hendrix and played a cassette of Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” at dinner one night and they were all amazed at how great he was. Jimi Hendrix opened for The Monkees in Jacksonville, Florida, in July 1967. Nesmith described Hendrix as a “gentle and kind soul, soft spoken and a bit shy.” Later on when promoting his new band, Nesmith was so grateful when Hendrix gave a generous act of support by showing up at Nesmith’s London press conference for his First National Band. Two days later Hendrix was dead
  • New Zealand really appreciated Nesmith and he had a #1 hit there with his song “Joanne” in 1970. Sounding like a cross between Glen Campbell and Gram Parsons, he was Americana before there was a music category by that name.
  • Nesmith was a music video pioneer and his own videos were humorous and far ahead of their time. Check out, on YouTube, the videos for “Rio,” “Eldorado to the Moon,” and “Cruisin.’” His clever video for “Rio” was considered one of the first music videos that had a storyline and was not just a performance video. Chris Blackwell from Island Records had asked Nesmith, aka Nez, for a clip to promote his new record and Nesmith did not understand that Blackwell was looking for a mimed performance clip. Nesmith had envisioned something more Hollywood musical, with visions of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance numbers. His book, Infinite Tuesday – An Autobiographical Riff, released in 2017, beautifully details how he came to make this innovative 1977 music video to promote “Rio.” His book is a fascinating and unforgettable read, with his witty explorations of life’s puzzles. He also produced videos for Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” and Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.”
  • In 1982, Nesmith received the Grammy Award for Video of the Year for his Elephant Parts video release. The award was reserved for videocassettes or discs that were created for the home market and his win was the first of this award.
  • He developed the tv program PopClips for Nickelodean, which was used as a model by Nickelodean’s parent company, Warner-Amex, in the formation of MTV, according to Robert Pittman, former president and CEO of MTV Networks.
  • He created a multimedia production company, Pacific Arts, in 1974, which managed and developed media projects and films, like Repo Man and Tapeheads.
  • He formed Countryside Records, a subsidiary of Elektra Records, and produced albums for English folk artist Iain Matthews (Former Fairport Convention) and Scottish folk musician, Bert Jansch.
  • In late 1998, he created his first virtual world online, Video Ranch 3D, an online performing platform, which is a virtual world on the internet. Live musical performances occurred in real time and were seen all over the world. Past performers on Video Ranch 3D, besides Michael Nesmith, included James McMurtry, David Bromberg, Peter Case, Chuck Prophet and many other interesting and eclectic performers.
  • His mother formed two philanthropic foundations; the Gihon Foundation, with a program supporting the arts, and the McMurray Foundation, which focused on assisting women, especially women in business. Michael Nesmith became President and Chairman of her foundations when she passed away.
  • Like his mother, he embraced and practiced Christian Science beliefs and it was a strong guiding force in his life.
  • He finally admitted, in his book, Infinite Tuesday, that his comment to an Australian newspaper interviewer was a lie. He said, “In 1967, The Monkees actually outsold The Beatles and The Rolling Stones combined.” He wrote that he told the interviewer upfront that he would lie because he didn’t trust the press, and didn’t expect the interviewer to tell the truth, so neither would he. That false comment about outselling The Beatles and The Stones still circulates on the internet today.
  • Amarcord was his favorite film by his favorite filmmaker, Federico Fellini.

Although Nesmith was so much more than just another Monkee, through the years he rejoined some Monkees’ tours and came around to appreciate his adventures and life as a Monkee. His manager, Andrew Sandoval, said the final tour was Nesmith’s idea as he really wanted to “wrap up things with the Monkees.” Suffering from advancing heart failure, Nesmith made a final push to complete this last tour with his good friend Mickey Dolenz. He leaves us with a wealth of his music, videos, poetry, films, books and the power of the infinite and endless possibilities of human connection.

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