Monkee business and beyond
The curious life of Michael Nesmith
By Chris Jay 03/21/2013
In the history of rock and roll, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more varied, if not downright bizarre, career than that of wool cap-clad Monkee Michael Nesmith. Though best known for his time with the wildly successful made-for-TV group in the 1960s, which he auditioned for on a whim with dirty laundry in tow, Nesmith went on to forge his own interesting legacy in the music business. As he’s about to embark on his first U.S. solo tour in more than 20 years, we took a closer look at the man, the myth, the Monkee.
While it’s hard to give anyone credit as the inventor of the music video, when it comes to a show or channel devoted to the medium, Nesmith’s name should be in the conversation. Always one to try new things, Nesmith was a music video pioneer. He started multimedia company Pacific Arts in the late ’70s and, though initially developed as a label, it went on to become a TV, video and film production company. He put together a one-hour video called Elephant Parts that featured a few early music videos and comedy sketches, and it went on to win the first Grammy for a long-form music video. Around the same time, he also produced a TV show that aired briefly on Nickelodeon in 1980 and 1981 called PopClips. It was undoubtedly the inspiration and blueprint for MTV, which popped up only months later (and whose owners had at one time, expressed interest in buying PopClips). And as we all know, MTV changed the music business and pop culture forever, for better or worse.
In the mid 1980s, MTV started rebroadcasting The Monkees television show, sparking an unlikely revival for the group. To capitalize on it and celebrate their 20th anniversary, the group re-formed but regardless of fan demand or potential income from the tour and new record, Nesmith declined. He did, however, join the band during the encore of one of its Los Angeles dates. He also made an appearance with Peter Tork, Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz, when the band accepted a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame a few years later. In 1996, for the band’s 30th anniversary, Nesmith got into the Monkee business full time again, producing and appearing on its final record, Justus, and producing a television special. The Monkees even did a brief run of UK dates to the disappointment of American fans who had hoped to see the original four together again. Sadly, when Davy Jones passed away last year, it seemed to all that that was the end of the Monkees; but Nesmith, of all people, had other plans. He joined the remaining members again for a short American tour at the end of 2012, which paid tribute to Jones during each show.
Perhaps Nesmith’s early exit from the Monkees, and subsequent refusal to participate in any early reunions, stemmed somewhat from the fact that he was the primary heir to a small fortune. When Nesmith was only 13 years old, his mother, Bette Nesmith Graham, a secretary, invented the typewriter correction fluid Liquid Paper. The product and company she created were eventually sold to Gillette in 1979 for close to $50 million. Sadly she passed away only a few months later, but a large portion of her fortune was handed down to Michael, her only child.
Nesmith turned 70 years old at the end of last year, and at a time when most artists are winding down their careers, at least when it comes to touring, Nesmith is ramping things up. He’s doing a run of spring dates that will bring him to Ventura County, and he’s promising to play songs mainly from his solo career. You can’t help but think a Monkees tune or two will be thrown in. Then again, it’s not safe to assume anything. If there’s one thing you can count on when it comes to Michael Nesmith, echoing “Different Drum,” the classic song he wrote that was made famous by Linda Ronstadt, he will travel to the beat of a different drum.
Michael Nesmith performs Sunday, March 24, at The Canyon, 28912 Roadside Drive, Agoura Hills. For more information, visit www.canyonclub.net.