Michael Nesmith Riffs on Monkees, Hendrix, Lennon, Jack Nicholson
Most reviews of Nesmith’s Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff naturally focus on three or four fascinating facts. Nesmith was a Monkee, Nesmith was friends with Jimi Hendrix and Jack Nicholson, Nesmith played a key role in the development of music videos and MTV, and his mother invented Liquid Paper.
Nesmith, always an eloquent deep thinker, covers these topics with a mix of retrospective wisdom, wit and sharp perception, but this book is very different to most typically narcissism fueled music autobiographies.
Less an analysis of who he is and more a discovery of where he fits in the world of the arts, music, science and humanity, this is a fascinating series of loosely chronological stories and memories, from his childhood in Dallas, though folk music, TV stardom, pioneering country rock and music videos, making movies and ending proudly with a long sought patent for embedding real time video in a virtual world.
Nesmith wrote every word himself. This is no ghosted autobiography and its authenticity beautifully reflects the moment that Nesmith, described here with great insight, laid everything on the line at LA folk club The Troubadour in 1965. Broke and resigned to maybe giving up on his musical muse, he simply spoke and sang from the heart and in doing so won over a musically literate crowd with four of his own compositions.
The artistic path would bring loneliness and frustration he notes, but it also landed him in London during the heyday of that city’s creative high in 1967, staying with John Lennon no less.
Nesmith pens a fascinating anecdote heavy analysis of the Monkees years, of the fame game in general, and he defines a condition that many in the pop biz can relate to, something he calls celebrity psychosis.
Nesmith honestly recounts some of his own pompous, entitled and cringe worthy moments as a an ego fueled pop star, but with hindsight positions his whole pop journey in a social context that also brought him into contact with pure souls like Jimi Hendrix and Jack Nicholson.
Being a TV pop star made Nesmith feel something of a pariah in his own land despite producing music of the highest caliber, beautifully blending copuntyry and rock and roll.
Nesmith is brutally honest when it comes to his own failings, especially his inability to remain faithful to his first wife Phyllis and the havoc that wreaked on all involved. Nesmith devotes plenty of space to his growth as a human being through eastern philosophy and most consistently the Christian Science religion he was raised in by his mother.
The melancholy that his personal struggles induced fortunately found expression in two classic albums from 1972 and 1973, And The Hits Just Keep On Comin is a sublime folk country piece featuring just Nesmith and pedal settle guitar guru Red Rhodes, and the following year’s, PrettyMuch Your Standard Ranch Stash, is a full band master class in country meets rock. A re-married Nesmith then moved into multi-media, first via a book with a soundtrack, The Prison, and then the groundbreaking music video for international hit “Rio” that spawned a full blown long form video, Elephant Parts, winning Nesmith the first ever Video Grammy Award. If that wasn’t enough other chapters deal his Hollywood movie producer years that resulted notably in Alex Cox’s Repo Man, innovation with the then fledgling home video business in the ‘80s, and then taking on and beating PBS in court.
Then there’s his poignant telling of his May to December ‘80s courtship and subsequent third marriage that ended abruptly and surprisingly just a few years ago, a development that temporarily put the brakes on his online virtual world experiments via Videoranch3D.
Nesmith explains how he finally found peace, realizing that the despair brought on by illness and his marriage break up allowed him to see his place in the world, indeed in the infinite.
Since this isn’t a formal memoir, more a series of reminiscences and anecdotes placed in context, the are many riffs Nesmith could still tackle. How about the mid ‘70s London adventures that saw a phenomenal live show with Red Rhodes at the Roundhouse, music making with folk guitar great Bert Jansch, or even the disturbing tale of the Australian Nesmith imposter back in the late ‘70s.
So, as iconic pop art pioneer Ed Ruscha says on the book’s back cover, “I am already looking for volume two and, please, let there be one.” Or two.