When I tell you that one of the last two Monkees has passed, the gifted Michael Nesmith, you might think that the world has lost a music legend.
You would be right. The handsome Texan, born in Houston and later aligned with what critics called the “pre-fab” four probably never got his just due in the music world. It is tough being Peyton Manning at the same time Tom Brady is playing, but The Monkees deserve their place in rock lore. There are many people I know personally that actually like them better than The Beatles.
But they were never trying to be The Beatles. They were four young up and coming artists just trying to make the big-time. That is all. Kids in L. A. trying to do what kids in L. A. do. And if this post does anything, I hope it is to help cement his legacy other as something than a contrived creation. He was an immensely talented individual, a true artist, and a unique character in American history.
Not to mention lost in all of this, is that their music sounds nothing like The Beatles, nor was that their artistic goal. They were a TV show, then the band’s music took hold, and they carved their own space in music. But you might know all that. What you might not know is I come from the generation that wanted its MTV. And I would be shocked if you knew that Mike Nesmith is the biggest reason I got it.
Former Monkee Mike Nesmith conceived the first music-video program as a promotional device for Warner Communications’ record division. Production began in the spring of 1979 at SamFilm, a sound-stage built and operated in Sand City, California by Sam Harrison, a Monterey Peninsula College instructor with a motion picture background. The series was produced by Jac Holzman.
With an infinity cyclorama as the background, set flats were made from the Styrofoam packing used to ship laserdisc players and 3/4″ video decks. The first “VeeJay” was Jeff Michalski. The director was William Dear. Besides Harrison, the production team was made up of Bruce “Buz” Clarke, Keith Cornell, Marybeth Harris, and Leslie Chacon.
The program was broadcast weekly on the youth-oriented cable television channel Nickelodeon in late 1980 and early 1981. The channel’s owners at the time, Warner Cable, wanted to buy the name and idea, but instead, according to Dear, “they just watered down the idea and came up with MTV.”
Well there you go. Mike helped create the concept that led to MTV, which was once awesome and will forever maintain an impact on popular culture. He was also a poet, a song writer, a novelist, a film producer, in other words he was the consumate artistic genius, always thinking, and always-
Did I say thinking?
__PHILANTHROPIST MICHAEL NESMITH (yeah, the ex-Monkee) brings five big brains to his New Mexico ranch every two years to solve the world’s most pressing problems. And then not tell anyone about it. __
On a high-desert morning soon to be hot as hell, Michael Nesmith – former Monkee, current philanthropist, and perpetual man-with-a-mission – enters a cool room just big enough to comfortably hold five brains. Not the organs, of course, but five live, gifted thinkers, ranging from professor Nikki Giovanni, one of the few famous living poets with street cred, to Nobel Prize winner Murray Gell-Mann, the father of quarks.
Nesmith, once known as the “smart Monkee,” will soon turn 58, putting him a full 32 years away from his TV days of knit caps and sideburns. Today, he is a serious grown-up, an intellectual ringmaster who has given these thinkers $5,000 apiece, put them up in a snazzy hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and paid their way to his 7-acre outpost in Nambe, 20 miles to the north. In these parts, Nesmith is the head wrangler, the foreman of the frontal lobe. And it’s his intention that the brains will cogitate for the good of humankind – spending 12 hours in hot debate until they find the answer to a single, nigh-impossible question: What is the most important issue of our time?
So he spent a good portion of the time and wealth his efforts made him to try to figure out how to change the world for the better as President of the Gihon Foundation, started by his mother, Bette Nesmith Graham, also known as the inventor of Liquid Paper.
For these reasons and many more, I assign him the title of “thoughtrepreneur”, as it seems to fit.
There were all kinds of layers to Mike. He was smart, and thoughtful, artistic, mercurial at times, playful and reserved. He was a Monkee. He was a solo artist. But in the end he was a Carmel, California resident who wore regular clothes, who talked to everyday people, who was less interested in his fame as a Monkee than being a good neighbor.
Michael Nesmith died today, at age 78, having lived a rich life full of adventure, and thought and creativity.
Now he is headed to the station, waiting for the next stage of his soul’s journey.
But I feel his energy will persist.
I would not be much of a Daydream Believer if I did not have faith in that.
RIP Robert Michael Nesmith, December 30, 1942-December 10, 2021.