Never Complain About the Air-Conditioning on a Private Jet
Pleasant Valley Sunday, my ass
By Don Stradley
Michael Nesmith was the cool kid's favorite Monkee. He had the playful wit, the slight Texas drawl, and a stance that assured you he was smarter than the people around him. While The Monkees were decidedly locked in a kind of teeny bopper vortex, he sang his country-tinged songs in a distinct voice that bordered on a Hank Williams yodel of lament. The Monkees' other hits were fine, delicious pop confections, but Nesmith's songs were weird and unique, hillbilly music howled down from another planet. Add to this what was perceived as his indifference about the old show, and Nesmith became the Monkee we loved most, the crafty one, the introspective one, the one who invented MTV, the Internet, Repo Man, and Garry Shandling. I'm not sure if Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff is the memoir I've always wanted from Nesmith, but when has he ever given us exactly what we'd wanted? Besides, it's nice to hear from him.
Nez fills us in on some important early experiences, such as his struggles at school, and seeing Bo Diddley at a small club in Dallas. When Bo cut loose, Nesmith tells us, "the rhythm roared like a wind-driven rainstorm on water." Then there was the time in 1964 after The Beatles performed for the first time on The Ed Sullivan Show. Nesmith was in Corpus Christie, taking a break from his collapsed career as a folk singer, and noticed people were staring. They were convinced he was George Harrison. One girl broke out in tears. "The world," he writes, "had gone crazy." By then, Nesmith was already married with a child, and trying to make a buck as a Bob Dylan wannabe. This was hardly the raw material for pop stardom, but through a series of seemingly haphazard connections he was invited to audition for a new NBC show about some unemployed musicians. The program was an unexpected success and made Nesmith the unlikeliest of teen idols. Still, the show's two year run interrupted his progress as a singer and songwriter, and left him with only a fragile sense of how he might fit into the whole music business.
This isn't exactly a tale of how money-grabbing showbiz types exploited a marvelous talent. Instead, it's the story of a guy who was never quite comfortable anywhere. When Nesmith found people who excited and inspired him, he often felt unable to establish permanent links. "I was almost desperate to land my little plane in their field and play whatever games they were thinking up," he writes of a fading friendship with the trio of Jack Nicholson, Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, "but some grace flagged me off. I flew away into my own countryside." The Monkees, too, seemed an awkward fit. "They broke into halfhearted, meaningless fistfights at the drop of an insult," he recalls of Peter, Micky, and Davy. "The set would turn into a playground of entitled eight-year-olds at a private school."
What we can gather from this thoughtful book is that Nesmith's life has been a protracted battle, not only with the movie and music industries - even PBS turned out to be a bunch of snakes - but also with his own ego, his own "Celebrity Psychosis." Nesmith's mother is a major presence here. A single mom who found herself wealthy after inventing Liquid Paper, she set the bar for him as far as tenacity and resourcefulness. Perhaps his obsession with technology and patents brings him closer to her in spirit. He's forthright about his infidelities and broken marriages, but some may question why Nesmith says more about the death of John Lennon than of his own bandmate Davy Jones (of which he says nothing). It's as if Nesmith's mind is so packed with the teachings of Christian Science and his favorite yogis that there's no room for easy sentiment. He's candid, though, and not afraid to be heavy. You never thought a Monkee would write,"Buried within the life of all mortals is one resounding and echoing heartbreak after another - one despairing moment repeating and repeating - even if it is unrecognized." Don't misunderstand - the book isn't, as Nez might've said in the '60s, a "stone drag," but he doesn't even mention the wool hat.