Of all the celebrity obituaries I’ve been called on to write, this may hit the hardest yet. Mike Nesmith, former Monkee and musical visionary, died peacefully today of natural causes at 78.
His career was so long, varied, revolutionary and legendary that I won’t even attempt to summarize it. I strongly urge you to read both of these write-ups, since they each contain different interesting facts about his life and career, pre-, post- and during the Monkees. Examples: In 1966, “The Monkees” won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series and in 1967, their records outsold the Beatles and the Rolling Stones combined. And the Monkees was a flop with test audiences until they edited in the unscripted audition footage of Nesmith and Davy Jones ad-libbing, which should tell you why it really became a phenomenon.
I am a big Monkees fan, but a HUGE Mike Nesmith fan. I have two autographed First National Band albums that are among my treasured possessions. I can sing (badly) songs from memory off of albums most people have never heard of, like “Loose Salute” and “Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash.” I saw him live with the Monkees in 2012 and solo a few years ago at the Kessler Theater in Dallas, where he’s always been a hometown hero. I was thrilled just to be in the same room with him at the Texas Musicians' Museum.
And I was, and still am, furious at a local concert venue that failed to tell us, after waiting through two years of COVID delays, that we had to bring COVID papers to get into his final tour with Mickey Dolenz two months ago. We (and a lot of other furious people, some of whom had driven over 200 miles) were barred from entering and missed our last chance ever to see him.
Since he was the son of a secretary who struck it rich by inventing Liquid Paper, it’s no surprise that Nesmith was incredibly creative. The songs he wrote for the Monkees were always my favorites (I can attest that “Sweet Young Thing” is the most fun to play with a garage band.) He also invented the concepts of MTV with his show “Popclips” and home video with the cassette “Elephant Parts,” was playing country rock before it was a thing, presaged the “unplugged” era with “And the Hits Just Keep On Comin’,” and pioneered many new entertainment, video and concert concepts through his company Pacific Arts. He even produced, scored and co-wrote the cult film “Time Rider.” And you could argue that he invented the rock video by making this:
But he and the Monkees still aren't in the Rock Hall of Fame, while Jay-Z and the Beastie Boys are.
The dirty hippies in the ‘60s, with their misplaced self-righteousness, attacked the Monkees as fakes because they didn’t play their own instruments on their records, unlike all the REAL bands they idolized that also didn’t play their own instruments. Many learned only recently that the same session musicians, the Wrecking Crew, who played for the Monkees also played on nearly all of those albums they thought were “authentic, man!”
That really burned Nesmith, who was a real musician and songwriter with pre-Monkees success under the name Michael Blessing and who had written “Different Drum,” which became one of Linda Ronstadt’s first hits, two years before “The Monkees” debuted. He famously put his fist through a wall in an angry confrontation with a music executive, telling him that wall could’ve been his face, and forced the studio to give the band creative control and let them play (Peter Tork was also an accomplished multi-instrumentalist.) The pop hits might’ve dropped off, but the music got a lot more interesting.
Rest in peace, Papa Nez. You are now truly an Infinite Rider on the Big Dogma. I’m sorry I didn’t get to see your last show, but considering the massive legacy you left behind, and the huge impact you had on the music industry, in your own quiet, brilliant, quirky and visionary way, we should all follow your laidback example and just be grateful for everything we got and not resent the stuff we didn’t get.
This tribute was written by "Huckabee" writer Pat Reeder.