Michael Nesmith of The Monkees: A Brief Q&A

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Michael Nesmith in 2012 (photo from the artist's Wikipedia page)

Michael Nesmith in 2012 (photo from the artist’s Wikipedia page)

He will always be known first and foremost as one-quarter of The Monkees, but Michael Nesmith has spent the bulk of his career working for the advancement of video as an artform, particularly music video. On October 1, 2016, the Texas-born Nesmith received the Ernie Kovacs Award in Dallas in recognition of a 50-plus-year career that has included acting, producing, songwriting and his work within the video medium.

The Ernie Kovacs Award honors the talents of some of television’s greatest visionaries. Kovacs’ work in the 1950s and early 1960s summed up the spirit of innovation and the development of the language of television art. “Michael Nesmith is being recognized for his efforts as a video pioneer,” said Bart Weiss, director of Dallas VideoFest, which is presenting the award. “He understood the future of home video.”

In 2016, Nesmith reunited with fellow surviving Monkees Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork for a concert in Hollywood marking the 50th anniversary of the TV show. He has stated that it will be his final performance with the group. Nesmith’s recent plans included a book tour to promote his 2017 memoir, Infinite Tuesday, which he has described as “an autobiographical riff.”

Best Classic Bands recently chatted briefly with Nesmith about his work as a video visionary and, of course, the Monkees.

Best Classic Bands: Were you a fan of Ernie Kovacs when you were growing up?
Michael Nesmith: I knew his work well—I never missed a show if at all possible. He used television the way a film director used a film camera. He had a very innovative point of view and allowed the joy and the humor to come out in a playful way. It’s a little past its time now, but still one can see how much ground was broken.

What was your own most significant contribution to music video?
MN: [My] first music video, “Rio” (1977), taught me a lot, as well as the second, “Cruisin’,” where [film director] William Dear and I discovered “Rio” wasn’t a fluke.

Related: The Monkees turn 50

Where do you see video heading?
MN: Moving into the worlds of Virtual Reality will change everything. It will come from what is now known as video games and move into the next great storytelling medium. TV will switch to news as the new VR comes on the scene. The storytellers have more technology than ever, and they are more active than ever. There’s great stuff out there, with more to come.

What haven’t you done that’s still on your to-do list?
MN: I am interested in the way media combine and what the symbiosis is, how they work together. The next project is Infinite Tuesday, a book, film and live show.

The Monkees in 1967. Left to right: Peter Tork, Michael Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones

The Monkees in 1967. Clockwise from left: Peter Tork, Michael Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones

What was The Monkees’ greatest impact?
MN: At the last Monkees show I did, I sang a song titled “Tapioca Tundra.” The repeating line is, “It cannot be a part of me because now it’s part of you.” I wrote it after the first Monkees concert years ago in Hawaii. The Monkees [TV show] taught us all that the audience creates what it wants to create out of what it sees. With that show, they created the band.

Are you upset that Monkees have not been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
MN: I appreciate the bands they have acknowledged but no, I’m not bothered about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’s more of a business than a museum, more about ticket sales and TV shows than anything else. I count it as no great loss to the world that they don’t acknowledge the Monkees. It’s their call, not the public’s.

Watch a groundbreaking early video from the former Monkee

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Jeff Tamarkin

Best Classic Bands Editor Jeff Tamarkin has been a prolific music journalist for more than four decades. He is formerly the editor of Goldmine, CMJ andRelix magazines, has written for dozens of other publications and has authored liner notes for more than 80 CDs. Jeff has also served on the Nominating Committee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and as a consultant to the Grammys. His first book was 'Got a Revolution! The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane.' He is also the co-author of 'Shell Shocked: My Life with the Turtles, Flo and Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc.,' with Howard Kaylan.
Jeff Tamarkin
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  1. Dark_Horse
    #1 Dark_Horse 25 September, 2016, 21:00

    High-five, fist-bump AND a hug for Mr. IT-factor Nesmith: renaissance mensch. (And not to be confused with the guy who invented basketball.)

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  2. Fred / Guitarspotting
    #2 Fred / Guitarspotting 26 September, 2016, 01:11

    Always cool to hear from Papa Nez. I wasn’t aware he had an autobiography of sorts coming out, (ie. Infinite Tuesday) … sounds like an absolute must-read, can’t wait!

    I guess Rolling Stone was pretty dismissive of the Monkees back in the day, but the time has come. They deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.

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