Michael Nesmith never let the Monkees pre-Fab roots get in the way.
Now, at 73, Nesmith reminds us again how vital he is to the band’s enduring appeal.
Nesmith isn’t an official part of the Monkees’ 50th anniversary tour. He appeared at one concert earlier this month and is planning to do so again soon … for the final time as a Monkee.
Nesmith will rejoin the Monkees on September 16th at the band’s Los Angeles gig at the Pantages Theatre. As Nesmith noted, the show nearly coincides with the exact 50th anniversary of the Monkees’ television show, which premiered September 12th, 1966.
Better line up for this event. It could be the last time to see the band’s surviving members in concert.
“I expect it will be fun, and a great way for me to sign out. I see the specter of the multiple Sinatra retirement/farewells – and this seems like the perfect time for me to step off, sit down and shut up,” Nesmith wrote.
That’s the same singer/songwriter who famously punched a hole in the wall during a creative dispute over the show’s music. Back then, the Monkees were a bubblegum pop machine. Nesmith and his co-workers wanted more.
The network had them singing their hits, but that was more or less it. These Monkees wanted to be free, to play their own instruments and control their own destiny. Segments of the show’s brain trust preferred the status quo.
Fist, meet wall.
Although Nesmith notes that came after a “personal affront” and not quite in the dramatic fashion as has been told over the years.
Nesmith wasn’t alone in his creative fight for freedom. Peter Tork craved the same sense of independence. To a similar extent, so did actors Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz. The latter bandmates were more willing to play their parts, given their previous show business experience.
It was Nesmith who seemed the group’s leader. He wore that signature wool hat on the TV show and radiated a confidence that belied his years. He wasn’t even the oldest Monkee. That honor belonged to Tork. He still had a measure of gravitas most 20-somethings lack. His blasé attitude during the show’s auditions helped win him the part.
Heck, he even managed to wrest some writing credits on the group’s first two albums.
The band famously earned their chance to make music their way. The 1967 album “Headquarters” proved they were up to the task. The Monkees’ run, though, was coming to a close.
Over the years, Nesmith resisted many of the Monkees’ reunions. He never gave up on the band, though. He didn’t appear on its 1987 album “Pool It!” which sorely missed his presence.
Nesmith changed course for 1996’s “Justus,” an album which lived up to its title. He also appeared with his old TV show mates during some European gigs. He wrote and directed the 1997 TV special “Hey, Hey It’s the Monkees” featuring the foursome.
After Jones’ death in 2012, Nesmith rejoined the Monkees for a successful 2014 summer tour.
RELATED: 7 Underrated Monkees Songs
Dolenz and Tork have kept the band’s comic spirit alive through all its incarnations. They yuk it up in concert when appropriate. They do the same during interviews.
It’s showbiz, right?
Nesmith could crack wise 50 years ago, but to hear him speak today is to understand another side of his contributions to the band. He speaks of the band’s legacy with great care. And his ex-Monkees shadow looms the largest.
He wrote the great “Different Drum” which became a hit for Linda Ronstadt. He had a critically hailed solo career.
His First National Band, which he formed shortly after the Monkees dissolved, helped usher in the coming country-rock wave.
In between, he helped reinvent the way we saw music videos via his “Elephant Parts” special. That won the first “Video of the Year” Grammy.
Now, he’s ready to wrap his Monkees legacy. He could conceivably record with the band again. His contributions to the Monkees’ first album in 20 years, the recent “Good Times!” reveal he has plenty of creativity left within him. And he’s consistently generous to Tork, Dolenz and the late Jones in interviews.
It’s certainly common for musicians to play the “farewell tour” card and come back for more. With Nesmith, the claim deserves to be taken seriously.
The same holds true for the band. What began as a frothy TV show evolved into a pop culture staple. The group endured catcalls for letting The Wrecking Crew, among others, play the instruments for them.
All four members deserves some credit for surviving that critical ambush. Nesmith, though, led the way.
The Houston, Texas native wasn’t the savviest of the four performers responding to that iconic Variety ad seeking “4 insane boys” for a new TV show.
Today, he understands the business as well as anyone. He knows how rare it is to leave on top.
In doing so, he reminds us just how critical his role in the band was beyond the wool hat and his signature twang.