Michael Nesmith obituary | The Monkees

Being the member of the Monkees dubbed “the Good One” was not an unqualified blessing for Michael Nesmith, who has died aged 78 of coronary heart failure. Because the songwriterly mental of the massively profitable Nineteen Sixties pop group, he was deeply annoyed by the self-love of sweet sixteen idoldom.

All through the run of the Monkees’ 1966–68 tv collection, he agitated for a bigger position within the writing and taking part in of their music – which was largely made by extra expert session gamers and writers – whereas agonising over the very nature of pop bands. To listen to him inform it, he had thought he was signing as much as be a musician in an actual group, solely to seek out himself an actor taking part in one. It threw the introspective Texan, whose visible logos had been a woollen hat and muttonchop sideburns, right into a spin.

Michael Nesmith struggled with the idea of the Monkees. He thought he was signing up to be a musician in a real group, only to find himself an actor playing one.
Michael Nesmith struggled with the concept of the Monkees. He thought he was signing as much as be a musician in an actual group, solely to seek out himself an actor taking part in one. {Photograph}: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Pictures

“What constitutes a vital path for a band? What defines the band? What makes it flip right into a band?” he requested an interviewer – questions that in all probability by no means troubled his extra phlegmatic co-Monkees, Davy Jones, Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz. Receiving no passable solutions, in 1970 Nesmith purchased himself out of the remaining three years of his contract and plunged right into a solo profession that confirmed him to be not simply the sensible Monkee however the prescient one.

Nesmith was within the vanguard of two main cultural developments, country-rock and the music video, and in addition turned out to have an eye fixed for groundbreaking media tasks. There was the 1977 album, From a Radio Engine to the Photon Wing, whose songs had been written as mini-film scripts – predating the concept of the “visible album” by a long time – whereas The Jail (1975), a novel with a companion “soundtrack” album, was an early instance of a multimedia launch.


He was additionally farsighted sufficient to purchase the grasp tapes of his solo albums from RCA Information, permitting him to revenue when he reissued them by way of his personal firm.

Later he was among the many first to purchase up licences to varied movies and TV collection, profitably releasing them as house movies. Alongside the best way he established the Council on Ideas, a brains belief that convened biannually to debate the issues of the day, from overpopulation to lack of respect for cultural variety. Ultimately he even made peace together with his Monkee previous, sometimes becoming a member of the others on excursions and new albums from 1996 onward.

Born in Houston, Texas, he was the one baby of Warren Nesmith, an vehicle elements clerk, and Bette (nee McMurray). His father was serving abroad throughout the second world conflict when Michael was born, and his mother and father divorced quickly after Warren returned. Bette and son moved to Dallas, the place Michael had a “filth poor, simply depressing” childhood, together with his mom struggling to make ends meet as a financial institution secretary.

He was in his early teenagers when she created a correction fluid that painted over typing errors – the primary of its kind – and commenced promoting it to different secretaries. She paid Michael $1 an hour to bottle it of their storage, however the enterprise rapidly outgrew her expectations. By the point she was purchased out by Gillette for $47.5m in 1979, her product, often called Liquid Paper, was promoting 25m bottles a 12 months. At her loss of life in 1980, Michael inherited half her fortune.

Michael Nesmith taking part in the Monkees farewell tour in Los Angeles last month.
Michael Nesmith participating within the Monkees farewell tour in Los Angeles final month. {Photograph}: Scott Dudelson/Getty Pictures

The cash got here in useful. He had paid $450,000 to interrupt his Monkee contract, and instantly afterwards had based a well-reviewed however commercially unsuccessful nation group, the First Nationwide Band (the title was a play on First Nationwide Financial institution, a characteristically sardonic little bit of humour). There was extra expenditure in 1974, when he arrange Pacific Arts Productions, a multi-tentacled outfit that distributed movies, financed movies (together with the culty Repo Man and Tapeheads) and launched Nesmith’s music.

The title of his 1972 solo album, And the Hits Simply Carry on Comin’, advised its personal story: his file firm on the time was jostling him to make poppier materials, however Nesmith carried on as he was, producing only one minor hit single, 1970’s lamentful Joanne, after which he by no means reached the Prime 40 once more.

A profession within the arts had been his solely goal since his days at Thomas Jefferson highschool in Dallas, the place he was an detached scholar however by no means missed choir or drama courses. In his remaining 12 months he left to affix the US Air Pressure, and when he was discharged after 14 sad months, moved to San Antonio to attend school, the place he met his future spouse, Phyllis Barbour.

Impressed by each Bob Dylan and Texas’s nation and western radio stations, he was writing songs by then, and in addition taking part in them at small gigs, Phyllis sometimes singing with him. His first single, Wanderin’/ Well, Well, Well, launched on a San Antonio label round 1963, was uncooked, Woody Guthrie-esque people, however he noticed his future within the hipper music scene of Los Angeles, and moved there in 1964.

One other single, The New Recruit, recorded as “Michael Blessing”, did nothing a lot, however whereas working as “hootmaster” – grasp of ceremonies – on the Troubadour membership, he did a set of his personal songs one evening (together with Different Drum, later successful for Linda Ronstadt) and was supplied a publishing deal. His profession was sidetracked, although, when his writer’s assistant urged him to audition for a tv pilot a few wacky rock band.

Nesmith’s sarcastic display screen take a look at was singular sufficient to get him a job he was not even certain he needed: although many Monkees songs at the moment are thought-about classics, he didn’t just like the music, and, regardless of managing to get a few his personal songs on to each album, he chafed at being pressured to function inside the group’s manufactured parameters. In 1967, arguing with the musical supervisor Don Kirshner about not being allowed to play on their information, he punched a gap by way of the wall of a resort room. The following 12 months, to distract himself from “this [Monkees] monster”, he launched his first solo album, the all-instrumental oddity The Wichita Train Whistle Sings.

His departure from the Monkees was rapidly adopted by the launch of The First Nationwide Band, a circle of country-loving musician buddies who moved to the forefront of what turned nation rock. For many years, nevertheless, Nesmith’s boyband previous saved them from receiving the identical recognition as fellow travellers Gram Parsons and the Byrds. Later within the 70s he made what has been credited as the first music video, for the track Rio.

Intrigued by the potential of including a visible storyline to a track, he then developed a video collection referred to as PopClips. It ran for 56 episodes on the Nickelodeon channel, and was the forerunner of MTV. Nesmith went on to make an hour-long comedy-and-music clip, Elephant Components, that gained a Grammy award within the new finest video class in 1982.


Nesmith matured right into a magisterial, philosophical determine – “Nesmith goals to specific the Infinite,” proclaimed his Fb web page – who was identified to followers as Papa Nez. In later life he wrote two novels and issued a memoir, Infinite Tuesday (2017), which barely talked about the Monkees. He continued to tour often; in 2018, whereas on the highway as a duo with Dolenz, he suffered coronary heart failure and underwent a quadruple bypass. Eight months later, seemingly unscathed, he was again on tour together with his personal group. He was performing as not too long ago as final month with Dolenz, on a Monkees “farewell tour”.

Nesmith’s marriage to Phyllis, with whom he had three kids, led to divorce in 1975. He was married to Kathryn Bild from 1976 till 1988, and to Victoria Kennedy between 2000 and 2011; each of these marriages additionally led to divorce. He’s survived by his kids from his first marriage, Christian, Jonathan and Jessica; by a son, Jason, with the photographer Nurit Wilde, and two grandchildren.

Robert Michael Nesmith, musician, born 30 December 1942; died 10 December 2021

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