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Mike Nesmith

Michael Nesmith

Michael Nesmith (Pictured on right)(1942-2021) - The Monkees singer-songwriter, Aged 78 / Heart Failure
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There was an obituary for Don Zimmermann in the “Los Angeles Times” today. Actually, it was a remembrance, as Don died a year ago, at 85. I started doing the math, how old was he when I worked at Sanctuary, when I went to his house in La Cañada for that party, with Ed Bicknell and so many more… 49. Not too old for a record company president, he made it. But no one who wasn’t there remembers Don Zimmermann today.

Nor do they remember Bhaskar Menon, the last big cheese at Capitol//EMI, who made “Dark Side of the Moon” a hit. Menon died earlier this year. There were eventually obituaries, but in most cases not instantaneously, he wasn’t a big enough presence, not in 2021.

Who is the president of Capitol Records today?

Actually, I know that. But try naming the rest of the execs and you’re gonna have quite a problem, because being a record company executive is not the exalted position it once was. We all know Ted Sarandos and Reed Hastings, but most people have no idea who is running the movie studios, whereas in the seventies in Los Angeles they were gods. And Michael Ovitz was ascending, now he’s barely a footnote.

Is it just age or has something else changed?

Well, we all know who Jack Dorsey is. He just ankled Twitter. We can talk about financial pressure, but the truth is it just wasn’t fun anymore. He was managing the service, the innovation was in the rearview mirror. All that was left was the privacy issues. So he moved full time to his other gig, Square, now Block, where there’s still runway, the blockchain is still on the horizon, ready to be colonized and utilized by those with foresight and sharp elbows.

Then there’s the strange case of Doug Morris. The most powerful man in the record business for decades, no one even mentions his name anymore. Maybe he’s ill, I have no idea, but the truth is he’s forgotten. As for his legacy, the building of Universal Music, all the attention goes to Lucian Grainge these days, who’s getting a huge payday, but who is not as powerful as Michael Rapino, even though the media thinks recordings are more sexy than live performance.

Clive Davis? He’s hanging on at 89. He keeps trying to burnish his image, with books and film and his Grammy party. But when was the last time anybody listened to Ace of Base? And Milli Vanilli is talked about, but as a joke. When Clive passes away the somnambulant media, beholden to the past, will make a big deal about it, but the truth is no one will care, and the legacy will be invisible.

And then there are the Monkees. They say BTS is big, but they’re nowhere near as big as the Monkees were and continue to be.

Let me see, the big issue in their heyday was they didn’t play their own instruments, it was a knock on their credibility. Now almost no one plays an instrument period. Dancing seems to be more important. As for credibility…if you’ve got a check, they’ll take it.

The Monkees were on network television for only two years. But that was when there were only three networks, no cable, no streaming, no internet. There was not a boomer alive who didn’t know them and their songs, NOT ONE! And unlike the boy bands that followed them, they cut memorable material, that sustains to this day. Then again, their songs were written by such notables as Neil Diamond, Goffin and King, David Gates, Boyce and Hart, who all ended up having significant hits under their own names.

And the band were irreverent. That’s something that’s been excised from today’s society completely. Oh, there are jokesters, but many young music fans believe the presidency was stolen from Donald Trump and that Hillary was running a child sex ring out of a pizza parlor and that vaccinations will work against you as opposed to for you. They’re willing to die on these beliefs, not any record. A record is entertainment, not real life. The only people who take the artists seriously are nincompoops.

Not that the artists don’t think they’re bigwigs, deserving of attention. They’re competing with billionaires for money, and they’re never going to win that competition, whereas in the sixties, musicians were the billionaires!

So Micky Dolenz had been “Circus Boy,” and to this day he says he was just playing a role, that he was primarily an actor and then a director. He may feel that way, but that undercuts the fact that he had a mellifluous voice, when he “ahhhed” on “I’m a Believer”…I get chills writing about it now.

Davy Jones was the cute one. He sang some songs, even though Micky, on the drums, was truly the vocalist, kind of like Glenn Frey and Don Henley. (Ride with it please, Henley is a drummer with a unique, sandpapery voice, and it was always Frey’s band, but over time Henley outshined Frey.)

Peter Tork, the goofy one, was actually a musician. Would he have made it if he wasn’t in the Monkees? Highly doubtful. It’s Stephen Stills, who failed the audition, because of his teeth and more, who ended up being the superstar.

And that brings us down to Michael Nesmith. He was actually a musician. He wrote “Different Drum” for the Stone Poneys, a certified smash, a classic.

And he was the one with the wool hat. As identifiable as the others, if not even more so. And despite the hijinks, he was the voice of reason, the elder statesman on the show, he was the only one with gravitas, if we can say so. And when it was all over…he flew the coop (or the tree, maybe it should be).

So when it was over, Nesmith was the only one who had any traction as a musician. Dolenz stayed in TV, Jones went to legitimate theatre and Tork faded away, but Nesmith had the First National Band, and consensus was they were good, and credible, which was quite a leap if you consider his start in the public eye as a member of the Monkees.

And then Nesmith was on the bleeding edge of video, remember when his ” Rio” was a breakthrough, back when video was the cutting edge? I can still remember him flying in the sky in that clip, but today everybody has a quality video camera in their phone and is making their own clips and posting them online.

But Nesmith kept pushing the envelope, and you started to wonder as the years went by, how could he afford it?

His mother invented Liquid Paper. Just ask a kid what that is today. After you tell him that phones used to have dials, that people even used to talk on the phone. Forget offices, where it was a staple, if you went to college Liquid Paper was your friend, there was no spellcheck on a Smith-Corona typewriter.

Yes, Nesmith was rich, and therefore could follow his muse, and it took him a very long time to decide to become a Monkee once again.

The Monkees did not fade away. The deserving songs survived, but then there was the renaissance of the TV show thanks to MTV. And then, believe it or not, people started to agitate for the band to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I’ll tell you one thing, the Monkees had more hits, more memorable tracks, than many of the members of that august institution.

But they’ll only get in as oldsters, like Kraftwerk, if at all. Too much time has passed, the organization must stay relevant, it must induct young ‘uns.

So now Michael Nesmith is dead. 78 seems young these days. We expect you to live into your nineties, like Lina Wertmüller, who made Giancarlo Giannini famous in “Seven Beauties” and “Swept Away,” two utterly classic films from the art cinema era that no one even talks about anymore, but they were events, they impacted the culture. Wertmüller outlived her relevance, her legacy, she just died at 93, but the radio is still playing those Monkees songs. And we’re still listening to them.

“Here we come, walkin’ down the street”

And now they’re going, and in the case of three Monkees, gone. History. Kaput. Which means…we’re next.

Yes, the baby boomers are falling off the edge of the conveyor belt of life. You can try to resist, but it’s fruitless. Walt Disney has never been reanimated and despite his best efforts, Sumner Redstone died too. It’s inevitable.

But it’s even worse, so much of what you held near and dear is gone already. All those albums you bought in the sixties and seventies. You sold your vinyl years ago, when you grew up and had no room or when you were told CDs were perfect. However much you regret the loss, the truth is no one ever talks about them, no one laments the inability to hear them, and if you Google “Already Gone” you’ll get the Kelly Clarkson song, not the seventies classic sung by the aforementioned Glenn Frey.

But the Monkees remained and sustained. Funny how despite all the naysaying fifty plus years ago, they’re still part of America’s fabric. It’s the songs. Songs last. Assuming they have melody and all the rest of the building blocks the Brill Building was built upon.

So it’s very strange to be a baby boomer. You ruled for your entire life. You rolled right over Generation X, the Millennials were your kids so you influenced them, but Generation Z? There’s no direct connection, they don’t have the same history, they don’t care about their elders, they’re concerned with global warming and fairness in a way the boomers never were, it’s their world now, no matter how hard the boomers try to hang on and maintain control.

But we had a good run, a great one. The government worked. As did protest. We changed the world. And then the world changed us, we became greedy, everything was personal as opposed to group, screw society, what’s in it for me? Meanwhile, democracy started to fall apart while we were all focused on our lifestyles.

But once upon a time, we were believers. And in truth we believed in so much, but primarily music. And there were so many stars, that’s how big and powerful music was. And Michael Nesmith was one of them, he was in the galaxy, he never became a joke, always maintained his dignity and we still wanted to see him perform.

But now the Monkees are history. Micky Dolenz could still go on the road, but what’s the point, it’s too sad. Maybe as part of an oldies show, or Ringo’s All Starr Band, but as a solo act? Almost too creepy.

As for those still alive, some have lost their voices, you go to see them and wince, telling yourself you’ll never go again. Others are just too infirm to work anymore. And there are a whole slew of others who can’t go out because no promoter will pay for them, never mind fans ponying up to buy tickets.

Rock and roll was supposed to be forever, it was supposed to never die. And the funny thing is, despite its absence in the hit parade, it’s still the dominant sound today, on jukeboxes, live, it’s an underground consciousness.

Not that we truly wanted to die before we got old.

But now that we’re old we don’t want to die at all.

Like Michael Nesmith, gone…


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