Sunday, January 4, 2009

One Monkee Requests a Brief Intermission

This is a big generalization, but . . . the sharpest, most eloquent and put together types don't make the best musicians. The great musicians usually have some critical character flaw that is compensated for because of their immense creative genius. Rarely do I find that popular music celebrates the soberly insightful straight-talker. In the case of today's highlighted artist, he's been hiding in broad daylight as that dude from the Monkees who wore the dorky stocking cap.

When I first got tipped off to Michael Nesmith as a serious artist I too scoffed. During my road-trip this summer I managed to find his first and third solo albums at a record shop in Nevada City, CA and I took a chance on them. I have yet to amass his entire solo works, but if they are anything like the three albums I do have then I'll be on the lookout for the others. A bit of internet research about the guy and you'll find his credibility is not in question. This interesting article in Swindle Magazine gives a decent overview of his life's work to date.

Like some of the other artists we've highlighted so far on WW&W, the Monkees crew were also very much intertwined in the hippy Laurel Canyon L.A. Rock scene. Fellow Monkee, Mickey Dolenz, was the most notorious Monkee in the canyon, but clearly Papa Nez (his nickname) was tight with some of the L.A. rock luminaries, such as Frank Zappa.

Later, after having pitched the idea of Music Videos to Nickelodeon's parent company (see the Swindle Mag article), he won the first Grammy award for Video in his "Elephant Parts" series of skits. You can buy it here. The previous year his mother, the inventor of liquid-paper, died and left him with over 50 million dollars. Papa Nez also founded the Council on Ideas, a biannual think-tank gathering of distinguished individuals brought together to brainstorm big ideas that can help heal the world.

To get back to my earlier generalization . . . Michael Nesmith is clearly no slouch, but after listening to these handful of tracks I think you'll find that his music is pretty good too. Sure, it's cerebral, but its also very artful and his lyrics are extremely honest and poignant, often showing an emotional maturity that is rarely found in rock music.

Michael Nesmith & the First National Band - Calico Girlfriend
The rockin' lead-off song from Papa Nez's first post-Monkees album.

Michael Nesmith & the First National Band - Nine Times Blue
Just listen to the words on this one. Have you ever heard such a plaintive and honest plea for a forgiveness?

Michael Nesmith & the First National Band - Little Red Rider
And I love how the last song segues right into this funky rock tune.

Michael Nesmith & the First National Band - Joanne
This is the "big hit" from his first album. I love his country-inflected falsetto.

p.s. - these four songs are the first four songs on the album meaning the whole thing is pretty nice.

Michael Nesmith & the First National Band - Nevada Fighter
This is almost like country-prog-rock with its strange and complicated arrangements.

Michael Nesmith & the First National Band - Tumbling Tumbleweeds
A nice version of this classic country tune that you may recognize in another version from the movie "The Big Lebowski."

Michael Nesmith - Different Drum
Papa Nez wrote this song and Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Ponys made it a hit. This is from a later album of his after he disbanded the first and second national bands. This album is stripped down to just Michael on guitar and vocal and Red Rhodes (who played on nearly everything he did during the early seventies) on pedal steel.


David C. said...

Yep. I force-fed Nez to my son and his friends in the 70s and 80s and was almost always met with a blank stare. Sic semper parentis, I always say, and not without dad loved Hank Williams, whom I considered a hick. Then. Not now.

The examples in the post are excellent, but I would urge readers not to forget his soulful and lighthearted contributions as well. "El Dorado to the Moon" and "Rio" from The Newer Stuff' and from Tropical Campfires: "In the Still of the night". Great stuff. Thanks for the post. You gots a lot more of Nez to find, I suspect.

the ambassador said...


Thanks for the comment and yes, "I've just begun to care" about this man's body of work. I'll probably work from the older to the newer as that's usually how I get into a new favorite artist. I'll look out for those tracks you mention in your comment. Best, allen