Air Force vet Michael Nesmith was more than just a Monkee
Michael Nesmith is perhaps best known as a member of ’60s rock sensation The Monkees, but he led an inventive and fascinating life outside of his time with the band. Let’s pay tribute to the Air Force veteran, who passed away at the age of 78 on December 10, 2021.
Nesmith, born and raised in Dallas, Texas, dropped out of high school to join the Air Force in 1960. He spent his entire military career near home, with basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio and aircraft mechanic training at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls. He spent the rest of his career stationed at Clinton-Sherman Air Force Base in Oklahoma.
After an honorable release in 1962, he briefly attended San Antonio College before leaving for Los Angeles. He found work as an emcee for the open mic “Hoot Nights” at the Troubadour nightclub in West Hollywood, making connections with the local songwriting community and trying to gain a foothold in the music business. .
His life changed when he was cast alongside Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork in “The Monkees”, an NBC television series based on the Beatles’ movie “A Hard Day’s Night”. The show was an immediate and massive success when it debuted in September 1966 and made the group one of the most successful in the world.
Their TV series burned alive and fast. While it enjoyed enormous success in the 1966-67 season and won the Emmy for Best Comedic Series, audiences plunged into season two and the show was canceled in 1968 after 58 episodes.
The band continued to record and tour until Nesmith left the band in 1970. They had a surprising comeback when MTV started airing reruns in 1986 and the band captured another generation of fans. They got together and continued to tour until Dolenz and Nesmith performed what turned out to be the last group show in November 2021.
Nesmith may be more famous as a pop star, but he made a major contribution to the creative arts in all kinds of ways after leaving The Monkees. Here are six amazing things Michael Nesmith did besides the Monkees.
Nesmith was an aspiring recording artist before joining the show and wrote several songs which became hits for other artists. “Mary Mary”, later recorded by the Monkees, was originally recorded as a potential single for the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.
“Different Drum” was a Top 20 hit in 1967 for Los Angeles folk-rock group The Stone Ponies. The group was led by Linda Ronstadt, 21. The single was her first successful record in what would become a recording career.
2. Artist’s rights warrior
The producers who formed the Monkees treated the group like actors who should have stuck with the script, but they picked four talented musicians who wanted to participate in the records they were supposed to sell.
Nesmith organized the group and they fired producer Don Kirshner so they could take charge of their third album, “Headquarters” from 1967. The album reached number one on the charts before being replaced a week later. by The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”.
Nesmith wrote, played 12-string electric guitar, and sang the lead vocals for the album’s first song, “You Told Me.” Dolenz played drums, Jones played percussion, Tork played banjo, and the four members sang backing vocals.
3. Country rock pioneer
After Nesmith left the Monkees in 1970, he formed Michael Nesmith & the First National Band. The band recorded three LPs for RCA Records, and the single “Joanne” written by Nesmith reached No. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100.
4. Music video visionary
Nesmith started the production company Pacific Arts in the late 1970s with the ambition of marrying music with video. His 1981 home video album “Elephant Parts”, best known for the song “Cruisin ‘”, won a Grammy and helped develop the editing styles that would dominate MTV, the music video chain partially inspired by his work.
His ideas inspired the short-lived NBC television series “Michael Nesmith in Television Parts”, a 1985 comedy and music show starring then-unknown talents such as Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Whoopi Goldberg and Arsenio Hall.
5. Heir to office products
Nesmith’s parents divorced when he was four, and his mother Bette took office jobs to support her family. In 1955, she changed the world by inventing Liquid Paper, a fast-drying solution that makes it easy to correct typed documents. She ran the business for a quarter of a century and sold it to Gillette for $ 48 million in 1979. That would be $ 185 million in today’s dollars.
If you are too young to have used a typewriter, you may never understand how revolutionary a Liquid Paper product and its main competitor Wite-Out were for college students who set a deadline for a paper. research at the end of a semester.
Nesmith managed to insert a plug-in for his mother’s old business on “Television Parts”.
6. Film producer
Pacific Arts connected Nesmith to a younger generation of underground artists in Los Angeles, and he produced two of the best cult films of the 1980s.
“Repo Man” (1984) brought Californian punk rock culture to the rest of America in a dry comedy starring WWII Navy veteran Harry Dean Stanton and Emlio Estevez. It is the first feature film directed by legendary underground filmmaker Alex Cox.
“Tapeheads” (1988) featured John Cusack and Tim Robbins as con artists who want to get into music video games. It’s a nasty satire of a genre Nesmith helped create and follows the career revival of a fictional ’60s soul duo called The Swanky Modes (played by Junior Walker and Sam Moore of Sam & Dave) .
“Repo Man” was a modest box office success. “Tapeheads” wasn’t, but both films have developed staunch followers over the past four decades.
When the Monkees struck, the show’s producers wanted to promote Mike, Micky, Davy, and Peter as idolatrous teenagers, so the fact that Nesmith was an Air Force veteran who was married with a child when he started out. the series was a secret to children in America. never learned.
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