Monday, November 4, 2013

Like Mike

I was a Monkees fan. In fact, I was a member of the official Monkees fan club. The Monkees, for the sadly uninformed and inexperienced, were a “made for television” rock band; the four members (Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork), were individually cast and put together as a band. While the Beatles were hailed as the Fab Four; the Monkees were derided as the Pre-Fab Four. The television show was modeled after the Beatles’ films “Help” and “A Hard Day’s Night” and so consisted of madcap adventures interspersed with musical numbers.

The Monkees’ music was actually quite good. They recorded songs written by such outstanding songwriters as Carole King & Gerry Coffin, Neil Diamond, and Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart. On their first couple of albums, which were rather creatively titled “The Monkees” and “More of the Monkees,” the band members sang the songs but 99% of the instrumental contribution was by session musicians. Eventually the Monkees, led by Michael Nesmith (an excellent guitarist and songwriter who had already penned “Different Drum,” Linda Ronstadt’s first hit), revolted against the restrictions that had been placed on them and gained creative control of their recordings.

Nesmith was my favorite Monkee because we had several things in common. For one thing, we shared a name. For another, he was tall and skinny. For another, he sometimes wore glasses (I wore them all the time). For yet another, he had dark wavy hair (which mine turned out to me when I finally grew it long). He was also charming, intelligent, clever, and talented … and I had high hopes.

The Monkees continued to record for several years after the television show ended, but eventually they went their separate ways, although they have toured occasionally over the years, usually without Nesmith, who had found lots of other things in the music and video worlds to do, including making a couple of records with The First National Band and recording many solo projects. Earlier this year, though, Dolenz, Tork, and Nesmith toured together following Jones’ sudden death last year.

Michael Nesmith is now seventy years old. This fall he has undertaken a solo tour in which he is playing many of the songs that he has written and recorded over the course of his fifty-year music career. My good wife and I, along with about 125 other people, had the privilege of seeing him last week in a cozy venue in Birmingham. It was great fun to see him having such a good time performing many songs from his body of work, including “Joanne,” “Some of Shelly’s Blues,” “Propinquity (I’ve Just Begun to Care),” “Silver Moon,” “Yellow Butterfly,” “Rays,” and “Grand Ennui.” He ended the show with his sole performance of a song from the Monkees era, “Listen to the Band.”

The show was a great trip through a life of music; we and others who are hearing Nesmith on this tour are privileged that he is sharing that life with us.

We are all building a body of work; we are all making a life. I hope and pray that we—and I surely include myself—can look back on our body of work and know that we have accomplished something that helped folks out a little bit. I hope and pray that we will continue to want to share our lives with others and especially to share those parts of our lives that, for whatever reason, created and continue to create a mutual experience of joy.

How cool it must be to still be willing and able, after seventy years of life and fifty years of work, to keep doing your thing and to share your love and joy with others.

Michael Nesmith was once who I wanted to be when I grew up.

All these years later, he still is …


Anonymous said...

One of the sweetest reviews I've read. Well said!

Michael Ruffin said...

Thank you!