Michael Nesmith Talks Monkees, Music Videos and the Internet
Recently in town performing with The Monkees, Michael Nesmith is much, much more than just the guitarist for a ’60s pop band. Over his lengthy career, Nesmith has worked as a producer, novelist, and actor and is often cited as the person responsible for creating music video.
Via email and in anticipation of performing Wednesday night at the Kessler Theater, Nesmith talked with DC9 about his current “Movies of the Mind” tour, his time in Dallas and how he doesn’t plan on attending any reunions at Thomas Jefferson High School.
You were just in Dallas performing with the Monkees. Does playing with the band split time with you performing solo?
It seems to be working out that way. I love playing with the Monkees show. It is very different than my solo work and gives me an opportunity to play some great pop songs.
Can you explain the concept of Movies of the Mind? How are the set lists organized?
It started on my first solo tour in fall of 2012 in Glasgow. I was introducing the songs by sharing with the audience how they live in my mind. Each is set in a kind of narrative like a gem set in a ring or a bracelet — not exactly what the song is about but more where the song might come to life. It was well received and many people encouraged me to expand the idea and do more. So I have and it seems to be working well. Lot so of positive feedback. The show is a nice slow build with a big finish.
You are often credited with creating the genre of music video. Is that like being called Dr. Frankenstein?
It might if I actually created it — but it was more of a discovery. I stumbled into it looking for some way to visually represent the song “Rio” for foreign distribution. When the video popped out the way it did it surprised all of us — and most importantly it seemed to have its own creative base — its own film grammar. I was as surprised as anyone. That’s why it is such an easy form to work in and why so many people try it. Obviously not all succeed.
You went to Thomas Jefferson high school. Do you ever attend school reunions? Would you perform at one?
I have never been to a reunion and doubt I would ever go at this stage.
Do you live in California? Would you consider living in Dallas again? What are some of your best memories of your time in Dallas?
I do live in California. I moved there when I was 20 but my mother lived here [in Dallas] all her life so I was back regularly, probably at El Fenix and El Chico. Are they still around?
You’ve been involved in the music industry for almost 50 years. What do you think of the current state of the music business? What are the best and worst changes you have seen?
The best change is that the independent artists have a fair chance these days. The field has leveled and is available to everyone. The worst is that it is hard to find the right way through the distribution mystery with all the available formats.
How insane is P.J. O’Rourke? Can you talk a little about your time with him?
I don’t know about insane — but he is a good guy, a lot of fun to be with, and a good friend. We have had some great adventures together. Peej always had wild ideas about where to go and have fun. I pretty much went along with everything he suggested except for visiting El Salvador during the revolution. I passed on that.
One biography refers to you as a musician, songwriter, actor, producer, novelist, businessman, and philanthropist. Is that about it? If you could only be described as one of these, which would it?
I suppose writing is actually my first craft. Meaning it is the one I am most comfortable with and have the most fun doing. Everything else flows from that.
Are you currently recording new material?
Lots of new works are in various stages of completion. I write and record consistently and have many projects going at one time although not always designed for the public consumption. Right now my focus is on this show — movies of the mind — and to see if that will produce any lasting results.
Are you surprised that the recordings of the Monkees have remained popular for so long?
I don’t know how popular they are in the scheme of things but I’m not surprised. The Monkees fans have a lot invested in the Monkees and are loyal and committed — so when we perform a good time is had by all. It tends to be the same crowd over the years — lots of old friends together. It seems the huge effect of the Internet is what is really developing the new stars — and will probably set the new standards. I’m glad the Monkees persist as they have. It’s been a great ride.