Q&A: Michael Nesmith of the Monkees
The singer, songwriter and guitarist is returning to the road this summer with the Monkees for a tour that will bring him, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork to the Music Box at Altantic City’s Borgata Hotel, Casino and Spa on Friday, May 23 and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark on Saturday, May 24.
Nesmith returned to the mid-’60s hit-makers for the first time in decades, save a handful of 1997 European dates, in 2012, and brought his “Movies of the Mind” solo show to the Monkees Official 2014 Convention in March in East Rutherford.
We recently chatted with Nesmith via email to discuss his history with the Monkees, his fondness for Facebook and his thoughts on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Q: You returned to working with Micky and Peter in 2012 for the first time in decades. What was it like reconnecting with your songs from the Monkees’ heyday, and what does the you of today think of your songwriting from the mid-60s?
A: I enjoyed it. I had to revisit the idea of a pop song played well, which is a good feeling in any case, and good music in many. I didn’t write too many of the Monkees’ songs – the objective of the Monkees albums was different from the type of songs I was writing which were more country-ish and folksy.
Q: A highlight of recent Monkees and “Movies of the Mind” shows has been “Listen to the Band.” That song has always been fascinating to me, because it feels like it could endlessly swing back and forth between the two main sections even if the lyrics are essentially the same lines, with minor variations, repeated three times. What do you think is the secret to that song’s creative success, and what are your memories of the writing process for that one?
A: It does indeed swing back and forth. The song is a mixture of a prayer and the answer to it. When I first recorded it I was happy to see that it could endlessly repeat. The band was fascinated – they were first-call session musicians in Nashville and had never encountered anything like it before. They went on to actually start a band – Area Code 615 – because of the sessions they did then.
I play it differently with my solo band than with the Monkees and in both cases the song is very satisfying to me.
Q: Since 2012, you’ve toured both the Monkees and as a solo artist. Is that particularly rewarding for you as a performer, having two separate outlets available for you to touch on separate eras of your career?
A: Very much. Two different efforts along two different creative lines is not an opportunity very many artists get. I love my solo work and the band, and I love working with the Monkees in concert – which is much more of a show – again – Pop Songs Played Well. Very rewarding and indescribably fun.
Q: Along with your own original material, as part of the Monkees you performed songs by plenty of acclaimed songwriters, including Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, Harry Nilsson, Neil Sedaka and Gerry Goffin and Carole King, even co-writing “Sweet Young Thing” with Goffin and King. What do you think you learned, as a songwriter, from working with these writers’ material in the band’s early period?
A: Actually, a lot of what they did was lost on me. I had no real understanding of the pop song – or even the pop culture – which is to say pop art. That understanding developed much later for me.
At the time, Carole King asked if I would like to write with her, but I was so intimidated by the idea of a pop song, and so naive as to the process, I turned down that opportunity. I loved CK’s work then, and still do, but it couldn’t have been any other way. I was clueless.
Q: This spring, you were in East Rutherford for the Monkees Convention. How was the convention experience for you? And, on a related note, what do you think it is about the Monkees and their work that continues to resonate with fans of all ages more than 45 years after the band debuted?
A: The convention itself was a revelation. I have known for a while that Monkees fans knew something I didn’t about the music and the experience of the show.
To meet them and talk to them in the context of a trade show where they exchanged the artifacts and memorabilia gave me a real insight, and I enjoyed learning about it.
I’m not sure, and never have been, why the Monkees resonated so strongly and have continued over the years. Not that I think it undeserved, just that it is a mystery. It’s clear that something is persistent here that is very substantial and meaningful – a spirit that was expressed that does not seem to have an end. But, real answer – I have no idea.
Q: As someone who follows you on Facebook, it seems to me that you’re really enjoying using that medium to communicate with fans. What are your thoughts on artists using social media as a platform to directly connect with folks?
A: I have a great connection to Facebook followers. Once I learned the Facebook dynamic was really about publishing and communication across a channel where one party stays quiet, I understood the form. Much less about gossip among friends and family and more about news and observation shared with many people.
I have an ongoing respect for the publishing art and trade, and have always liked the thought of delving more deeply into it – I have written two novels – but I never expected anything like Facebook would provide that same connection. I think anyone in the arts, and especially in the art of the written word, should try it.
Q: In recent years, outlets such as Time magazine and NPR have published think pieces on why the Monkees deserve a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. What are your thoughts on this issue, and do you have any particular wish for the band to be inducted into the Hall at some point?
A: I think it would be fine for the powers at RRHOF to include the Monkees – but it’s really up to them. They have very specific tastes and it is their enterprise, so they can curate it how they will. I have no reason to think the Monkees shouldn’t be included if they wished – I also have no reason to interfere with their personal choices. It (the inclusion) really all boils down to them having the right to hang whatever picture they want in their living room.
WHEN: 9 p.m. Friday, May 23
WHERE: The Music Box at the Borgata Hotel, Casino and Spa, One Borgata Way, Atlantic City
TICKETS: $89 to $95
ALSO: 8 p.m. Saturday, May 24 at New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s Prudential Hall, 1 Center St., Newark. Tickets $39.50 to $104.50.