Up until a few weeks before his death, Mike Nesmith was touring as the Monkees with Micky Dolenz, the band’s other surviving member, performing I’m A Believer, Pleasant Valley Sunday, Daydream Believer et al, on what was billed as their farewell tour. There was a certain sweet irony in that.
Nesmith was famously the Monkee most horrified by how prefabricated the Prefab Four were supposed to be. Already a gifted songwriter when he signed on for the TV show that would make him famous (Screen Gems, the company behind The Monkees, bought a couple of Nesmith’s songs for the show, although they turned down Different Drum, subsequently the song that launched Linda Ronstadt’s career) he was furious at the restrictions placed on them by producer Don Kirshner. At the height of their fame, it was Nesmith who bluntly informed a US magazine that the band didn’t play on their records – “I don’t care if we never sell another record … tell the world we don’t record our own music” – and that their current album, More of the Monkees, was “probably the worst album in the history of the world”. It was Nesmith who legendarily became so outraged by Kirshner and lawyer Herb Moelis’ high-handed treatment of the band that he put his fist through the wall of Kirshner’s Beverly Hills hotel room and informed Moelis “that could have been your face”.
It was the first in a number of genuinely groundbreaking things that Mike Nesmith would do: albeit unwittingly, he had singlehandedly minted the figure of the manufactured pop band’s loose cannon, unable to cope with the strictures of being stage-managed, willing to blow the gaff in order to escape them: a recurring character in subsequent pop history.
The Monkees in Head: Peter Tork, Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith, Micky Dolenz. Photograph: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock
At the time, Nesmith’s behaviour caused chaos – weirdly, rather than laud him for standing up for himself and his bandmates, the press turned on the Monkees, decrying them as “a disgrace to the pop world” – but he eventually won the fight: Kirshner was fired, and the band took control of their own musical direction.
Nevertheless, Nesmith’s attitude to the Monkees seemed to remain equivocal at best. The brilliant country rock albums he made in the 70s didn’t receive the reaction they deserved, at least at the time: it was as if the Monkees’ manufactured legacy clung to his name, regardless of the music he made. Even when the Monkees’ oeuvre was reassessed as a subject befitting scholarly box sets and the TV series reshown on MTV to huge success, Nesmith remained detached. He would sometimes take part in band reunion tours and recording sessions, but usually declined. When he did agree, said reunions sometimes ended …….