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The Monkees' Resident Texan Plays an Autobiographical Riff

The Monkees out for a spin during their TV show, where knit-hatted Michael Nesmith was riding an uncertain wave of fame.
The Monkees out for a spin during their TV show, where knit-hatted Michael Nesmith was riding an uncertain wave of fame.
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Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff
By Michael Nesmith
Crown Archetype
, 320 pp., $28

First, here’s what this book by the lanky Texas musician/entrepreneur is not: a memoir that expends many pages (relatively) on his time with the Monkees. In fact, Nesmith dispatches his entire experience in one of the most popular groups of the ’60s, both on record and on TV, in a fairly brisk manner – and there’s nothing about any opinions of or personal relationships he may have forged with Davy, Micky or Peter, then or now.

But the Houston-born Nesmith does riff – hence the title – on a wide variety of other subjects of no surprise to those familiar with his somewhat quixotic nature.

These may include the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, gurus like Marshall McLuhan, Douglas Adams and Timothy Leary, Nesmith's early and important forays into country-rock, the films of Fellini, his infidelities, his fraught relationship with his mother (who invented Liquid Paper), his paintings and visual art, his lifelong practice of Christian Science, “Celebrity Psychosis,” and his work as a pioneering video producer. Nesmith's “Popclips” concept (and later program) is often credited with inspiring a little cable channel called MTV.

If that all sounds a bit far-flung, buckle up, dear reader. And the irony and sarcasm inherent in Nesmith’s personality – which sometimes made him enemies – are laced throughout the book. At least we get his version of the famous punching-a-hole-in-the-wall incident, in which Nesmith confronted producer Don Kirshner about increasing the Monkees' musical autonomy.

“The paradox was that in the very middle of [’60s music] innovation and invention, the Monkees were a transparent concoction, a copy carefully attached to the innovators of the time only by homage of imitation, unoriginal by every account,” he writes. “There was no effort to hide this artificiality because it was a feature, not a fault.”

Millions of Monkees fans will surely feel that Nesmith is being too harsh, as time has certainly been far kinder to the band’s canon, from the sprightly pop of “Last Train to Clarksville” and “I’m a Believer” to deeper-evolving material like “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” “The Porpoise Song” and Nesmith’s own “Circle Sky” and “Listen to the Band.”

And though at times Nesmith as an author comes off a bit professorial and smug, Infinite Tuesday is an honest tale about faith, creativity and coming together with the right groups and partners (and the wrong ones) in a life’s journey that has certainly followed a winding path — with the occasional dip into the ditch.

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