On August 25, 2017, Michael Nesmith made a special appearance in Sand City, California in promotion of his book, Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff. Thanks a lot to Tim Buckley for submitting this report of the event:
Sand City is a very small town of about 12 square blocks that is surrounded by the city of Seaside, which borders Monterey to the north. Blink and you can miss it. The event took place in a conference room that accommodated about 100 but was only about 2/3 to 3/4 full. Everything lasted about 90 minutes and was very well executed.
The host, who was from the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur, introduced Michael Nesmith by mentioning one particular time he came to the library only to hear "Writing Wrongs" playing inside at that exact time.
Michael began his remarks by talking about the two books he has previously written and how he has been attracted to ideas and people with ideas. That led to his friendship with Douglas Adams, with whom he would travel on promotional appearances to watch how he interacted with his fans (this, I think, might have led to Michael being more open or accepting of the Monkees experience and his own fans). Adams told him that ideas need to be bounced around into a something that the artist can connect with while also being able to connect those ideas with an audience.
From there, Michael talked about the influence of Sand City. He had been coming to Carmel, California since 1963, where his mother's vacation home was located, and ultimately moved there in 1974. He mentioned that he developed a deep study of the metaphysical during his acid-taking days in the early 1970s, which was profound. This led to him writing and recording the album From a Radio Engine to the Photon Wing. Nez also said that working with Nashville musicians was great and that it led to a musical peak that was similar to the "Listen to the Band" sessions in 1968.
He went on to talk about his experience with Chris Blackwell (who, through Island Records, held the international distribution of his Pacific Arts music). Michael then read a long passage from Infinite Tuesday about how he, his then-wife Kathryn, and Bill Dear produced the video for "Rio" and how the video created a revolution that changed how music was delivered and experienced. That spark was created in Sand City. He proceeded to sit in the back of the room (next to fans in attendance) and played the video.
After this screening, Michael took questions from the audience. A woman asked if he remembered any recording sessions from 1965-1967. He replied that he did not since they all meshed together. Someone added that 90% percent of his music from 1966-1973 was recorded at RCA Los Angeles so it would be a challenge to remember every single session. Another person asked about The Prison, which Michael called a noble failure. He said the multi-media project was a little too ahead of its time but that it has a very strong following and it's always mentioned when he makes an appearance.
At the very end, Nez took two Monkees-related questions. The first asked if his experience with The Monkees helped with creating the "Rio" video. He said he didn't think so since he was just a paid actor playing a part and creating music along with it. He relayed that he had no real interest or clue how the show was produced, and that he did what he was told: stand here, act a certain way, mimic this song. Michael said Micky Dolenz was the one who had a real interest in production and that they all believed Micky would be the one with the brightest future in Hollywood.
The last question dealt with the infamous Jeff Barry story regarding "I'm a Believer," where Barry contends that after hearing the song Michael said, "I'm a producer, too, and that ain't a hit." Nez flatly denied saying this, calling it false. He said if you look at books and other information, the group was not in the studio at all in the fall of 1966. He said they were concentrating on three things during that time period: filming the show, promoting the show around the country, and practicing how to be a band and perform live. He mentioned Micky's unique drum set up and that Peter Tork would give Micky a lot of support, and that Peter could take something that was musically complex and simplify it to the point of Micky or the band understanding it. Peter, Michael said, was the one who brought the harpsichord into "The Girl I Knew Somewhere" and that "Tapioca Tundra" was written about the experience of their first concert in Hawaii. Again, he couldn't remember specifics, but he felt sure that he and Peter were being kept out of the loop by Don Kirshner and that is what started the tension between the two camps. Nez said that he didn't even hear "I'm a Believer" until it was released.
All of this led to one last interesting point about Kirshner. Michael said he believes the real reason Columbia let him go was that he crossed a line with Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson. When The Monkees' popularity began to skyrocket, Nez said that Kirshner started taking all of the credit for making the group successful and at times would imply that he helped create them. When More Of The Monkees was released and sold 5 million copies, Kirshner thought he was infallible. By taking credit for The Monkees' success, Nez said that he really ticked off Bert and Bob, who as the real creators of the project became angered. Instead, it was the hard work of the TV and music people as well as the group themselves that led to the success. The mandate from Raybert for The Monkees to record B-sides for their singles was an attempt to anger Kirshner and let him know who was really the boss. By the time of the third single fiasco, Kirshner's ego got so big that he was now angering the leadership at Columbia Pictures who ultimately decided to fire him.
After the Q & A, Michael proceeded to sign copies of Infinite Tuesday. All proceeds from book sales went to the Henry Miller Library. One last note - a retired music executive was standing in front of me (from Arista Records, I think). When he approached Michael he told him that The Monkees were the reason for the success of such music industry figures like Whitney Houston, Clive Davis, and the whole Arista Records operation. Surprised, Nez asked why. The exec said he had worked at Bell Records (and later Arista) at the time Columbia Pictures bought the label in 1969. He said that as a result of The Monkees' success, Columbia Pictures realized that they could make money by distributing popular music, and that Columbia bought Bell with profits they made from The Monkees. Columbia later hired Davis, who closed Bell and formed Arista. These events, the executive said, wouldn't have happened if The Monkees hadn't been so successful.
A big thank you to Tony McGrath for alerting the Live Almanac about this great story!
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