Thursday, June 15, 2017

Review: Michael Nesmith's 'Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff'


In 1965, young Mike Nesmith was bumming around Texas under his shaggy tresses when he noticed that people were taking a lot more notice of him than usual. When he stepped into a 7-Eleven, the cashier flipped out and told him that the local radio station had been reporting on his appearances. Nesmith decided to pop in on the station manager to find out what the deal was. When he got to the station, the manager asked him to confirm that he was, indeed, George Harrison. Nesmith admitted he was not. The station manager threatened to have him arrested for fraud.

Mike Nesmith was not yet a Monkee when this asinine incident took place, but it pretty much sums up his experience in a made-for-TV band that a bunch of dummies assumed was as genuine a band as The Beatles and accused of fraud when they found out the band wasn’t.

Of course, The Monkees did become a genuine band with no shortage of fight from Mike Nesmith. So there’s no mystery behind why this particular fellow was thrust into the role of The Monkees’ leader both in the fictional world of their TV show and in real life. Nez seemed to have a complex relationship with that role. From the very beginning of The Monkees project, he was the most involved in their music as both writer and producer, yet based on his new autobiography Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff, he seemed as bewildered by that role as he was when he was almost tossed in the clink for not being George Harrison. Nesmith reveals that some innocent inquiries into how involved he would be with the music—and less innocent pleas to be let out of his contract when he discovered the bubblegum leanings of that music—prodded TV-series producer Bert Schneider to insist that Mike get involved with The Monkees records.

I’d always wondered how that happened—how a basically untried folk musician had been allowed to write and produce highly unconventional tracks for a primarily commercial project with so much riding on it. The problem with The Monkees’ story had always been that despite the band’s tremendous and ongoing popularity, it has never been told in a definitive and completely thorough way. Consequently, I had a lot of other questions, such as “What is Nesmith’s relationship with the unusual religion of Christian Science?” “What was the extent of his friendships with John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix” “Why did this apparent peacenik join the Air Force?” and “Why did he consider himself to be a loser, as he brands himself during one of those candid interviews at the end of the Monkees show?” In Infinite Tuesday, Nesmith addresses these topics thoroughly, candidly, and with no shortage of self-effacement. He also answer questions I’d never thought to ask about his involvement with a hippie commune and guru during a personal low point in the seventies and friendships with such luminaries as Douglas Adams and Timothy Leary, though I was less interested in his dealings in business and technology that dominate the narrative after the seventies.

Interestingly, the one thing Nesmith steers clear of in Infinite Tuesday is discussing Micky, Davy, and Peter in any depth despite talking at great length about his Monklees experience in the sixties. Perhaps their difficult relationship, one of the better known details of Monkees lore, made him back off, not wanting to stir the pot after his recent touring and recording experiences with his old cohorts. Whatever the reason, the oversight is glaring, as is the lack of any mention of the recent and tremendously successful Monkees reunions or even Davy Joness death. This is the one hole in an otherwise satisfying piece of storytelling, the telling of which recalls the dense lyricism of “Carlisle Wheeling” and “Tapioca Tundra”. A pop autobiography with genuinely interesting stories is rare. One that is also well written is rarer still.
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