I have some sad news to share today. Michael Nesmith, the talented musician who rose to fame as a member of The Monkees, has passed away at the age of 78. I had the pleasure of meeting him in 2019, and I can attest that he was not only incredibly talented but also a genuinely nice person. His contributions as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist will be greatly missed.
Michael Nesmith was often referred to as “the Smart One” among The Monkees. However, this label wasn’t always a blessing for him. As the intellectually inclined member of the popular 1960s pop group, he often found himself frustrated with the superficiality of teen idol-dom.
During the run of The Monkees’ television series from 1966 to 1968, Nesmith yearned for a larger role in the creation of their music. Despite being an accomplished musician himself, much of their music was produced by session players and songwriters. He grappled with the idea of what it truly meant to be part of a band, as opposed to merely portraying one on screen.
In interviews, he questioned the critical path of a band and what defines its essence. These were concerns that likely didn’t trouble his fellow Monkees as much. In 1970, Nesmith decided to buy himself out of his contract and embark on a solo career, highlighting his foresight as both a musician and an artist.
Pioneering Country-Rock and Music Video
Nesmith was at the forefront of two significant cultural movements: country-rock and the music video. His solo career marked a departure from the pop sound of The Monkees, as he infused his music with elements of country and rock. This innovative fusion resonated with audiences and influenced the development of country-rock as a genre.
Additionally, Nesmith had a keen eye for groundbreaking media projects. As early as 1977, he released the album “From a Radio Engine to the Photon Wing,” which included songs written as mini-film scripts. This concept, predating the idea of a “visual album,” showcased Nesmith’s visionary approach to his artistry.
A Multifaceted Artist and Entrepreneur
Not only was Nesmith a talented musician, but he also dabbled in other creative endeavors. In 1975, he released a novel called “The Prison,” which was accompanied by a companion “soundtrack” album. This early example of a multimedia release demonstrated his ability to explore various artistic mediums.
Nesmith also demonstrated his business acumen by purchasing the master tapes of his solo albums from RCA Records. This shrewd move allowed him to reissue his albums independently, ultimately benefiting from the sales. His entrepreneurial spirit and forward-thinking approach set him apart from many of his peers.
Remembering Michael Nesmith’s Legacy
Michael Nesmith’s passing leaves a void in the music industry. His contributions to The Monkees, country-rock, and music videos have left an indelible mark on the art form. Beyond his musical talents, he demonstrated a curiosity and drive to push boundaries through his multimedia projects.
Let us remember Michael Nesmith not only as “the Smart One” of The Monkees but also as a visionary artist who shaped the landscape of music and media. His talent, creativity, and entrepreneurial spirit will continue to inspire generations to come.