In the mid-1960s, Michael Nesmith was writing songs and working the Los Angeles club scene when someone showed him an ad: A new TV show was looking for people to audition. He did — and the next thing he knew, he was a Monkee.
But Nesmith's career has extended well beyond the as-seen-on-TV band. In his new memoir, Infinite Tuesday, he recalls forming his own group, creating one of the first music videos, writing novels and becoming friends with the likes of John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix. At one point, during the summer of 1967, Hendrix even opened for The Monkees on tour — but it didn't last long.
"We were playing to 10 and 12,000 14-year-old girls," Nesmith recalls. "And so when [Hendrix] walked on stage, it was an absolute anomaly. When he started playing 'Foxy Lady,' they were saying, 'We want Davy, we want Davy!' He could really only take a little bit of that, and after about eight or 10 concerts he finally walked off the stage and said, 'Look, I can't do this anymore.'"
Perhaps even stranger than the touring combination of Hendrix and The Monkees was the story of how that bill came to be.
"We'd all gone out to dinner one time, John [Lennon] was late," Nesmith says. "He came in at a point and he said, 'Sorry I'm late, but I was in a club and I heard this guy and I recorded it. You just have to listen to this.' And he pulled out a little tape recorder, put it on the table and played 'Foxy Lady,' that Jimi was playing live at that club.
"And the table went silent, we were speechless. So when I got back to the hotel I said, 'Strangest thing happened, John came with this tape of Jimi Hendrix,' and Micky [Dolenz] said, 'Oh, I saw him at a club and I asked him if he'll come and open for us!' Thus begins one of the great pop ironies of our time."
Listen to more of Nesmith's conversation with NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro, including the story of how his mother invented correction fluid — yes, Liquid Paper — at the audio link.
Web intern Jake Witz contributed to this story.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
It was the mid-1960s, and Michael Nesmith was writing songs and working the L.A. club scene when somebody showed him an ad - a new TV show was looking for people to audition. He did, and then the next thing Nesmith knew he was a Monkee.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THEME FROM THE MONKEES")
THE MONKEES: (Singing) Here we come walking down the street. We get the funniest looks from everyone we meet. Hey, hey we're the Monkees, and people say we monkey around.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: "The Monkees" ran from 1966 to '68 and made stars of Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Davy Jones. It was a mixed blessing - adoring fans and critics who were, let's say, less adoring. Michael Nesmith's career, though, extended well beyond the as-seen-on-TV band. He formed his own group, was a pioneer in music videos, wrote novels and became best friends with people like Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon.
Nesmith has just published a memoir. It's called "Infinite Tuesday," and he joins us now from member station KAZU you in Monterey, Calif. Welcome to the program.
MICHAEL NESMITH: Hello, hello.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Hello, hello. I think one of the things that people don't realize is that behind "The Monkees" TV show is one of the most, you know, influential directors of the time Bob Rafelson, who directed "Five Easy Pieces." Tell me a little bit about sort of the art behind "The Monkees."
NESMITH: Well, the distinction I make in the book is that "The Monkees" primarily were a television show, television script, television conceit. It was an idea that Bob said he hatched several years before the show ever came on the air about an out-of-work rock-n-roll band that was trying to make it. And that when The Beatles came along in '64, it gave, you know, a lot of currency to the idea.
The reason the distinction is important to make is because the rock-and-roll bands measure of success was prerecorded records. And then when The Monkees came rolling on the scene, it was very confusing, especially to the television people of the time - the television adults of, you know, what is this animal? We don't know what this Monkee show is and what they do. And do they make records? And do they play in? What happened was a confusion that never quite left the whole concept except in the minds of the seven to 10-year-olds who didn't have any trouble understanding it at all.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let me ask you, what was the heyday of The Monkees like? Take us back to that time when, you know, you're at the height of your fame.
NESMITH: Well, like I say in the book, there's one chapter on The Monkees in the book. And in that chapter what I talk about is what it was like in the heyday because the first thing that I did when I got the money was head to London.
London was the capital of the world at that time. So that was the only place to go, and I wanted to meet The Beatles. And I wanted to be, you know, in the center of it all and see what was going on.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And you did. You met John Lennon.
NESMITH: I did. When I got there, I sent him a telegram. And he called me up and sent his big black Rolls-Royce over to pick me and my wife Phyllis up and took us out to his house for the weekend. And that began our friendship.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, it might be hard to fathom now, but at one point, Jimi Hendrix opened for The Monkees. Talk us through how that happened.
NESMITH: You know, we were playing to 10 and 12,000 14-year-old girls. And so when he walked on stage, it was an absolute anomaly. And when he started playing "Foxy Lady," they were saying, we want Davy, we want Davy. And he could really only take, you know, a little bit of that, and after about eight or 10 concerts, he finally walked off the stage and said, look, I can't do this anymore. But what had happened, in England, we'd all gone out to dinner one time. John and - he was - John was late...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: John Lennon.
NESMITH: ...And he came in at a point, and he said, I'm sorry I'm late, but I was in a club. And I heard this guy, and I recorded it. You just have to listen to this. And he had - pulled out a little tape recorder, put it on the table. And he played "Foxy Lady" that Jimi was playing live at that club. And the table went silent. I mean, we were speechless.
So when he - when I got back to the hotel, I said, strangest thing happened. John came in with his tape of Jimi Hendrix. Mickey said, oh, I saw him at a club, and I asked him if he'll come and open for us. Thus, begins one of the great pop ironies of our time.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) I have to mention something here. Your mother became a business titan because she invented liquid paper also known as white out. That is, to me, like incredible because I remember this is one of the fixtures of my elementary school life. How did she do that? It's an extraordinary thing.
NESMITH: She was a single mom in Dallas - Dallas, Texas, which is where I grew up. And she was a typewritist. And she was also a commercial artist. And it dawned on her after the electric typewriter came out, and she kept making mistakes because the keys were so sensitive. And they were mistakes that couldn't be erased because they were on carbon paper, ribbon. And all it would do is just smear if you tried to erase it like the old ink-paper ribbons.
Why don't I just paint this mistake out? That's what I do as a commercial artist. And so, you know, in the classic style of just connecting the dots and being very astute, she came up with the idea of painting out the corrections. Now from there to a multimillion-dollar international corporation is quite a journey.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The other thing that I did not know that is revealed in your book is that you helped invent the concept of the music video. I mean, that - as if all your other successes and interests weren't enough. Tell us a little bit about that.
NESMITH: I had made a record, and the man who was in charge of the record company that I made it for was named Chris Blackwell - is named Chris Blackwell. And Chris was based in London, and he said, look, over here we have promotional clips. And if you could just stand up and sing the song that you've made, I think this song "Rio" is a good record, and it would be a hit.
And I went back and I talked with my friend, Bill Dear, and I said, can we do this? Do you know what this is? And Bill's like, well, I got cameras, and I know how to, you know, direct and stuff, but what's the concept of it? So I sat, and I wrote it down basically on napkins. And Bill said, well, these are nice scenes, but how do they fit together? And my answer was, I don't know. These are the scenes that come to my mind when I hear the song so let's go out and shoot this stuff. So we did. Brought it into the edit bay and he's - Bill said, I don't know how you're going to find continuity here. So he started laying the music down.
We laid it all down and began pasting slowly over the top of the music this - the film that we shot. And much to our surprise, the music began to take over the narrative and the continuity of the whole piece so that the visuals contributed to the continuity of the music rather than the other way around, which is the way old Hollywood had done it. Well, when it was done, everybody who was in that edit facility was in our edit bay looking at this thing thinking what has just happened.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let me end with this. All the things that you went through and when you look back on your days as a Monkee, are you happy you did it? Is it something that you are proud of?
NESMITH: Oh, yeah. It was a very good time of my life. As you can see from its occupancy of the book, it is not the most important thing that ever happened to me. So it's a long ago distant memory that lays very gently on my mind, as Hartford said it, but it's gotten to the point now where it doesn't have any more, was that a good thing or a bad thing? It was just a thing.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Michael Nesmith's memoir is called "Infinite Tuesday." Thanks so much for joining us.
NESMITH: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LAST TRAIN TO CLARKSVILLE")
THE MONKEES: (Singing) Take the last train to Clarksville, and I'll meet you at the station. You can be here by 4:30 cause I made you reservation.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.