Continuing a wide-ranging interview with Mike Nesmith, one half of the remaining half of The Monkees – now on the road with Micky Dolenz, whose tour as The Monkees Present: The Mike And Micky Show, begins tonight in Brisbane – there’s a chance to explore a more complex relationship he has with the show, understand the songs, and hear what it’s like playing now without Peter Tork and Davy Jones.
In the first part of this interview, Mike Nesmith let me down gently with the news that I wouldn’t be hearing If I Ever Get To Saginaw Again, and raised me up with the possibility that he might be back here soon for a solo tour with his First National Band.
Which is rather exciting, but that’s not who we are here to talk about after all, and if The Monkees don’t play Saginaw, surely we stand a decent chance of hearing Nesmith sing his self-penned The Kind Of Girl I Could Love or Mary Mary, alongside She, Pleasant Valley Sunday, Valleri and more.
This is not a shallow back catalogue, just as his is not a narrowly defined career, even if he more than the others has had a mixed relationship – both at the time and since the TV show and subsequent film, Head, wrapped – with that legacy.
It was Nesmith who led the revolt against the show’s original producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, to force them to allow the actors-turned-musicians to play on, write for and contribute more substantially to their records. There seemed for a long time a suspicion that Nesmith was not exactly a fan of that part of his life.
“Everybody’s grown up now, we’ve been through our salad days, and when I play Monkees songs I am not nourished by them in the same way I am nourished by other pop songs of that era, but I don’t dislike them in any way and I don’t dislike playing them in any sense,” Nesmith says. “I really do enjoy it quite a bit and it’s a rare moment for me because there’s not a lot of people that I know who get to do this and I have a smorgasbord to choose from.”
That smorgasbord isn’t just from our perspective though. Nesmith has come to see the value of childhood pleasures for all of us. Yes, even him.
“I am not a nostalgia buff at all, and I’m not one for going back and exhuming anything or poring over the ashes, but we, we being the collective humanity, have these great treasures lying around that we somehow overlook until something like Notre Dame happens and makes us all sit up and say wait a minute, these are treasures beyond measure,” he says. “I’m not putting The Monkees or Monkees songs in that category of Notre Dame in any way, but I am saying there are things there that formulated people’s early years and their childhood and when you come to the show that Mick and I are preparing for Australia and New Zealand you will see that we will deliver more than memories.
“It will revisit a time that remains constant throughout all of our lives. No one can get rid of their 12-year-old days. I don’t how to describe it as anything other than wonderful.”
One of the disappointing aspects of this Monkees tour - and disappointing is a rather severe understatement - is that it is coming without two of the band who have not survived: Davy Jones, who died in 2012, and Peter Tork, who was here with Dolenz in 2016, but died in February this year.
“It’s a shadow of its former self, no doubt,” says Nesmith. “Micky is the principal voice these days and we stick pretty close to what was popular in record sales and on the television show. That show seems to have a lot of traction and approbation. What Micky does is he provides a homage to those songs and I follow him right in. Doing the best I can.”
There is a sense, even more so presumably for Nesmith and Dolenz than for the rest of us, of honouring Jones and Tork and their work by still enjoying this ongoing phenomena. There’s no room for snark here. Not in the audience; not on the stage.
“The thing about it for me, it being the Monkees phenomena, is that is thoroughly good. Good on really every level: socially, spiritually, good craft, everything about it is good and it’s fun and it rewards our attention with something our attention is rarely rewarded with,” explains Nesmith. “This band Mick and I are with just the lights up the stage and then it lights up the audience and everybody is so thrilled with it that the approbation is just overwhelming. And I can tell you, from having been in both places, that they are nearly identical: it’s almost like 1967. It doesn’t even have the slightest taint or aroma of nostalgia. It has this current power that really good popular music does.”
Tomorrow, in the concluding part of the Mike Nesmith interview, we talk TV, not just the drug of the nation but maybe the mirror and fruit of the nation, and why The Monkees might be passed on down through the generations even though, or maybe because, “the music that the television made, and specifically in the form of the Monkees TV show and Monkees live shows, is sui generis. It was unique to television, it was unique to our times”.
The Monkees Present: The Mike And Micky Show will be at: QPAC, Brisbane, June 12; Palais Theatre, Melbourne, June 15; Astor Theatre, Perth, June 16; Sydney Opera House, June 16.