Monkee Business - Michael Nesmith,
inventor of MTV
In 1965, four unknown actor/musicians filmed a pilot episode of what was to become a huge hit television show, The Monkees. The made-for-TV band's unofficial leader, Michael Nesmith, is this month's long overdue inductee into the Texas Hall Of Musical Excellence. Nesmith's phenomenal success as a member of The Monkees is not even remotely the reason he is being inducted. It merely marks the beginning of an innovative music and entertainment career that continues to this day. As we shall see, Michael has also distinguished himself as a songwriter, musician, entrepreneur, and film producer.
Born in Houston on December 30, 1942, Robert Michael Nesmith later described himself as a failure growing up. There were two very creative minds in the Nesmith household - Michael's mom, Bette Nesmith-Graham, would later become famous as the inventor of liquid paper. Bette was a divorced single parent and secretary who sold her first batch of what was then called "Mistake Out" in 1956. As a teenager, Michael and his friends used to bottle the product in the family's garage. In 1979, the Gillette Corp. paid over $50 million for the business.
Remembered as a prankster in his teenage years, Nesmith's other pastime, writing poetry, became the basis for song lyrics. "Nez", as he was known to friends, initiated his career as a musician in Houston, learning guitar and becoming an excellent player. He headed to California in 1964, intent on breaking into the movie business. He was good enough to work as a session guitarist, but didn't make much money at it. In 1965, he managed to get a recording contract with Coplix records in L.A. and released several records under the name Michael Blessing. Then one day he saw an ad asking for "four insane boys" to audition for a TV program. He showed up on a motorcycle carrying a basket of laundry to wash on the way home, wearing his wool cap. His blasť attitude and Texas charm impressed the moguls and won him the part.
The Monkees made its' debut in 1966, quickly becoming a pop culture phenomenon. Originally, The Monkees did not perform on the show, providing only vocals. In 1967, The Monkees began writing and producing their own music at Nesmith's urging. They learned the music on a particular instrument, with Mike on guitar and backing vocals. The band began working on original songs and released albums, for which many of the songs were written by Nesmith. During this time, he also wrote the hit song "Different Drum", among several others, which was a top hit for Linda Ronstadt. In 1968, he recorded his first solo album, "Wichita Train Whistle Songs".
Michael was never comfortable with the Hollywood teen idol role, and wanted the Monkees to contribute to the music revolution sweeping the country. This put him at odds with Don Kirshner, Executive Producer of the Monkees. Kirshner did not want moody creative guys - he wanted a cute boy-band money-machine. Michael was openly critical of some of the Monkees own recordings, and unhappy with Kirshner's formula approach. This led to a parting of the ways in 1970.
Michael Nesmith paid almost a half million dollars for early release from his contract. He went on to form The First National Band, pioneers of the genre now dubbed country rock. After dissolution of The First National Band, Nesmith followed up with The Second National Band. The Second National Band, which broke up almost as quickly as it formed, consisted mainly of members of Elvis' band. About this time, Mike's interest turned to producing music.
It was after a brief venture with his own label, Countryside, distributed by RCA, that he went on to launch his own communications company, Pacific Arts Corporation. It was during this venture that Nesmith set the precedent for modern day music videos. He put together a prototype Top 40 show called "Popclips", which evolved into MTV. Shifting his interests now toward video, Nesmith won the very first Video Grammy Award in 1982 for "Elephant Parts". He invented the concept of 24 hour music video programming, and sold the idea to Time-Warner. The concept was tested on Nickelodeon, where it was a smash success. By the mid 80s, Pacific Arts owned the largest non-theatrical video catalog in the world. His documentaries were popular on PBS. Later, he and PBS went to court, where PBS was ordered to pay Nesmith actual damages of $47 million for selling his works under the PBS label and then lying about it.
In 1989, Michael returned to his own music, and assembled a compilation of unreleased tracks. In 1992, he launched his own independent record label, Pacific Arts Audio, releasing "Tropical Campfires", considered by many fans to be his best work. He has released 13 solo albums over the years. He has also written two novels, and has an online store called videoranch.com, which allows fans to purchase his works directly from him.
To this day, Michael Nesmith continues to be active in all media, including video games and online delivery of media. He is currently living on the Monterey Peninsula in California and has been working on something called VR3D - an invitation-only online community.
Michael Nesmith also makes hilarious videos, like "Sorority Girls From Hell", "Jay Leno's Buick" and others. In fact, he is still into so many different things, he is a modern-day renaissance man. There is no telling what he might do next.
In spite of being a wealthy bastard, Michael is pretty down-to-earth - signing copies of his books for fans and hosting free concerts at various and surprising locations.
Genius, mad scientist, inventor, computer geek - Michael Nesmith is all of these. He is not what you'd expect of a former member of the original boy-band. (Cindy Miller for Gator Press)