Slow talking, polite and permanently skeptical. Of course Mike Nesmith was from Texas. The reason why boys my age loved The Monkees was partly, at least, because they were the kind of cowboy gang we would have liked to be a part of. They even had a Brit (plucky Davey, the heart-throb). Alias Smith and Jones, doubled. Smart mouthed, hysterical and loved by girls and their mothers. What a time to be in the prototype boy band.
The Monkees tracked the 1960s, from hopeful candy-coloured commercialism to Viet-vet dirty needle cynicism; from the inception as cornflake carton pop marketing to the warped acceptance of a weary world in their feature-length film, Head, (that featured, at one point, Frank Zappa leading a cow by the nose on a Hollywood film lot in a clumsy but apt metaphor for underground disdain for the desperate poppy poppets). During the four years of this short journey, Nesmith was The Monkee who seemed to carry the most self-awareness. If Micky Dolenz made a pretty good impression of an actual LSD taking hippy, Mike was the one who understood their place in the pop-verse and retained some genuine cool throughout.
One of the ironies of the musical side of the hippy revolution is that many of its outcast luminaries were actually from thoroughly middle class families, often with a military background. Mike Nesmith was famously from the ‘Tippex’ family, who’s wealth meant, perhaps he had less of the hunger than band-mate Peter Tork, who was a proper hippy folky, even if his Monkee persona meant he was the band ‘dummy’. And it could be argued this enabled Nesmith to step easily over into a credible country music path when he was finally fed up with the teenybopper legacy, while Tork struggled in his solo career.
Nesmith’s country albums, particularly Magnetic South, with the First National Band, managed what Gram Parsons promised: lovingly attacking the white stetson conservatism of trad country with gentle irony and a slightly stoned, hippy appreciation of home grown, down home culture. Taking as his inspiration the yodelling styles that preceded the more urban sounds of the 1960s, he somehow managed to make them relevant and, indeed, if you happen on hearing One Rose on a hipster cafe playlist in 2021 it will still work, joining past and future, nostalgia and promise in a moment.
Main image: Mike Nesmith, 1966 fan mail card
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