December 30, 1942 – Robert Michael Nesmith was the only child of Warren and Bette Nesmith, who divorced when he was four. Bette remarried and relocated to Dallas where, as executive secretary at Texas Bank and Trust, she developed her own typewriter correction fluid. In 1979, a few months before her death, she sold her Liquid Paper Corporation to Gillette for $48m. Her son and heir finally acquired financial freedom.
Rewind 20 years to find a teenage Nesmith dabbling in music and drama at school before enlisting in the US Air Force in 1960. Two years later he was honorably discharged at his own request, swapping mechanics for music. Cutting his teeth in touring folk, country and rock’n’roll bands, he moved to Los Angeles.
A publishing and recording deal followed, yielding a handful of underperforming solo singles. Nesmith joined the queue of 437 hopefuls to audition for a part in a new TV show, inspired by The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night, about a co-habiting pop band. The producers wanted Nesmith and his hat for their Prefab Four, The Monkees.
Monkeemania ensued but Nesmith was quick to push back against the bubblegum material selected by the show’s musical director Don Kirshner. Nesmith negotiated alongside his bandmates for greater control of their output and image. Their subsequent psychedelic film and soundtrack, Head, was a flop (though later lauded as a cult favourite). Still the piece of the puzzle that didn’t fit, he bought his way out of his contract several years early, forfeiting future royalties.
Robert Michael Nesmith was raised by his mother, Bette, who supported him by working as a secretary. Frustrated creating mistakes on her electric typewriter, she developed a typewriter correction fluid. The invention later became Liquid Paper. Bette Nesmith sold the Liquid Paper Corporation to Gillette in 1979 for $48 million. She died a few months later, at age 56, with Michael inheriting the fortune.
Mike Nesmith, the beanie-hatted quiet man of The Monkees, was an accidental trailblazer from a family of accidental trailblazers. He came late to music-making, only picking up a guitar in his early twenties. Yet in a matter of years he was a (somewhat ambivalent) pop star and TV celebrity, then an unsung country rock pioneer and then the man who invented MTV for the guys who invented MTV. Not bad, and maybe not surprising, for the son of an imprecise typist who created Tipp-Ex to cover her errors.
Nesmith never quite made a commercial killing from his almost clairvoyant creativity. While his own songs were hits for the likes of Linda Ronstadt, Run DMC, Frankie Laine and Lynn Anderson, he struggled with fame in a fictional band whose best-loved tunes flowed from the pens of other writers.
The Monkees’ TV show ran for two series from 1966-68 but acquired pop immortality through school holiday repeats. The band members – Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Nesmith – played fictionalised versions of themselves. The Monkees struck popular music with hit songs like “Last Train to Clarksville”, “Daydream Believer” and “I’m A Believer.” The group was created for television, starring in their popular TV sitcom and later spin off motion picture “Head.”
The Monkees broke up in 1969, after which Nesmith formed his First National Band. He also wrote the song Different Drum, which became a major hit for singer Linda Ronstadt.
Nesmith founded Pacific Arts, a multimedia production and distribution company, in 1974. Pacific Arts pioneered the home video market, but collapsed in a dispute with PBS over licensing rights. A federal jury eventually awarded Nesmith $47m in 1999. After filming a music video for his 1977 single Rio, Nesmith came up with the idea of a TV program consisting entirely of music videos. Nesmith called his idea PopClips, which aired on Nickelodeon in 1980. He later sold the PopClips intellectual property to Time Warner, who used it to develop and launch MTV. Intrigued by the promotional possibilities of the embryonic format, Time Warner bought the rights and used it as a template for MTV.
In 1981, Nesmith won the first Grammy Award for Video of the Year for his hour-long television show, Elephant Parts. He was also an executive producer of the film Repo Man (1984).
Nesmith’s involvement in various Monkees reunions was sporadic, however, he did rejoin his three amigos in 1996, marking the band’s 30th anniversary with the Justus album and accompanying TV special ‘Hey, Hey, It’s the Monkees’, before contributing to the 50th anniversary album Good Times!
The Monkees continued with occasional reunion tours despite the loss of original members Peter Tork and Davy Jones. Remaining members Nesmith and Micky Dolenz ended a tour just weeks before Nesmith’s death. The final date of the tour was held on November 14, 2021, at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.
Michael Nesmith crossed the rainbow on December 10, 2021
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