Interview by Paul Heckmann
Executive Director, Memories Incorporated, a 501c3 Non Profit
Native Texan who grew up in Dallas, original member of The Monkees and the TV Show "The Monkees"
Paul Heckmann: Tell me about growing up in Dallas.
Michael Nesmith: I was born in Houston but came to Dallas at a young age. Mom and my Dad separated with I was young, so we moved to Dallas. My Mom inherited a little bit of money from her dad when he passed away. He used to own an auto parts store. I think it was about $5,000 which was just enough to get her into a house, I really can't call it a subdivision, like a builder's division near the corner of Ropers and Lovers Lane.
Lovers Lane was a big through-way back then. And Ropers was a little off-street, but as a kid I could walk for miles. Sometimes I would wander further and further up Lovers. I didn't make it to Greenville too many times, as that was a long ways off.
But then (later) when I had friends who had cars, we used to go there. And my mom's sister Yvonne lived in Rockwall so we would go out there on weekend's to visit and that route took me through Lovers Lane and Greenville. There was a drive-in there that used to serve BBQ that we used to stop at
Paul Heckmann: I read in your book about Uncle Chick
Michael Nesmith: Yes, my Uncle Chick. He was the central male caregiver in my life from all during kindergarten going forward. I think that he and my Aunt Aida were trying to make some kind of deal to adopt me and raise me
My mother was essentially destitute. Her husband, my dad, left her with no money, he was in the Army. He simply had no money. She just had to make her own way. The skill set she had was a commercial artist. She was beyond frightened about paying the bills and was talking about Chick and Ada about adoption. I would just move in with them and become Chick's son. Well, that didn't work out, but what did was that Mom, Chick, Aida and myself spent a lot of time together. They were my main family
What I did know about Uncle Chick was in the book. He seemed to be a bit of a ner-do-well but I don't really have any way of validating that. I'm slow to say it, but he was a fun guy. He loved to golf, he loved to drink and the stuff men did. As a six year old, that fascinated me. 'Is this what grownups do?' There wasn't much more to say. He was a retired Marine and kinda spent his life bouncing from sales job to sales job.
Paul Heckmann: One thing you mentioned in your book was how Uncle Chick would to the NY Times Crossword puzzle every day. But when you pulled a copy of the trash, most of the words were made up.
Michael Nesmith: I never could figure out what the upside was for him. He didn't socialize with people that did the NY Times crosswords puzzle. You know Paul, he was much more of a pedestrian class than that. They tended to be used car salesmen, insurance salesmen, appliance salesmen, all like Chick. So I didn't expect he was saying 'say, did you see where 'cahoots' was on the last NY Times Crossword?'. That was not a conversation Chick was going to be having. He sold used cars so the conversation was more likely, 'did you see that Bonneville with the three 2 barrels?'
So Chick was an anomaly in my life. He really didn't have much of an sense of the culture. And as such, he and Aida eschewed Louann's. I never knew that they they were going out and dance. Of course that may have been because, by the time I remember, sometime after the 40's, the big bands weren't coming as often, except for Lawrence Welk which was still to happen. Louann's was heading in a country western or derivatives there of. They didn't seem to like country western, they never went to those programs that I could tell
They really weren't club going people that I remember. Chick drank regularly unto drunkenness. But h didn't want to sit at a bar to do it. He liked sitting in his recliner, watch football, drink beer and bet on the games.
Paul Heckmann: I was intrigued by your mention of your three year old self 'being the conductor' when music came on the record player. Tell me more about that. I was painting the picture in my head except for the music.
Michael Nesmith: Ha! (laughs) Well, more probably pertinent was what was the caretaker, the woman who kept all of us clothed, fed and out of traffic. A woman named Judith Pirkle. She made her living off of day care for mothers that needed it. I was subject to a lot of her cultural cues and how those various things would come into my life, that came in through her. I'm not sure how I got hold of some of the higher ideas.
As for the music, this is a bit shaky and probably needs to be vetted but I think maybe a conductor, not Aaron Copland, but it might be the Rites of Spring.
Paul Heckmann: Lets talk about your Mom Bette for a minute. Like you said earlier, she was destitute but she appeared to have pulled herself up by her bootstraps
Micheal: Well, yes she did that to the degree that it can be done. I'm of the mind that it goes against all the laws of nature. Be that as it may, she was strong minded. She was an active, practicing Christian Scientist and very active in the center of her church. And she gave a lot of her success in life to her practice and study of her religion. She was totally immersed in it.
As a result, everything had something of a theological bent to it. And you know Dallas is no stranger to the King James Bible and baptism, but it was not for her, so she was in kind of a marginal type of religion, in the form of Christian Science. And she practiced it and said 'Oh, this happened because that happened' and folks would kinda cross their eyes, look at her and back away because it didn't seem to make sense.
As I watched it from the interior, it wasn't miraculous, but it was an unusual and exceptional organization of events, where one thing would happen just as the other thing ended and what was starting up was just what was needed. You can call that whatever you like, good luck or an aligning of the stars where one thing would happen just as another thing ended, what was starting up was just what was needed.
Paul Heckmann: Maybe a bit of 'Divine Intervention'
Michael Nesmith: Well, yes. That brings up the philosophical questions about religion. But that was where she was, I know you didn't ask this, and as a result of that, places like Louann's and the other places in Deep Ellum were sort of off limits to me. 'No, that's a bar. You don't drink so don't go in there.' I couldn't explain to her what was going on with the music. I would play a little bit for her and she would say 'You like tha-ayat?' (in his best Texas twang) and she would go back to her big band music. She was a Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra junkie, which I had now become. I love all that too.
Paul Heckmann; Now your Mom – she comes across, like I said before, kinda tough. Was she pretty much like that: pretty tough-minded?
Michael Nesmith: She was. She was very strong-minded, and what she – What I now understand to be the scientific mind, and she understood to be kind of a bulldog mind, was once she had gotten the principle of an idea, she would stick with that principle until she completely understood all of the idea. Well, if you got in the way of that, it was like getting in the way of a hurricane. It was so – It was very focused. She knew what she was trying to pry us out of whatever teaching she was following in, and she did not suffer fools gladly. Although she had a few decent friends – by decent, I mean closer friends – she was not a big socialite.
She would never have made a good public official. She was very much in her own head, working up things for herself. And her main motivation was – as I said at the beginning – to provide a home for herself and her son.
Pul Heckmann: Sure. Now, about what year did she come up with the idea and the concept for Liquid Paper? Because you were fairly young then, weren't you?
Michael Nesmith: Yeah. Yes, right. I was just post-pubescent. It was '52, '53, at around in there when she started messing with the idea. But it wasn't until the early '60s that she got traction. She remarried someone who was a fellow Christian scientist, and they were very successful as a team. He was a salesman, and she understood the use of the product. So, that was when it took off, and that was in the early '60s. Something like that.
Paul Heckmann: From the book it seemed like you kinda helped her out quite a bit with that, as far as products, shelving, boxing, whatever needed to be done.
Michael Nesmith: Well, yes and no. I was the boss's son, and so I could kinda do whatever I wanted to do. And what I wanted to do was play music like Bo Diddley, but she didn't have any idea. I would play him for her, and her eyes would roll into the back of her head. And she would excuse herself as soon as she could.
Paul Heckmann: She wanted Lawrence Welk in the family.
Michael Nesmith: Yeah. (laughs) Well, and my music was what motivated me and drove me. And when I tumbled into Bo Diddley – Well, didn't stumble into him, but when I found him at Louann's that night, my life changed. And so, it was. She understood the power of motivation. But as an executive, she steered basically an office supply company into a standing as a multimillion-dollar international manufacturer of the largest selling correction fluid in the world.
Paul Heckmann: Isn't that amazing?
Michael Nesmith: So, it's hard to overstate her success, and she was directly responsible for what I saw as easily her half of it. And I think she picked up her husband's shortfall, which seemed to be pretty significant. So, I have a lot of respect for her as a businesswoman and as an organized thinker and as an intelligent woman, and a very high, spiritually-minded person.
Paul Heckmann: Sure. It did seem like in the book you kinda had an almost love-hate relationship, at times, with her. Would that be accurate?
Michael Nesmith: Well, yes. I think you can find a paradigm for it in any single parent child relationship. That's a crucible, and it just pushes and pulls and makes you tear your hair out. Makes everybody tear their hair out. And it, many times, doesn't work. The single parent is, I think it's too big a load, even with a single child. But I think it's definitely too big a load if it's four kids and no husband or four kids and no wife. That is rough going, as far as I can tell. And where the soil gets the most – adventurous and harder to pass is when there's no road through it. You're just blazing a trail and trying to figure out, "How do we make this work?" And onset for that is pre- and post-pubescence in the child.
Paul Heckmann: And then your mom remarried. Tell me a bit about your stepfather, because he sounded pretty cool. He bought you a guitar, for one thing.
Michael Nesmith: Well, he and my mother did. I think he was fascinated by the idea that I was entertaining the notion of playing it professionally.
Because that was just so far afield of anything anybody in my family had ever done.
But he was an athlete and a lumberjack in the Monty Python sense of the word. And he thought of himself as kind of a he-man, and my mother did, too, so that fit real well for the two of them. But he didn't have much to say when it came to aesthetics and the arts and where these big ideas come from that inform the music of the spheres. And that's what I've been on a hunt for, for most of my life.
And that went back to his advent, to the husband's advent. And when he came in, that was more of a nuisance than it was a help.
Paul Heckmann: Where'd you go to elementary and junior high school at?
Michael Nesmith: Elementary was Sudie Williams, and first junior high was T. J. Rusk, and then onto Thomas Jefferson.
Paul Heckmann: And in Thomas Jefferson, that was kinda fascinating. You pretty much just went to the classes that you wanted to go. Loved the part about the three lunch hours and two or three drama classes.
Michael Nesmith: Well, when it dawned on me that I had not been officially enrolled or that if I was enrolled, it was botched on some level by the system and the people who were taking care of it, I realized, "I can really just do what I want to around here. I'm getting somewhere around seventy-five cents a day to feed myself. I can walk to school if I need to, but typically guys would come pick me up. My boyfriends and girlfriends and my groups that I hung out with, we'd go into school. Maybe I'd go to school, and maybe I wouldn't. I'd sit in the parking lot. We'd talk; we'd play music really loud.
Then, somebody would say, "Let's go to the park," which was a little ways away. And then we'd go and spend the rest of the morning out there with the smoke them if you got them, doing that. And me having music go off in my head. And the other people that went to the park with me were members of my high school choir, which was led by a woman named Anna Lee Huffaker. And she was a professional multi-voice teacher and took us to compete in state finals and taught me just reams and reams of information about what it meant to be a musician, how to sing, and so forth.
But, of course, I wasn't officially enrolled in her class, either. I would just go when I knew it was starting and leave when I knew it was ending. And sometimes I would – The first time I did it, it scared me because I forgot that I was in the same class when all the new class guys came in from the bell ringing, and I just kept my seat. And Mrs. Huffaker looked around like, "What's wrong with this picture? What's wrong with this picture?" And then she said, "Michael Nesmith, are you supposed to be in here?" And I said, "Well, I believe I am. I'm supposed to be in choir this period."
And she would say, "Oh, okay. Well, you're gonna need another second soprano in there, and so let me see here – Tor Whitman, can you be the second soprano there with Michael Nesmith?" And that's all there was to it, and I continued to get up the ranks. Never got a grade, never got anything. Even got a part in the school play.
Paul Heckmann: Well, that seemed like your first introduction to organized music, is that were you learned to read music?
Michael Nesmith: No, I still can't read music. I mean, I can hunt and peck my way through it, but I can't read it like somebody who can read.
Paul Heckmann: No kidding?
Michael Nesmith: Yeah. I mean, I know what key we're in, and I know what scales look like and so forth. I don't mean to say I'm illiterate, but I've never been a very good musician.
Paul Heckmann: You know I beg to differ. I think you've done pretty well.
Michael Nesmith: Okay. Well, I'll stipulate to that.
Paul Heckmann: (Laughs) So, a couple things you said earlier. First of all, what park did you refer when you're talking about going to the park?
Michael Nesmith: Well, there were several around there, and one of them was just land that was left over from a construction site. We called it "the park," but another one of it was a park that was there in back of Thomas Jefferson or off to the side. I think they put a junior high in that land right now, but then it was just a park. It had a little water; by that I mean natural water. And a tree to sit under and eat a ham sandwich.
Paul Heckmann: Did you ever make it down to Lee Park?
Michael Nesmith: Yeah, I did. I spent a lot of time down there. I love Turtle Creek, and there was a time when I was thinking about moving back to Dallas. And I was looking at Turtle Creek realizing what a beautiful area it is in the scheme of things.
Paul Heckmann: You also mentioned (sorry, the cat just jumped up on the desk). So, you talked about smoking a little bit. What was your introduction to smoking pot? When did that happen?
Michael Nesmith: Well, that happened in my 20's. Marijuana was a Schedule I drug back in those days. It still is. Oh, no. Not anymore, it's not. And a Schedule I drug carried serious penalties. And then, of course, there was the whole rapist and murderers and killers and robbers and so forth who were supposed to comprise the marijuana smoking community in the eyes of my family, who were construction guys and druggists and hardware store owners and so forth. Liquor store owners. So, they fell very easily into the lure of, "Don't ever smoke dope. You'll go blind, and it'll ruin your life, and you'll lose your memory and your sense of taste."
And so, that just sounded like, "Hmm. I gotta get over and try that out. I mean, I don't know what that's about, but it seems like it's a lot more fun."
Paul Heckmann: Ah, the forbidden fruit.
Michael Nesmith: Yeah, yeah. Well, and a lot more fun that what I was doing, which I wasn't drawn to alcohol at all. I'm still not, but this dope, this drug, this marijuana thing started to work pretty good. And then I heard music on it for the first time. First music I really heard on it was back in probably '65, sometime. I'd gotten in The Monkees, and everybody was smoking dope except me, and I was carrying around these kind of horrible fear of it. And then the guy who finally turned me on was a guy who ultimately ran Elect Records. It was a guy named Bob Krasnow, and I said, "Oh, well I see what the fuss is now."
This enhances the way music sounds to my ears by orders of magnitude." And then I guess the final cooker, the one that just put a fork in me, was Little Wing. I listened to Hendrix play on tour, because he opened for us for a while for The Monkees. And then I was high, and I heard him play Little Wing on a big stereo system. And it was loud enough for it to sound lie a concert, and I don't know, I think my blood changed type. I mean, something happened at that moment that I just went from, "Holy smokes. We're not in 'O' positive land anymore. This is something like 'R' squared. I don't know what this is."
Paul Heckmann: Ha! (laughs) So, let me, again, backtrack again here. Dallas Theater Center teen Program. Tell me a little bit about that.
Michael Nesmith: Well, I was a teen. I didn't know anything about the program except I was in it. My mother was doing a lot of pro bono work for them.
And some of the members of the church that she was a member of were helping with administration, and they helped get the building built. It was quite a controversial building; I suppose it still is. But it was glaringly controversial when it first went up because it was there on Turtle Creek in that beautiful lot that it's on now. And the conventional and traditional folks that populated Turtle Creek just thought it was a monstrosity. And, of course, I thought it looked like the Guggenheim. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen, but that was me. I was 15 or 14 or whatever it was, and I loved being in the environment. It taught me how important setting is to making music.
And the druggies, or the researchers doing work on hallucinogens point out how important set and setting is. Of course, they don't mean what I mean by it, but what they're saying is that really counts for a lot in the way we define the lives we lead. So, I paid a lot of attention to that, once I understood that. And it was grass that unfolded that; grass and a good teacher that unfolded that for me. Said, "You're starting to feel the setting. You're starting to feel the set, the way your mindset is right now, and the way you're feeling. And that will expand to this music." And I kinda knew what they were talking about, but after the first bar of Little Wing, I was just a puddle.
Paul Heckmann: Oh, yeah. That was incredible. So, about this time in your life, after Thomas Jefferson, Dallas Theater, that's about when you probably went to Louann's, I would imagine. Wasn't it about this time?
Michael Nesmith: Well, I'm of the memory that I went to Louann's for the show. Louann's was just huge. It was really a megalith. The Meadows Building was across the street from Louann's and Louann's seemed to be about the same size. Seemed to me that Louann's must have been at least 2-3 acres in just the building itself, the covered space. It was quite amazing just what a huge space it was.
I'm not sure people that were coming and going realized that because they went through a swinging door that was pulled shut by a spring and made a couple of slaps after it hit. It was just so different from the Meadows building which was really an office building. Folks just didn't realized what a megalith Louann's was. But you know that in order to get three to four thousand people in a building, that's the size of a small stadium.
The first time I saw a show advertised in Dallas Morning News, was that Bo Diddley was gonna play there. Because by that time, I had heard that song, "Bo Diddley," and I had heard "Can't Judge A Book by Looking at Its Cover," and "Who Do You Love." And, well, I could recite the name of every song on that album. There was something in my mind about the way that album sounded. It went to the fact that it was on a 78 LP record, which is to say that it was thin. And I didn't feel the pulse. I got the intellectual and intelligent part of the pulse, and I could see how that would stretch across the eons to the first sound that you made because it's a real natural drum beat. I didn't really understand Bo Diddley until I listened to him when I was really high. And it was that; I thought, "There's something else going on in this rhythm that makes it so meaningful." And the more I studied it, the more I realized there is a counterpoint that's being played against what Bo Diddley has played. So, I played the record enough to wear the grooves off of it, but I also discovered in that record that there was a low drum part.
I think it was being played on toms, but it was going "bum ch bum bum, ch bum bum, bum ch bum bum, ch bum bum." And so that was primitive. It just felt really like something coming out of a jungle. But across the top of it were all these little, I suppose we can call them striations, because that's the way I think of it. I think of it geologically. And across are these striations, like a line of gold that went through a mountain of sulfur. And it would be these little ticks that the drummer was playing, and tics and triplets instead of the, "bada ti ti, ah ti ah ti, ooh pop pop," where it got very, very complex.
And I realized if that's played incorrectly, it doesn't sound good because it starts to muddy. It goes, "Chah puh chi pah pah, p-cha p-cha p-chi p-chop, p-chop." And I thought, "Well, whoever's playing that – the drummer must be playing that; that's what it sounds like to me – has really informed this rhythmic pattern so that it becomes memorable and resonant with ages. And I just thought, "I gotta learn this," and I learned to play it on the guitar. So, I could play, "cha buh chi cha chum cha chum chum," like that. Easy enough. And if I could get a drummer and a bass player to understand it the way I did then it would come to life.
But they didn't. No one would understand it until I finally began to unpack this little cross point rhythm that was going on while the bass and drums and in some way the lead rhythm guitar – which, in all cases was Bo himself. And then, there was Lady Bo, who nobody ever saw. She was off to the side with the three Diddley-ettes or whatever singers that they were, and she was the one. She played a Stratocaster, and she was the one that was playing all those little intricate, internal rhythmic. So, she was the one going, and they were all accents. And when she played, that's when the whole thing turned into earth moving.
And you couldn't sit still. I had to get up and dance around like a fool, but there wasn't any way to not move to that music. And there was also no way to avoid the infusion of just joyous spirit that it inculcated because it was personal; it was close. Second of all, it was in a three or four thousand square foot bar room that enhanced the bass and the lower end of it beyond anything I've heard outside of a sports arena. And it was Bo Diddley and Lady Bo. So, when that all came together, I went through the apocalyptic state.
That's the wrong word, but where I couldn't move and just stared, slack-jawed at what appeared to be a caravan from Mars, listening to them lay down this incredible pulse and this incredible sound. And then finally dancing to is, and then finally playing it so that when I finally went. When we did our first Monkees concert in Hawaii, the producer said, "You know, everybody should do a solo number. You can pick your own wands." And everybody picked their own wands. I think Mickey sang, "Johnny Be Good," and Pete sang, "Cripple Creek," and Davey sang a Broadway show, maybe "The Street Where You Live" or something.
And I sang, "You Can't Judge A Book by Its Cover" from Bo Diddley. And while I was learning that song, that's when I began to study Jerome Green's maraca playing. And later on, I began to realize, "Oh, this is where Mick Jagger got that from." And whoever plays maraca's in front of a rock and roll band understands it through the heartbeat of Jerome Green, the maraca player from Bo Diddley.
Paul Heckmann: I know you moved to Los Angeles, and I guess you were about 20 years old when you moved there?
Michael Nesmith: Yeah, something like that.
Paul Heckmann: Okay, and you took over as the hoot master. Tell me a little about being a Hoot Master. What was your job?
Michael Nesmith: Well, that's a pretty dense subject to get into, Paul. As you can see, it occupies a big portion of the book. I don't know I can give much more information about it other than they needed somebody to run The Hoots. And I didn't know what The Hoots was, but I knew what they wanted. And so, that's what I did, and it was up to me to curate the – It's like an open mic night is these days. People get up, they would sing, and they just sit down. And it was up to me to select who would get up and sing, which I would do before the show started, and then I did that up until I left to start working on The Monkees.
Paul Heckmann: Okay. Now, you were working – Did you work at all with the New Christy Minstrels?
Michael Nesmith: No, but I worked with Randy Sparks' new group that was being used to replace the Minstrels, called The Survivors. But we didn't make it very far because somebody burned the club down that we were in, and it burned up all of our instruments and so forth.
Paul Heckmann: So, this was before The Monkees.
Michael Nesmith: Well, it was right at the same time that The Monkees were instantiating.
Paul Heckmann: Okay, okay. And you went over, and you applied. Do you remember the application process you went through for The Monkees?
Michael Nesmith: It was all just meeting people.
That's where I met Lester Silland and Wart Sylvester who would be the producer of the shows. The basically told me to "Say hello to this; say hello to this." And there were people down there like, "Do you know this guy, do you know –" And I did know most of them from The Hoots, and they knew me. And we were all trying to get work; that's basically what it was. Bouncing, you know.
Paul Heckmann: Did they ask you about your musical playing ability at all?
Michael Nesmith: No, they didn't. And as I say in the book, it became more and more apparent to me that I was not hired to play; I was hired to perform as an actor. So, when I got that through my head and started giving them back what they wanted, which was performing as an actor, then the sellouts and so forth, parts of it, people who just were looking for work, started to take me over as well. I started to think, "Well, just do it for the money and go home," but I couldn't really do that because they were playing music, and music was too important to me. Is too important to me.
Paul Heckmann: Well, I won't go into depth on that part of it. It's all in the book, But I'm really fascinated about the Don Kirshner bet. It seemed to me like there was a lot of bad blood, I guess, with Don Kirshner. Would that be fair to say?
Michael Nesmith: Well, it's fair to say if you go to a party with me and Don and all the people, Don becomes a pariah, and the rest of us become the cool guys. But that wasn't what governed the dynamic; it was a power and money play. And Kirshner wanted to have the power and the money on his side of the ledger at Screen Gems, which was a publishing company, and did not want it to go on to the side of the ledger that would make it go into the television and motion picture department of Columbia Pictures. In one instance, it would enter into his benefit in the forms of bonuses and benefits, and the other way, it would just pump his coffers full that would give him percentages of bonuses and so forth.
And so, when our producer of headquarters told me that the first royalty check he got for headquarters was a million dollars, and those were sort of the numbers that were falling off the back of the truck. Everybody was diving into that pile of money except for me and the crew people, who had jobs and salaries. It was like, "I don't know what to do. I can get in there and look like Scrooge McDuck and throw the money up over my head and pretend to take a shower in it. But outside that, nothing's gonna happen."
Paul Heckmann: I remember in your book you also said that you sold over 35 million records in 1967. More than The Beatles and The Rolling Stones combined. Tell me that story.
Michael Nesmith: Well, it's also a lie, as you know if you read the whole thing. It's not true. That was pumped in there in the middle of an interview that I was doing with an Australian newspaper person, and when I started talking to him about The Monkees, I said, "Okay, look. I know that you, as a reporter, take a lot of license, and you say things that aren't always true. And you say things that sometimes are. So, here's the game I'm gonna play with you: I'm going to lie to you, but I'm never going to tell you when I'm lying." I write it in some detail in the book, so you can look through that in there.
I don't remember to this day what his name was or what his newspaper was, but I do remember that two days later, that number – the 35 million records – popped up in the newspaper as truth. As verified, validated press truth. But the more amazing thing is if you go to Google right now and put in, "How many records did The Monkees sell?" it will repeat that lie: 35 million. We didn't ever sell anywhere near 35 million records.
Paul Heckmann: It grew legs and ran away.
Michael Nesmith: That's it. It was absolute fabrication. But I wasn't being mendacious, because I said to him in the beginning, I said, "Look, I'll tell you some truths, and I'll tell you not. If I tell you I'm telling you the truth, you can sort of bank on that, but you can't take it all the way to the bank because I'm not always telling the truth." So, that's how it was left. Well, here's my truth, Paul, I've run out of time.
Well, I've enjoyed talking to you, Paul Heckmann. I hope this article goes well for you.
Paul Heckmann: Thanks. Well, I'll send you a copy when you get all this stuff done. Thank you so much, sir, for your time.
Michael Nesmith: Very good.
Paul Heckmann: All right, sir.
Michael Nesmith: Bye-bye.
Michael has gone on to be a founder of what we have come to know as MTV, TV soundtrack writer for 'Breaking Bad', 'Starsky and Hutch' and 'The Monkees', Producer for movies like 'Repo Man' and 'Square Dance' and Actor in Portandia, Tapeheads and others
"Infinite Tuesday", by Michael Nesmith
Special permission granted and excerpted from INFINITE TUESDAY: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL RIFF Copyright © 2017 by Michael Nesmith. Published by Crown Archetype, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
Permission granted an excerpted from INFINITE TUESDAY: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL RIFF Copyright © 2017 by Michael Nesmith. Published by Crown Archetype, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
There was a club in the late 1950s in Dallas called Louann’s, a hangout for dancing and drinking and carousing. It was mostly for the throwaway evenings of drunken college kids, but the musical acts that played there would become the stuff of legend, some of the most famous players in rock and roll history. Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Ike and Tina Turner all played there, and these were the secondary acts.
The club’s headliners were the big country acts of the time, like Ray Price. Strangely, the biggest act in Louann’s history was Lawrence Welk’s polka orchestra, which drew over six thousand people—not that the club could seat them.
When the acts that appealed to me came through Louann’s, I would go if I could. One night I went to see Bo Diddley. I wanted to watch him and Peggy and Jerome doing live what I had only heard them doing on record—to see if it was real. When they took the stage I could see that this was a band of the strangest and highest order.
Bo created an astounding presence, with his low-slung homemade guitar, his white sport coat and bow tie, his band all in red plaid jackets with bow ties—except for Peggy. She was in a skintight one-piece gold lamé suit and stiletto heels. She was attached to a low-slung electric guitar similar to Bo’s. They were playing through Fender Reverb amplifiers. Before they played a note, their presence made the whole room crackle with electricity. When they played, something started up like a powerful engine, different than with any other players I had heard.
The cantilever that Bo and Peggy created in their rhythms made space for itself, just like the art of Marcel Duchamp and Richard Hamilton, Hendrix and Lennon. The maracas mixed in the legacy touch of Latin claves and a drop of Southern hambone, so when Peggy and Bo added the thunder from their guitars, the result was a pulse that made everyone move, that made me want to sing, that sat me straight up and held me there. When the thunderclaps started pausing in tight syncopation with the drums, the rhythm roared like a wind-driven rainstorm on water.
And when Bo sang “I look like a farmer, but I’m a lover!” I knew exactly what he was singing about, what he was saying. Bo and Peggy and Jerome were the first iteration of the Jimi Hendrix Experience in my life, the first time I kissed the sky. When Bo played live that night, I heard music for the first time that matched what I heard in my head. Up till then, I heard lots of music that came close but wasn’t ever really complete. The twelve songs on that first Bo Diddley record from 1958 became my foundation in rock and roll. When I played my solo section on the first Monkees tour, it was Jerome Green holding eight maracas at Louann’s that I would emulate in homage.
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