Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff by Michael Nesmith – Nerfed Llamas Review
It is no secret that I am a fan of Michael Nesmith’s artistic endeavors. On this blog alone I have reviewed Tape Heads (a comedic feature film with John Cusack & Tim Robbins that Nesmith produced) and I have highlighted 30 of Papa Nez’s best tracks spanning the majority of his music performing career. Bottom line: I love me some Nez. As a mere mortal of 40 years of age, my appreciation for Nesmith came directly from watching episodes of the Monkees on Nick-at-Night back in the 80’s. Mike was always the most interesting Monkee to me. He was quiet, bizarre, and ironically funny. His on screen persona jived really well with the young adult that I was becoming as I shared many of those qualities as well. I enjoyed his tunes on the Monkees albums too, but there was a problem… there weren’t many of his tunes on the albums as Micky and Davy got the lion share of the songs. To my great delight, I found out that he had been recording a sizable breadth of solo recordings in the wake of the Monkees collapse. I dug in deep on his solo albums and was wonderfully rewarded with high quality music that had a fascinating lyrical poetry and a decidedly country flavor. Country music was an anomaly for me at the time, as my only impression of country music was what could be heard on popular radio, and let’s just say that “All My Ex’s Live in Texas” and “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses” did not connect with me in the slightest. In fact, the whole pop country mentality felt “off” to me and still does to this day, I understand that it connects with a lot of people, unfortunately I am not one of them. Nesmith’s interpretation of fusion country/rock was more nuanced, intimate, and certainly not reliant on trite lyrical hooks as the driving force behind the music. His music is honest, complex, metaphysical, and it resonates long after you listen to it. It is rewarding, similar to how listening to an album by the band Wilco (another country/rock fusion group) will yield new feelings and hidden layers with each subsequent listen. Nesmith’s music is more than noise, it is audio intellectual nourishment. I have some definitively strong feelings about Nesmith’s artistic works, so when I found out that he was working on an autobiography, I was over the moon! I knew a lot about his music, films, and internet site VideoRanch3D, but I knew next to nothing about his personal life, nor his journey through stardom. I was about to get an illuminating education in all things Nez.
Infinite Tuesday: What’s it like?
Infinite Tuesday is a curious read. It is 100% autobiography, but told in a wholly unique way. If you are looking for a dedicated timeline that starts at Nesmith’s birth and then follows a linear path of his life and career all the way through 2017, then this might not be the book for you. To the author’s credit, he states clearly in the Preface that this book would be told in a loose format that would put punctuation marks on key remembrances of his and not necessarily on cold hard dates and strict details. He covers the facts as he remembers them, which sometimes will lead to a story from the 1960’s relating to another story in the 1990’s that will also make a pit stop in his public school days back in the 1950’s. The storytelling is top notch, and the time-hopping stream of consciousness style is not distracting in the slightest. This style is indicative of a man who has been a part of a lot of amazing events, and he captures them in remarkable wit and intelligence with his prose.
What’s in the book Infinite Tuesday?
A whole lot of ticklish tales, bizarre events, damaging extra-marital affairs, metaphysical conundrums, poor business deals, and multiple origin stories of the long time friendships that would endure throughout Nesmith’s life. Within the text of this book are well woven stories of time spent with fellow celebrities like Jack Nicholson, Douglas Adams, John Lennon, Johnny Cash, and many more. I won’t spoil the yarns that Nesmith spins, but rest assured they are all fascinating and may even paint some of his contemporaries in a new light. There’s a little bit of everything for the Nesmith fan: stories about the formation of the Monkees, behind the scenes info, the start of his solo recording career, making the first artistic music video, the creation of MTV, and his dabbling in the VR space of the internet. However, the stories that he tells of his friendship with Douglas Adams, life in New Mexico, his relationship with his mother, and his concept of bands (small groups of people that form up to perform in some capacity) are just as exciting to learn about. He tells these tales with a sincere honesty mixed in with a touch of his trademark ironic charm.
Nesmith’s personal and professional life have been a jumbled mess of ups, downs, and everywhere else in-between. Married 3 times, he covers these relationships with broad strokes at most times, opting occasionally to drill down deeper when the mood strikes him. It is clear that Nesmith was not the most consistent or faithful lover, at least not until he had matured on a personal level sometime in the late 1980’s. Unfortunately, that meant a lot of heartache, hurt feelings, frustration, and all of it fueled by his growing celebrity psychosis. His business affairs had been hit and miss as well. Nesmith suffers from being tragically hip, almost to a fault. He created artistic music videos before there was a venue for it. He invested heavily in the VCR home video industry, before consumers had purchased them for home use. Nesmith jumped all the way into virtual world technology way back in the 1990’s, when we were still using dial up internet connections. Throughout his storied career, Nesmith has had his fingers in a lot of different and extraordinary pies. Unfortunately, most of those endeavors failed to take off as he was not an effective business man. This is a point he hilariously punctuates as he acknowledges that at one point he had become a Hamburger Tycoon (a term he coined to poke fun at wealthy Hollywood outsiders that believed they could make films that would change the industry for the better). These Hamburger Tycoons never seemed to make a sizable dent in the film industry, and though he tried with all of his might (Repo Man & Tape Heads are excellent films!), Nesmith never truly did either. For all of the crazy ways that life flowed in every which direction, Nesmith went with the flow and managed to come out in a good space regardless of how dark or financially dismal things got. He is a true survivor.
There is also a lot of effort spent discussing the metaphysical and spiritual journey that Nesmith has gone through. From his spiritually defiant youth, yogi inspired middle ages, all the way to his eventual return to Christian Science (his mother’s faith), Nesmith has taken a veritable “Tour of Italy” on his path to enlightenment. Now well set in his ways, Nesmith is confident in his faith in Christian Science, and a firm believer in the message. His reliance on the methods and teaching of Christian Science have seemingly served him well, and he has a peace about it that is admirable. A health concern that cropped up in more recent years, which included blindness and potential partial paralysis, gave him a wonderful platform to illuminate his beliefs. Whereas the eyesight challenge could be easily corrected through common surgery, his sudden onset partial paralysis was another matter altogether. He saw multiple doctors, none of which could peg down what was causing his mobility issues. After multiple treatments failed, mostly drug courses designed to cover the pain or reboot his immune system, he turned to Christian Science, prayer, and meditation. Low and behold, over time his condition bettered without further treatments and eventually he made a full recovery and gained full use of his left hand and right leg again. It is a tremendous story of faith and devotion, and of the healing power of the spirit.
High Lonesome: A new term to add to my conversational repertoire.
I have emotional highs and lows, not unlike most folks (I assume), but I get a feeling occasionally that can’t adequately be described as simply a low. It is more complex than that, it hits me with a range of emotions that I am not always able to process and deal with in my usual fashion. During these moments, I question a great deal about my life, career, and decisions that I’ve made. I never had a name for it. My good friend Bobby experiences his own version of it that he calls “A moment of reflection,” wherein he metaphorically looks in the mirror and is not happy with where he sees his life going. My wife calls it a “Season of life,” which simply meant that whatever the issue may be, it was only a momentary setback that would play itself out over time and normalcy would return in due course so long as you could weather the storm. Time heals all wounds, which is true if not entirely helpful when you are in despair. The problem that I run into is that neither of those descriptions are entirely accurate for me, as in a way they both are accurate at the same time. What’s more than that, is that there always feels like there is more going on than just their two scenarios. It’s deeper than that, and honestly it is something that I don’t always feel like sharing. Partially because I don’t adequately know how to describe how I am feeling during those times and partially because it is my burden to bear. Nesmith explains a similar concept that is found in Blues and Country & Western music: High Lonesome. High Lonesome describes the deepest pain that can be experienced in this life, and it is beyond the reach of the human senses and cannot be shared. It is experienced purely through the heart and soul, and is the essence of loss in any form that it may take without the ability to share that loss with another person. Nesmith describes a particularly harrowing time in an earlier portion of his life as follows:
“I was at the bottom of the darkest box canyon I could have been in without a shred of sunlight. It is truly said, that only by the blessings of universal order from such a point there is no way to go but up.”
It was the beginning of this feeling of High Lonesome for Nesmith. A feeling that would occur numerous times throughout his life, even as recently as 2011. High Lonesome is effectively what I experience when I go beyond my normal emotional lows, especially when a specific event (or as the case often is multiple events all at the same time) ensnares my thinking. I never had an adequate name or description for it, but now I do. High Lonesome is a terrible kind of depression, as it is not easy to share with others as it cuts to the quick of your soul with brutal efficiency. It doesn’t last forever, and for me sometimes not longer than a day (although it can last for months), but it leaves a lasting impression as when it hits, it hits hard. All strides that I make to be a better husband, father, creative, and ultimately person are in the hopes of keeping the High Lonesome at bay. There likely is no way to keep it totally at bay, but one can never be sure of that unless they try to achieve it… so continue to try, I shall.
Infinite Tuesday: So what’s not in the book that I would have liked to have seen?
The biggest omission that I noticed was a lack of detail in the recording of Nesmith’s solo albums. He speaks at length about the creation of the First National Band (his first solo musical ensemble), the musicians that he had worked with (Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, Red Rhodes, James Burton, and many others), along with some insight into how a few of the recording sessions went. Yet, it feels like the information I was wanting to hear about, specifically the creation of the songs themselves and the rationale behind the sound of each album goes largely unaccounted for. This was especially noticeable for Tantamount to Treason (1972) and Tropical Campfires (1994), perhaps my two favorite Nez albums that by and large exist without nary a mention in the book. I understood that the book was going to be tales told as Nesmith remembered them, but I was hoping for a bit more behind the scenes look at the creation of each album and what he drew from as an artist to create them. The omission of Tantamount to Treason seems glaring in particular, as it is easily his most adventurous, experimental, complex, and thrilling album. Also, it has a bizarre beer recipe on the back of the L.P., “The Papa Nes Home Brew,” which seems like a fascinating story just waiting to be told.
A lot of his more recent endeavors are not covered as well, including his 50 year reunion with the Monkees in 2016 (wherein the surviving Monkees recorded a new album that resulted in their best collaborative music since 1968) and the release of his solo album “Rays” in 2005. Rays is a rewarding album that fuses funk, swing, jazz, and electronica along with minimalist vocals to great effect. It’s a unique listen that takes you on a journey, and is excellent to jam too whilst driving. Not a single mention of Rays in the book. I suppose if I had a genuine critique, it’s that it is hard to peg down what decision matrix Nesmith used to decide which stories to tell and which not to tell. Were the omissions calculated decisions, or was it that he didn’t think that the stories behind them were as interesting as what he did include in Infinite Tuesday? Regardless, there are chunks of content that are missing, and as a fan of Nez’s creative work, they are noticeable. Perhaps he is saving those tales for a follow up memoir specifically about his music creation and artistic process. Perhaps they are better left to the imagination.
Why you should read Infinite Tuesday:
Nesmith’s tale is utterly fascinating, from start to finish. He serendipitously has been around some of the coolest scenes and emerging trends in the last 50 years. He was there when Hopper, Nicholson, and Fonda were making Easy Rider. He was there when Jimi Hendrix was bursting onto the scene, and even invited him to tour with the Monkees… which actually happened. Think about it, Jimi Hendrix toured with the Monkees. Far out, man. Nesmith was present for the beginnings of the home video market and owned the single largest collection of documentary films at the time. He created the modern music video, which led to him winning the first ever Grammy Award for a long form music video, and he also laid the foundation for the birth of MTV. He established a virtual world website Videoranch3D back in the 90’s that still exists today, where you can log in, meet new people, and see live concerts performed by actual musicians in the virtual world. Nesmith has experienced tremendous personal victories and soul shattering losses in nearly every way imaginable, and has come out of his High Lonesome with fresh resolve and sound perspective each and every time. It is a uniquely well told autobiography, from an author who plays with words in a delightfully imaginative way that makes reading them a treat. It is equal measures of interesting stories, personal insights, metaphysics, emerging industries, hamburger tycoons, celebrity psychosis, and a life (for better or worse) well lived. I still wish there had been more information, especially in regards to Nesmith’s music and recent life, but it doesn’t necessarily lessen the experience. If you aren’t a close follower of Nesmith’s creative career, you likely won’t even notice that they are missing. There are plenty tales of the Monkees, the Gihon Foundation, music videos, and celebrity friends to keep you enthralled for the 14 chapter journey. All in all, Infinite Tuesday is a terrific read that is often surprising, intimate, contemplative, and rife with humor. Having completed the book, I left feeling that Nesmith would be a wonderful person to hang out with and talk to over a few margaritas. He’s the kind of dude that loves nothing more than ironic humor and pursuing the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything. Just my kind of guy. I highly recommend grabbing a copy of Infinite Tuesday and giving it a solid read-through.
For the purposes of further reading, please click through the following links for more articles that I have written about Michael Nesmith:
Thirty Tunes Terrific for Tuesday – Papa Nez Edition …published on a Tuesday, I might add.
Also, of special note in the cosmic scheme of things:
This review was typed and published on April 25th, 2017… a Tuesday. So the Infinite Tuesday cycle continues.