Nez Interview - Chicago Tribune - 12/8/94
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Hey, hey: It's the Monkees

Michael Nesmith a believer in CD, video reissues

by: Tom Popson (Chicago Tribune Staff Writer)

If you have secretly harbored a desire to listen once again to the nine albums released by the Monkees between 1966 and 1970, to watch again all 58 episodes of their late-'60s TV series, to experience again their 1968 film "Head" and their 1969 TV special "33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee"- if in short, you have been seized by a somewhat eccentric longing to immerse yourself chin-deep in things Monkee- you are living in propitious times.

Rhino Records, which has acquired the complete audio and video catalog of the Monkees, has launched an all-out reissue program that eventually will bring each of the ventures cited above to music and video stores.

Rhino already has re-released six of the Monkees albums on CD and cassette. "The Monkees," "Changes" and "The Birds, the Bees & the Monkees" hit stores in September, and "More of the Monkees," "Head," and "The Monkees Present" were reissued last month. "Instant Replay," "Headquarters," and "Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd" are due from Rhino in January. Each of the reissues contains new liner notes and bonus tracks.

Also in January, Rhino Home Video will release "Head," the fragmented Monkees film directed by Bob Rafelson and co-written by Jack Nicholson before the two teamed up on "Five Easy Pieces." Late in 1995, Rhino will release a pricey ($399.98 suggested retail) boxed set of 20 videocassettes containing the 58 episodes of the "The Monkees" TV show, which ran from 1966 to 1968, plus "33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee" a 1969 special that was slated against the Oscar telecast and got the ratings you'd expect. And in March or April of next year, according to Rhino, individual videocassettes containing episodes from the TV series will begin to be available through Columbia House.

This cascade of reissues has earned the approval of at least one interested party- ex-Monkee Michael Nesmith.

"[Rhino co-founder] Harold Bronson is a real Monkees fan and has been a big supporter," says Nesmith, who these days divides his time between his California film, video and recording enterprises and his New Mexico ranch. "I know this is something he's wanted to do for a long time. The way they've done it- the material, the packaging- is really first class."

This is not the first time Rhino has gone a little bananas over the Monkees. In 1986 the label, licensing material from Arista Records, wrapped up a campaign that saw the nine Monkees albums reissued on vinyl and cassette, along with a best-of collection. Three years ago, Rhino released "Listen to the Band," a four-CD boxed set of Monkees tracks.

Then and now, Rhino has urged one and all to ponder the possibility that the Monkees are due for re-evaluation, that they were not only a commercial success (11 songs in the Top 40, among other achievements) but also an "important" band. Among other evidence introduced, Rhino cites the involvement of James Burton, Earl Palmer, Ry Cooder, Stephen Stills and other respected musicians in various Monkees recordings.

That call to revisionism might be hard to embrace for those who remember the Monkees as the Prefab Four- four guys (Davy Jones, an actor and jockey originally from England; Mickey Dolenz, a onetime Hollywood child actor; Peter Tork, a Greenwich Village musician; and Nesmith, a Texas musician/songwriter) tossed together via auditions to portray a band on television.

It didn't take critics back then long to seize upon the fact that people other than the Monkees were playing the instruments on the group's early recordings ("A Disgrace to the Pop World" ran one headline in a British paper).

Stung by the criticism, the Monkees eventually negotiated more creative control over their efforts and did begin to play on their recordings. Asked if he agrees that the Monkees' musical efforts have been short- changed over the years, Nesmith, now 51 and head of Pacific Arts Publishing and the Nesmith Group- California film, video, recording and direct-marketing concerns-says he thinks it's more a matter of some lingering confusion.

"In the early days, when we started off and were all hired to play the part of this out-of-work rock band, there was a pretty clear sense of what was going on," says Nesmith. "It was a television show, and there was no problem with it."

"But somewhere along the line, someone got the notion that it would be a good idea to report that Laurence Olivier really wasn't the Prince of Denmark and that the public had been duped at last night's performance of "Hamlet" into thinking he was.

"People began to report with great alarm, 'The Monkees are not a real band.' Which was at least bizarre. Because clearly the Monkees were *not* a real band. That was true, but the implication was there was something wrong with this."

"As the show matured and events played out and we actually took on the burden of making music ourselves- and turned into something of a band- the line became blurred. So there was this general confusion created early in the whole phenomenom that I think still lingers."

"It's very hard to just say the Monkees were disregarded and everybody should pay more attention, that we didn't get the kind of respect we deserved, because that's really not so. What happened was, the whole thing sank into a sea of general confusion, media confusion specifically."

One result, according to Nesmith, was that people who did like the Monkees tended to camouflage their Monkees records in Rolling Stones covers and play them only in their own rooms.

"They're only now coming out," says Nesmith. "There's a Monkees news group on the Internet, and watching that group is a hoot. Their analysis of the phenomenom is one thing, but they all share this sense of 'Oh, my God, I didn't know there was anybody else out there. I thought this was *verboten*.'"

Life After the Monkees

After saying goodbye to the Monkees in late 1969 (leaving just Dolenz and Jones in the group; Tork had left earlier), Nesmith pursued a solo music career, with some of his albums garnering kind words from critics if not whopping sales in the stores. He was also there early in the development of music video, nosing around the field years before winning a 1982 Grammy Award for his hourlong video "Elephant Parts." His company has produced films such as "Timerider," "Tapeheads" and "Repo Man."

Whether or not his Monkees experience had anything to do with it, Nesmith says the question of what's real and what isn't has long interested him.

"I'm very interested in illusion and in the way we perceive and interpret what the senses tell us." he says. "Not to get too philosophical here, but if you look back on the great advances in humankind's concept of the world, you see that they have mostly been at the expense of the senses, not because of them. We figure out, 'Oh the Earth goes around the sun.' That contravenes what the senses tell you. Same thing with the Earth being round. If we don't interpret what perspective was all about, we'd never get on a train because we'd be sure that the parallel lines con- verging in the distance and the train getting smaller would crush us to death".

"And as you can imagine, going back and examining the Monkees in that light - where did things cross the illusion/reality line?- has been a philosophical treat for me, a tasty littl morsel."

Not that Nesmith has come upon any profound revelations.

"Looking back at my work as an artist, I've begun to think about it in terms of...I don't what the word would be, really. ... I'd like to see where things fit and get some real sense, proper sense of the reality of what I've been involved in. At this point, I don't have any searing insights. The only insights I get, I immediately run to the typewriter or my guitar and make something of them.

Nesmith Tries Again

Nesmith's interest in perception and illusion is evident on his latest recording, "The Garden," released in September on his own Rio label. A follow-up to "The Prison," a 1970s Nesmith project, "The Garden," like its predecessor, consists of a recording accompanied by a printed story. The story is meant to be read at the same time the recording is listened to.

"The general notion is that when two media converge, they tend to super- charge each other..so that what seem like very simple ideas start to create emotional experiences," Nesmith says.

"The Prison" involved an inmate who finds a hole in the prison wall, goes out through the hole, turns around and sees that his fellow inmates are standing in an open field, that there was never any prison at all.

"A fairly simple allegory," Nesmith says. "Everybody's kind of experienced that. You can't see it's not really a prison as long as you're in it. Those kinds of notions are simple, digestible. But sync them to music, and they start to trace back to some very basic roots in our collective consciousness."

Similarly, "The Garden" finds its hero going on a journey rife with illusion. "The Prison" was released to less than universal acclaim, and Nesmith exibits a good-natured realism about prospects for "The Garden."

"If the response to 'The Garden' is anything like the response to 'The Prison,' I'm going to be run out of town on a rail," he says with a laugh. "I think 'The Prison' was voted by many, many journalists as the worst concept album of all time."

"But my standard line for that is, 'So naturally I started thinking about the follow-up.'" From: "Roseann C Flickenger"


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