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Monday, January 22, 2007

Episode 27 - Hey, Hey, I'm a Monkee




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[Dylan – "Different Drum" – from "Musical Instruments"]

Besides "Different Drum," some other songs written by Mike Nesmith around the same period included "Pretty Little Princess," recorded by Frankie Laine in 1968, the Monkee's minor hit, "Playing in the Band," and their better-known "Mary, Mary."

"Mary, Mary" was originally recorded by The Paul Butterfield Blues Band in 1966 for their East-West album, and appeared a year later on The Monkees 1967 More of the Monkees.

[Excerpt- Paul Butterfield Blues Band, "Mary, Mary"]

On September 8th 19 and 65, an advertisement appeared in Daily Variety seeking...

Madness!
Auditions
Folk and Rock Musicians-Singers
For Acting Roles in New TV Series
Running Parts for 4 Insane Boys Age 17-21
Want Spirited Ben Frank's Types
Have Courage to Work
Must Come Down for Interview.


Four hundred and thirty-seven Ben Franks auditioned, some of them probably even wearing Franklin-type granny glasses. Among them - a candidate who ended up on the short list - was Steve Stills - who was eventually passed over because he looked "too old." Harry Nilsson and Paul Williams were also on hand.

Contrary to the urban legend,which was probably started by an LA DJ who doubled for Davy Jones, Charles Manson did not audition for The Monkees, unless he somehow conned his way out of Terminal Island Prison for the afternoon.

According to several stories, one of the reasons that Nesmith won his role as Monkee was because he was wearing a wool hat, which he had donned to keep his hair out of his eyes while driving to the audition on his motorcycle. The producers remembered "Wool Hat," although they couldn't remember his name, and called Nesmith back. Nesmith may later have regretted using the prop since it stuck with him through most of the show's run, and for a time The Monkees' publicity referred to Nesmith as "Wool Hat," rather than by name.

As with the Charlie Manson myth, there's a lot of interesting stories about both The Monkees and Nesmith, some of them true, some of them with some basis in fact, and a few spun out of whole cloth.

If you were a Monkees' fan, and of the right age and inclination to read teen fan mags like Tiger Beat, you probably saw the story that Nesmith started playing guitar to gain dexterity back in his hand after a losing encounter with a firecracker.

It made a nice little sidebar to whatever teenybopper story was the lead - which all had titles like "Mike! What's Under That Wool Hat?" - and even got out the subtle message that yes, at least one of The Monkees really could play an instrument.

However, the story was wrong. While Nesmith did injure his hand as a child, accidentally getting it between a sledgehammer and a rock, the result was a paralyzed finger on his right hand that had no effect on his guitar playing when he eventually took it up years later, after being impressed by a Hoyt Axton performance.

Another story you've probably heard is the one about Nesmith's mother inventing Liquid Paper and making herself - and later Mike - millionaires in the process. That one is true. After divorcing Nesmith's father in 1946, Bette Nesmith Graham supported herself and Mike through secretarial work.

In this digital age, probably more than one of my listeners has never touched a typewriter. But I spent the first ten years of my writing career working at one.

In the Typewriter Age - O Youthful Audience - it wasn't a simple matter to correct a mistake. You had to walk through 10 feet of snow... No, wait, that's another story. Anyway, there wasn't a Backspace key or a Select and Delete to get rid of a mistake. What you had instead was a variety of messy correction solutions, Liquid Paper among them. Back in the `40s, Bette Graham realized that,
"...an artist never corrects by erasing, but always paints over the error. So I decided to use what artists use. I put some tempera water-base paint in a bottle and took my watercolor brush to the office. And I used that to correct my mistakes."
Ironically, her bosses gave her grief about using it, but her co-workers started coming to her for the magic paint. In 1956, Bette began marketing her typewriter correction fluid as "Mistake Out," and 23 years later would sell the product to Gillette for $47 million. Nesmith inherited Bette's estate, by then valued over$50 million, upon her death in 1980.

Even Jimi Hendrix figures in a Monkees story. It's pretty well-known that Hendrix opened for The Monkees during their 1967 tour. And, if you're a Hendrix fan, you've probably heard the story that the Daughters of the American Revolution had him kicked off the tour for being "too erotic."

Although Hendrix was "too erotic," God knows, the ladies of the D.A.R. had nothing to do with him leaving the tour. Already familiar with Hendrix, Peter Tork had caught his act at the Monterey Pop Festival and promoted the idea of the Experience joining the Monkees Tour to Dick Clark, yep, the Dick Clark, who had already booked such forgettable acts as The Sundowners and Aussie songbird, Lynn Rendell.

Clark bought into the idea for whatever reasons, Hendrix needed the money and the exposure, and The Monkees got a legit rock-and-roll act fronting for them. Unfortunately, The Monkees barely-pubescent fan base was ah, less than appreciative of Hendrix, and spent most of his act chanting, "We want Davy," as the Experience feedback-wailed through "Purple Haze."

Y'know, it was probably one of those scenes that L.S.D. was invented for.

In any case, with "Purple Haze" on its way up the American charts, Hendrix decided to leave for better audiences than gum-snappin' microboppers who were not creaming in their jeans for -"Eww, an old, he's got to be at least 24! weird black, Oh, Double-Eww! guy" - but instead, God help us all, wanted white bread Davy Jones to get out on stage already and get on with that tambourine and booty-shakin'. Jimi blew the tour after a few gigs that must have been awesome to witness in their weirdness.

As a giggle, music critic Lillian Roxon, who was the official tour reporter, wrote up an article explaining that Hendrix was given the boot after the D.A.R. complained that he was "corrupting the morals of American youth." The article was printed as straight fact, and the legend was born.

One last Nesmith story, this one with a Dylan connection: Nesmith would have a minor hit with the song "Rio" in 1977. Nesmith created a video clip for "Rio," and that video can be traced as the impetus behind the creation of MTV.

Back in 2002, a "Don Wedge" posted a message at a Dylan-related internet group. Wedge claimed to be, "...editing a book of recollections and anecdotes about The Monkees," and further claimed to have the following transcription of a mid-80s Nesmith radio interview...
Interviewer:...Rio's my favourite record of yours actually. It's from the photon wing [sic] album isn't it? You mentioned that Bob Dylan had a connection with that?

Nesmith: You like it huh..it's a funny story in that we met around that time and vaguely discussed me producing him but that didn't work out. I had Rio as an idea but kept getting sidetracked with it and I showed him the chorus and he wrote most of the verses with me just straightening it out later on.

Interviewer: so a collaboration with Bob Dylan!

Nesmith: I wouldn't call it that Bob will put his pen onto something I think but I think most people would be too scared to mention something like that..you know like writer's block.
Hey, hey, Bob collaborated - or at least put put his pen on, whatever the hell that means - something written by a Monkee?

That would be a Big "No". After writing that email posting, "Wedge" disappeared back into the aether, never to post on the subject again. The book never appeared. These here internets being what they are, the story has persisted and is quoted on various sites as fact. But Nesmith states flatly in the FAQ on his home site...
Q. Has Nez ever worked with Bob Dylan?

A. No. Nez has never met or talked to him, although Nez has great respect for his work. The reports about any collaboration between him and Dylan are completely false.
Too bad. It would have been kinda cool.

Sources: Wikipedia articles on Michael Nesmith and Bette Nesmith Graham; Nesmith's official site, Videoranch; Snopes page on Jimi Hendrix and The Monkees Tour; Snopes page on Monkees/Manson non-connection. rec.arts.dylan posting by "Don Wedge" claiming Dylan co-wrote "Rio" (categorically denied by Michael Nesmith); "Rio", by Mike Nesmith (YouTube video).

***

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