Thursday, May 4, 2017

Book Review: Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff by Michael Nesmith

There's a line in the Pretenders song "Every Mother's Son," which goes: "My small mortal eyes can see eternity//In the clouds that dissolve and then regroup endlessly." And why bring that up here? Because replace "clouds" with the term "bands" and you have the basic synopsis for this memoir of sorts. Michael Nesmith tells us from the fore that he is basing the novel around various groups or "bands" he has felt (or in some cases not felt) a part of. That is not to say musical acts, so much as groupings of friends, or of creative or intellectual minds.

Nesmith has had a profound impact on popular culture, from his involvement in creating MTV to parodying his own song "Joanne," to his creation of the social media/livestream service Videoranch (years prior to the rest of the internet catching up), not to mention the many timeless songs he wrote, long before Taylor Swift made "country rock" cool and trendy. Here, we learn not only about Nesmith himself, but often about those close to him: those who sometimes influenced or assisted in his projects.

Infinite Tuesday does not take place in a completely linear manner, as indeed our thoughts do not. Good books are frequently not a straightforward presentation of facts, and Nesmith (who has also written several other books and short stories) knows how to write a good book. It's a page-turner, one which had me at times wondering what was going to happen next- even though he was sometimes describing situations which were basically public knowledge.

The book also recounts Nesmith's creative and spiritual pursuits throughout his life. Monkees fans, if you haven't figured it out by now, don't expect that that 4-5 year period in his life was as important to him as it is to you. That's not to say he doesn't mention it. In fact, he explores that period of time over a few chapters, using a Pinocchio metaphor to explain the Monkees pursuit of controlling more of their albums, and takes us through the process from the early days. Little of the snark about his past that he has a reputation for comes forward in this book, which has a fairly wholesome feel about it.

That said, Nesmith does not paint himself in an unrealistic light. He willingly admits to both his infidelities and cruelness in his relationships, and to his angry temper (caused by what he names "celebrity psychosis"). He explores his journey away from and then deeply into the arms of the Christian Science church.

Nesmith takes us on a journey through many of his creative pursuits. One truly realizes the scope of what he has accomplished, and how most of his adult life has been struggling for people to understand the genius of what he's doing, since his tastes in music and comedy run to the slightly unusual. This is actually where the title comes from. As he explains, he and Douglas Adams both realized their unusual humor wasn't unique to them at separate times in their lives, when they saw a cartoon by Paul Crum, in which one hippo says to another "I keep thinking it's Tuesday."

When telling of his early life, Nesmith explains his relationships with his uncle, aunt, and mother. Through the book, Nesmith gives a few details about the life of his incredible mother, Bette Nesmith Graham, inventor of liquid paper, collector of fine art, and founder of several charitable foundations. He also explains some of his involvement with those foundations including helping to fund Sundance film festival and creating the Council on Ideas.

But the book isn't intriguing for its presentation of facts, so much as for taking you into Nesmith's head, and giving you an idea of how he thought and felt throughout his career. It's interesting to hear about not only the creation of "Rio" as an early music video, but the thought processes that led to Elephant Parts and The Prison.

Rhino released an accompanying soundtrack to this book, featuring some of Nesmith's songwriting over the years. It's somewhat fitting, because Nesmith wrote several pieces of literature and music to go together. The problem is, the album is somewhat short, and contains mostly Monkees songs that fans hear ad nauseum. Nesmith mentions "Pretty Little Princess," a song he played pre-Monkees, when he was touring around Texas high schools, and says it caused hysteria just after the Beatles appearance on Ed Sullivan. Unfortunately, this song is not on the soundtrack.  It's not because it wasn't recorded, as it can be found on Youtube. I don't know the situation, but I assume Nesmith had little or nothing to do with the Rhino release, and I doubt Rhino knew very much about the book prior to the release, just judging by the song choices. Infinite Tuesday really gets you thinking about Nesmith's catalogue.

Overall, I highly recommend Infinite Tuesday. It's an essential read for anyone interested in Nesmith, and for anyone who just enjoys a good autobiography. It isn't detailed or comprehensive, but one really feels they have been brought into the inner circle of this very private man, for some stories about his life thus far.

Michael Nesmith.
Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff can be purchased here.

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