Like everyone who had a few hits in the Sixties, the Monkees will soon be appearing at a theatre near you. But guitarist Mike Nesmith won’t be there, as he hasn’t been involved in the majority of their many reunions since walking out in 1970.
Unlike just about all his peers, he doesn’t need the money. Mike’s mother invented paper correction fluid – we knew it as Tippex – and sold the patent to Gillette in 1979. Mike inherited half of her $50 million fortune, so had no pressure to earn a crust.
He did lots of interesting things in the Seventies and Eighties. Made some wonderful country records that only I bought. Made a long-form video in the days when nobody did that kind of thing. Made a pilot for a video show that was subsequently folded into MTV. Exec-produced some groovy movies. Mike Nesmith doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone but an ignoramus.
He’s one of the few famous Sixties figures who doesn’t sheepishly admit, “If it wasn’t for this stupid hit I’d be living in a rolled-up newspaper in the middle of the street.” And yet every few years he’s contacted by his erstwhile band members, Mickey Dolenz, Davey Jones and Peter Tork, who want to put the band back on the road for one more pension plan top-up.
He was last there in 1996 for an embarrassing TV special. This time he’s sitting it out. Does this make him the party pooper? He’s certainly lowering the scene of fans who will go home saying, “We saw three-quarters of the Monkees.” It’s not quite the same, is it?
But it’s his life. He’s not a social service. I will defend the right of any old pop star to keep putting food on the table by playing for the paying public. I will also defend the odd refusenik. I admire Robert Plant for declining to go back on the road with Led Zeppelin at the age of 60. All that money wasn’t worth the indignity.
It’s all right for the blokes who hide behind the instruments: they’re essentially operating machinery. The singer knew that prancing about upfront with your shirt slashed to the waist looks a bit daft once you get past 30.
Similarly, Nesmith will have summoned up the picture of himself donning the old woollen bobble hat, composing his features in the right poker face to answer one of Davey Jones’s hi-larious quips before launching into Your Auntie Grizelda or some such and then thought: “You know, I don’t need this.” Good luck to him if he wants to stay home.
Nesmith’s stand enables us once more to reflect on the Great Irony of the Sixties, which is that our pop stars wound up working longer than our quantity surveyors. It was supposed to be the most mayfly of jobs – wasn’t supposed to be a job at all – and it’s ended up being as impossible-to-retire-from as being the parish priest. Nobody saw that one coming.