AJOBO: I Met Michael Nesmith … Then It Got Dark and I Died

Written by AJOBO, Music

This is the first edition of my ~brand new column~ here on Popdose! I was going to start off last week by posting some lame introduction, but then I thought, what could possibly be better than kicking off this new writing venture with the tale of The Greatest Night of My Life? (Bonus points that it just happened Thursday!)

As a writer, particularly on my classic rock beat, my cup overfloweth with kill-me-awesome moments with some of the most amazing musicians and artists of the 20th century. You’ll probably hear some of those stories in this column, in fact. I try my damndest to never allow myself to become jaded by experience; I think about 11-year-old Allison sitting in her backyard listening to the Monkees on cassette, writing them fan letters on notebook paper and incorrectly placing them in the ’70s (oops). That kid would never believe in a bajillion years what her elder self is up to, and she sure as hell wouldn’t behave like meeting *insert ridiculous superstar here* is no BD. In fact, it’s a BFD. Especially when it comes to Michael Nesmith.

I rank Nez #2 in my Top Dudes Of All Time™. (Who’s #1? Don’t worry about it.) I’ve loved him for as long as I can remember. When I called and told my mother that I was going to meet him, she immediately responded with, “Oh my Garsh [Ohio accent], you’ve wanted to meet him since you were little!” This is coming from a woman who’s famous for having come through the 1960s as a culturally oblivious 20-something who attempted to recover with a late-life crush on Peter Noone, and subsequently can’t remember the name of one person I’ve ever interviewed. The fact that she even recognized Nesmith’s name will tell you how much of an aforementioned BFD he was/is/always will be to me. (The woolhatted bust of him I sculpted in junior high that still resides in my childhood living room might help, too…)

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I-i-is it the sideburns? The perfect bangs swipe? I just don’t know…

Because I’m more-or-less preaching to the choir here, I don’t have to reiterate that until last year, meeting Nez was virtually impossible because he wasn’t touring and to be honest, most of us assumed he was squirreled away in a cave inventing a cloud module that would somehow cure cancer, coming out only long enough to post intellectually convoluted gibberish on his Facebook, and scuttle back into hiding. A former boss did have lunch with him a few years ago and graciously asked Nez to write me a note, which he did! He also misspelled my name as “Alison.” I briefly considered a legal change. (Benedict Cumberbatch also spelled it “Alison.” God is trying to tell me something.)

All that changed last year when hell froze over Nez decided that he would join Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork on tour as “THE MONKEES.” You know those pivotal moments in life where you can clearly and instantly recall where you were when XYZ happened? (When I was growing up, it was usually JFK’s assassination.) For me, it was the moment the tour was announced. I was on a train from Warsaw to Berlin when I suddenly got bombarded with texts simply capslocked with NEZ IS TOURING WITH THE MONKEES KFHKJHFSKJ over and over. I screamed internally and probably busted a few capillaries. The old woman in a head scarf across from me thought I was psychotic. Did I care? Hell no. I was going to see NEZ.

I saw the Monkees twice that tour, and then, to my utter astonishment, got fourth-row seats to his solo performance at Town Hall last spring. That night was everything I dreamed about for so many years. One of the many wonderful things about Michael Nesmith is his ability to forgo the nostalgia and present his audience with something that reflects himself as an artist, but doesn’t alienate his fans. This even bleeds into his performances as Monkee Mike, where the rollicking “Sweet Young Thing” is transformed into a contemplative drone. I could lie and say that I hate it, but honestly, when the original version comes on my iPod, I sort of miss the reinvented arrangement. This is the power of The Nez.

Another key element of Nez’s mystique has long been his reticence to sign autographs and meet fans. Totally understandable. I believe I can say with much qualification that the Monkees fandom, by and large, is one of the most inconsistent and sometimes scary packs of fans in history. Until recently, the “prize factor” of possessing something signed by the most elusive Monkee practically gave someone the right to be a dick on the Internet for the rest of his or her life. Nez somewhat beat the system early in selling his autograph on Videoranch, which I typically think is extortion, but for him, it was probably the only logical move. He avoided the creepers and the eBay hounds, but was still able to connect with the true fans in an ancillary way.

So when he announced that he would be offering meet-and-greet passes for his solo tour, my brain felt like it had imploded. Not only was Nez performing, but I could MEET HIM, too? No way. I’d long resigned myself to the fact that he was Untouchable, scared away by all of those blood-suckers, never to emerge and sign my first-issue copy of The Monkees; his was the only signature I needed. More than that, I’d never get a chance to thank him for his music, his legend, his intellect and the dark humor embedded in his songs and words. But all that changed when, by a stroke of dumb luck (and a technical error on the Videoranch server), I scored two meet-and-greet (or Conversation Reception, as he calls them) passes.

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Something is missing here…

Cue screaming/ugly crying/jumping up and down from my roommate, Sara, and me. Sara and I bonded over Nez when we first met in 2010, and it seemed especially fitting that we’d get to meet The Man together. In the weeks leading up to the concert, we performed the ritual of preparation: What would we wear? What would we ask him to sign? What would we SAY? What would HE say? What if we fainted and died?!? A countdown was born, and before long, The Day Had Come.

The show was in Bay Shore, Long Island. I’d been there once before to see John Sebastian, and I recommend the venue to anyone who loves an intimate, friendly concert setting. Our seats weren’t the best, but because the house is so small, it felt like we were close to the action. Honestly, when Nez steps onstage, he envelops the room with his godlike presence (okay, maybe that’s a bit much?), and even those sitting in the rafters are pulled inside his world. He frames each song, or “triptych” medleys, with vignettes, scenes to play out in your head as he performs — accurately, this tour is entitled “Movies of the Mind.” He goes light on the Monkees, only including a few tunes that are even vaguely related to that body of material (like “Some of Shelly’s Blues” and “Calico Girlfriend,” which only count because they’re bonus tracks on Monkees reissues), but picks the best of the best from his solo career. I love that he includes a good chunk from the Elephant Parts era, especially “Light,” which has always been a favorite of mine. Also, having been basically reared on his Live at the Britt Festival album (the ONLY Michael Nesmith album carried by the Youngstown, Ohio, Best Buy in 1998… bastards), hearing “Rising in Love” and “Yellow Butterfly” made me feel like I was inside the album that was so well-loved by baby Allison that some would consider its skipping a cry of torture from the poor CD.

On cue, as the encore ended, my hands started to shake and Sara and I began our girly Make-Up and Hair Check. I couldn’t, and really still can’t, wrap my mind around the fact that Nez was in my future. All of the meet-and-greet participants were herded into the first few rows of seating and, after a few minutes or several hours – not sure which, Robert Michael Fucking Nesmith emerged from the backstage area.

He waved.

I screamed internally.

He spoke.

My lungs collapsed.

He made eye contact with me.

Yep, I died.

I was sure that when my turn came to meet and/or greet Nez, I wouldn’t be able to put one foot in front of the other. But when the time came to approach my hero, the first love of my musical life, I somehow held my trembling body together and said, “Hi! My name is Allison and it’s amazing to meet you.” And then proceeded to become absolutely speechless, like I don’t Words for a living. I reverted to the only thing that came to mind, which was to thank him for the lovely note he wrote me at the business lunch with my boss, which was a nice gesture, but of course I had to jog his memory. All of the scary “oh my God he doesn’t remember he thinks I sound crazy this is such a bad/stupid thing to bring up shut up Allison shut up shut up” dashed through my mind before he cleared the cobwebs with an, “Oh, yeah!” Whew. He graciously signed my copy of Tantamount to Treason, Vol. 1, my first edition of The Long Sandy Hair of Neftoon Zamora and, finally, my Monkees record, and I finally got my “grand slam,” as he calls it. (When Davy Jones signed it, he scrawled all over Nez’s face. I was going to give him the green light to do the same to Davy’s face, but I didn’t.)

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My mother said I should tell Nez that I have a cat named after him. This is said cat.

I’m pretty sure that 98% of our conversation was me thanking him for being alive. The other 2% was the amazing HUG I GOT AT THE END. IT WAS A THING. A THING THAT HAPPENED.

Sara was next and she had a stack of solo LPs for him to sign, one of which was Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash. When we were brainstorming talking points, I joked that she should tell him that some guy online has the cover tattooed onto his calf (totally true, by the way). And like the badass she is, she brought it up and he looked perturbed but said he’d seen it. Can you imagine seeing your face tattooed onto someone’s leg? No wonder he never meets fans.

She got a photo with him, and then I asked if we could take one of the three of us and he agreed, like the MFing gentleman he is. And, okay, I’ll admit I felt a little creepy when I asked him if we could kiss him on the cheeks for it but YOLO. YOLO YOLO YOLO. (My mind only works in caps when recalling this moment. It fluctuates between feeling like a BAMF and a freak.) He obliged, and the resulting photo commemorates the moment that my soul left my body, I’m pretty sure.

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LOOK AT HIS FACE. It inspired a weekend of “I CAN’T” texts between Sara and me.

One of the most annoying cliches ever is, “Don’t meet your idols.” Sometimes it’s true. Quite honestly, I’ve heard more than a few stories that so-and-so was a bitter, grumpy and downright nasty (blank). I’ve experienced this a few times myself in my yearling career. I do, however, consider myself to be extremely blessed in experience; the people that I’ve met that I’ve really, really respected and loved for whatever reason, have by-and-large turned out to be some of the most positive and humble individuals, period. I don’t know why, but it seems like when you meet a celebrity that’s kind, it restores your faith in humanity. Kind of like when drivers stop for squirrels in the road.

Meeting Michael Nesmith was probably the ultimate example of this, for me. Because of his past reluctance to be associated with the Monkees, he’s often pegged as a cold, standoffish type, that really didn’t have the time to be bothered by fans. Maybe it’s because he can closely control the meet-and-greets, but the man I saw and met was open, warm, soft-spoken and thoughtful. A guy ahead of me even asked him about the rumored rift in the Monkees and why he eventually joined Micky and Peter on tour. To my great surprise, he didn’t shirk the question. To me, that’s a sign of respect for the fans, that symbiotic exchange of information that displays a closeness, even between two strangers. I think Nez understands this, and I must commend him for his willingness to open himself up to those who treasure his music. It’s clearly paying off – for everyone involved.

WAIT, THERE’S MORE: Michael Nesmith is still on tour! He’s playing at the Bergen County Performing Arts Center in Englewood, New Jersey tonight. Best part? You can snag a pair of tickets for $15! Yes, that’s right! See you there.