Mike Nesmith Tells It Like It Really Is!
from Flip Dec 1968
By Carol Deck
Mike Nesmith has always been the most outspoken of the Monkees, but in this exclusive Flip interview Mike reveals an astonishing honesty and candor about who and what he is and the advantasges of being a Monkee.
The interview was conducted in the kitchen of Mike's Hollywood Hills home, A man in white overalls was wall papering the kitchen as Mike, in faded blue jeans and his favorite Dean Jeffries t-shirt, paced about, cooking a standing rib roast and sugar curing what looked like half a cow at the same time.
With the ease of a man well familar with the workings of a kitchen he slapped the meat around like he's been curing meat all his life, though he later confessed it was the first time he'd ever done it.
Outside four 3-month-old puppies and a friend splashed about in the pool, while inside a bluegrass album Mike had picked up at a grocery store filled the house.
After finishing with the hunk of meat and depositing it in the refrigerator, which was nearly filled with milk and fruit juices, Mike paced about looking for something else to cook. Failing to do so, he surrendered to the interview and with a mug of low calorie cranberry juice in his hand faced the tape recorder.
FLIP: From what we've seen, everyone liked Wichita Train Whistle, but few bought it, despite the fact that your being a Monkee is supposed to be a big selling factor and the fact that it was a good album. Any idea what happened?
Mike: You overestimate the selling power of the Monkees. They don't sell.
FLIP: The Monkees records sell. Every album they've put out has been a million seller.
Mike: Yeah, but thats the Monkees records, and they don't sell that much now. Now that we're off television they're not selling worth a darn, not anymore. The album (Wichita Train Whistle) sold very well actually, where it was played. In Los Angeles alone it sold over 22,000 albums. And if the rest of the country'd played it, it would have been alright, but the rest of the country didn't.
FLIP: Any idea why?
Mike: There were alot of managerial problems. It wasn't promoted right, it wasn't distributed right, and couple that with the fact that being a Monkee has with it the stigma of being a bull artist, and nobody gave a damn. Nobody cares what we play or say or think or anything, 'cause they think, "well, you're just a bunch of plastic weirdos," except the kids, you know, and the kids aren't old enough to do anything yet, but when they're old enough then you'll see something.
FLIP: You'd think this album would have done away with a lot of that and that a lot of people would have realized that at least you are a legitimate musician.
Mike: Yeah, but a lot of people didn't, a lot of people didn't want to mess with it, just refused to accept it, just because of the fact I am a Monkee.
FLIP: You think that hurt more than it helped?
Mike: Yeah, I'm convinced of it.
FLIP: Any plans to do it again?
Mike: Oh yeah, you know we made some good money off the album, so we'll probably do another one, probably just one more though, no more.
FLIP: Will you corraborate with Shorty Rogers again?
Mike: Yeah, I'm sure I'll go with Shorty again.
FLIP: Looking back over your entire career as a musician and singer, back to the days in Texas and all, do you have any real regrets?
Mike: No, I don't have any regrets at all because you know that's a waste of time. Regrets are a disaster.
FLIP: Looking back over just the Monkee thing, how do you feel you've been treated, overall, by the press?
Mike: Very fairly.
FLIP: Even by the magazines who've wanted to know every minor detail of your private life?
Mike: Well, that's the editorial policy of the fan magazines. It's the editorial policy of the New York Daily News to muckrake. That's their scene. The Christian Science Monitor's policy is not to print anything like that. And like the Saturday Evening Post article and the Look article on us that just infuriated everybody, were for the most part accurate. I mean some of them were lies designed to color the thing, but the stories that were told and everything, the plastic fantastic thing, was true.
FLIP: You don't object to the fact that you've come out of it as a plastic Monkee most of the time?
Mike: Sure I object to it, but that's what I did, wasn't it? I mean that's what that was. We made it stop after a while, I mean, the movie's not plastic, our music is now very valid and very honest, but it's too late now, see, 'cause we're off the air now. 'Headquarters' came out the same time as 'Sgt. Pepper' and so that didn't have a ghost of a chance. 'Pisces, Aquarius' was a good album but it was a fourth, or fifth, and by that time nobody wanted to know anymore. It was a very honest and hard thing we did to break away, but the fact of the matter is that when we started off it was a manufactured, four put together, make-the-money-like-the-beatles-made-it thing. And that's the way it was-- Madison Avenue/ Wall Street. And what we do with it is something else altogether. I think we have a great responsibility and I think people are looking for us to do something with it. Some of us may, some of us may not.
FLIP: When did you start fighting back?
Mike: Well, I started fighting back before it got on the air! I didn't like it ever. I mean it drove me crazy. But we became unified at the end of the second album, at the end of the 'More of the Monkees.' And then we really did our own thing on 'Headquarters' and got just wiped out by 'Sgt Pepper.' You know it was like our third album and their seventh or twelve or whatever. And then 'Pisces, Aquarius' was another giant step forward for us, and then everyone got disgusted. They said, you know, we're sitting in here working our fannies off and we can't seem to make any headway with the public-- they just don't care. So there was a lot of lethargy and everyone went back and said, alright you do it, talking to the establishment, you make the music, we don't care anymore, which, of course, I wouldn't stand for at all. So we started doing all our own stuff. Although the movie is full of music that we didn't do, didn't have anything to do with.
FLIP: How did that happen? how did you lose control of it?
Mike: Well, it no longer solidified. Oh, I stamped and hollered, but the other three guys were no longer with me. They didn't care. Peter did a couple of things with the Buffalo Springfield playing on it. And there are two things in the movie that King, half of Goffin and King, and Tini Wine, a new female songwriter, did that we didn't have anything to do with, except Micky sang over it, that was all. And "Circle Sky" was something that I did on my own. "Circle Sky" was something I did in the studio with a drummer, just me and the drummer. Of course the four of us learned to play it live for the movie. So actually "Circle Sky" is the only time in the movie that you hear the Monkees play. It won't be that way on the album (the soundtrack album) 'cause the album cut will be different from the movie cut. It's really very strange. It seems like we've gone full circle back to the beginning. But I ain't standing for it. I mean, I'm moving on. I'm going to see what other career can happen.
FLIP: Are you going to try to get out of the Monkees altogether?
Mike: No, I'm very content with being a Monkee, on my own terms. I'm not about to be a Monkee on their terms, but the fact of the matter is that I am Mike Nesmith, one of the Monkees. I mean that's what I am. That's what I do for a living. That's my job. And I don't intend to change it. I'm not going to stand up, like a week from Tuesday, and say, "OK, now I'm not a Monkee anymore and you kids stop screaming and nobody care anymore 'cause I'm not a Monkee, I'm just old Mike and I'm gonna go back to school." That won't happen. But I'm going to be it on my terms. I refuse to play the game. So you may see a lot of really weirdo things.
FLIP: Like what?
Mike: Well, like me playing pedal steel guitar for the Byrds, which is what I did for a date in Berkeley. They called me up and said will you come play pedal steel with us and I said sure. That was just a one night stand though. They needed me for that and the Newport Pop Festival. But what happened with the Newport thing was I couldn't go because the contracts started conflicting there. For Berkeley I got a special clearance to do it. For Newport I couldn't do it.
FLIP: All you have upcoming with the Monkees is the Japan tour, the sound track album and another album after that-- is that right?
Mike: Yeah, one more album after the sound track. I think that may be the last album. I don't know for sure. There's no way of telling, but it may be though.
FLIP: Are you going to produce
Mike: Uh, they're refusing to let the Monkees produce their own stuff anymore.
Mike: They say historically it doesn't sell. So what can we do. I produce my own stuff. I mean I won't let anyone touch my music. I won't let it go to the hands of those stupid muckrakers, man!
FLIP: Was it very difficult for you to get from Screen Gems and do the Wichita album for Dot Records?
Mike: No, they were very happy to see me do it. Sure, they haven't combated me on any of this at any time. They've been very happy to see me do whatever I want to do. They know as I know that I'm a Monkee, I mean that's the bottom line, so whatever I do on my own doesn't ever preclude that fact. And I've always told them that I won't go do my own thing at the expense of being a Monkee, but I won't play their stupid Monkee games anymore. They can do what they want.
FLIP: What about the upcoming tour-- isn't it just another one of their games?
Mike: Well, it's Japan and its a new market and we don't have the same incredible hassle that we do over here and in London and stuff like that. I mean the kids just dig us for us and don't care if we play or not, it's just the four guys. I don't mind doing that, I think it'll be cool.
FLIP: Do you think maybe they haven't been hit with all the publicity about you being a manufactured group?
Mike: No, I think they've heard it but I don't think they care. I mean I think they're able to adjust with it.
FLIP: Do you have any plans for producing other artists right away?
Mike: Yeah, Bill Chadwick (Monkees road manager)
FLIP: As far as the pop press goes, you've dealt with both the American press, which is dominated mostly by young single females, and the British press, which is mostly slightly older guys. Do you have a preference between the two?
Mike: Well, if you mean interviewers, I usually just cut them off. I don't have any relationship with an interviewer as an interviewer, you know what I mean. After the interview's over, then we can be friends again, see. I son't really pay too much attention. Like some of the teen editors here are friends, but as soon as they turn on the tape recorder, as soon as they start an interview, that's another scene.
FLIP: John Lennon made a famous statement about the Beatles being bigger than Christ. Do you ever get any thoughts along that line about the Monkees in relationship to their fans?
Mike: No, nah, we don't have any influence. That's a myth. That's like people tell you you have all this political power, but that's a lot of bull.
FLIP: Do you feel you have any power over them at all?
Mike: Well, you do if you can convince them to do something, but you could do that if you were Joe Blow. Exposure may be some kind of power, but if you don't do anything with it...You've got to convince somebody to do something. The Monkees are no credentials. Maybe being a Beatle was. I'm not sure even being a Beatle was any credential. I never cared what they thought, and John's a good friend of mine. I really dig him, as a person and all, but so he goes and sees whats-his-name in India, I don't care, big deal. The whole power thing-- I mean people get strung out behind it and I think it's marvelous. I'll let them do it. But it's a myth. But people who stand around hyping themselves into believing they're some sort of power force-- if you want a power thing, you don't do it in the pop world. If you want to do something, write a book, be the President.
FLIP: What about Bob Dylan?
Mike: Well, I don't consider Dylan part of the pop medium. Do you? I think that was just a side thing that happened, which is cool, you know, It seemed to make him happy and it made him a few bucks.
FLIP: What do you consider him?
Mike: What do I consider Bob Dylan? Well, he's a Jewish guy from Minnesota who's real name is Zimmerman and he lives in New York. Now thats one of things he is. And he writes nice melodies and poetry that I don't understand about half of. And uh, he's bigger than a breadbox.
FLIP: He's sort of a God to some people.
Mike: I know, that shows how large the scope of a lot of people is. I'm sort of a God to some people, but all that means to me is, well, that's really a drag, I mean, they ought to have a little more concrete concept of God than that.
FLIP: You don't want to be a God?
Mike: Now that's not what I said. I am not a God, that's what I'm saying. It's not a question of wanting to be or not. From an ego standpoint I'd love to be the world. I'd like to be the entire universe incarnate and have the mass of knowledge therin, but I'm not. I'm just old Mike Nesmith.