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.


Sunday, April 30, 2017

State of the Music Address: April 2017


It's that time of year again, in which it seems like there's some really good stuff either out or coming out in the music world. Just in case I don't get time to cover it all, let me give you a quick rundown.

-First of all, Michael Nesmith just released Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff, and it's a great read. I'm doing my best to get a review published soon, but in case I don't manage to, I just want to say something about it.

-Lots of albums have been coming out lately. It's been enough in a short space of time that I'm having trouble keeping up with them all. Ray Davies released Americana, Dave and Russ Davies released Open Road, and Feist came out with Pleasure, her first album in six years!

-Procol Harum also came out with their first new album in fourteen years, which I reviewed over at Rebeat.

-Oh yeah, and last month I did an interview with Chris Difford of Squeeze, which was an absolute pleasure.

-7 Inches for Planned Parenthood is currently taking preorders for their exclusive boxed set to benefit the aforementioned Planned Parenthood.

-My radio show, One-Mind Tracks is live every Thursday at 7 and streaming online! This week we're listening to some tracks about May flowers.

-If you're in central Ohio, The Xx are playing in Columbus Friday, and we've got more upcoming shows from Spoon (with Tennis as the opener!), and an arena show featuring the unlikely duo of Tears for Fears and Hall and Oates. Later this summer, there's Deerhoof (at Ace of Cups), The Mountain Goats, and Portugal. The Man.

-As I mentioned briefly, I'm trying to get some reviews churned out quickly, as well as a few "One-Mind Tracks" style articles soon, to co-ordinate with the show. Stick around!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Following in the Footsteps: Kate Bush

No More Blood From a Clone is not dead! Here, in the triumphant return, we will explore the second in a series of articles about the influence artists have had on more recent artists. This week, we're looking at work which owes a good deal to Kate Bush. You can also catch a live show about this playlist Thursday at 7pm on 975wdif.com.

"Entre ánimas" by Virjinia Glück
It's hard to find much information on this Spanish artist, but it's clear in any language that she owes a lot to "Wuthering Heights," "Sat in Your Lap," and Bush's overall style. Not just in this song either. Almost anything I have found by her sounds similar to Bush.


"Icicle" by Tori Amos
The comparison between Amos and Bush is something of a joke in the Bush community, but it's still necessary to include for all of the non-Bush readers. I have opted for a less obscene track for the radio version of this playlist, but you can hear her influence most on "Icicle."


"Easy" by Joanna Newsom
Newsom was always known in the early years for her unusual voice and harp playing, but her musical skills are not limited. Have One on Me is a massive, three-disc album, with a great deal of Bush sounds. I think this one has the most in common with the earlier artist, bringing to mind "Feel It" or something from The Kick Inside


"Genius Next Door" by Regina Spektor
Before I go much further with these "easy" picks, let me offer up a much more thinkey Kate Bush-following piece. Bush was pretty straightforward with some of her lyrics, like "The Dreaming," "Houdini," and "Army Dreamers," but still others like "The Man with the Child in His Eyes" and "Suspended in Gaffa" are still shrouded in mystery. Apart from the whole woman-with-a-piano thing Spektor has going, she has also borrowed Bush's air of mystery without trying to become a witch/fairy hybrid. "Genius" is some fine songwriting, perfectly bringing to mind vintage small-town America, while telling the very strange story surrounding the town lake. It reminds me of Big Fish as told by a crafty songstress. Thus, much like Bush's works, it has an air of the literary and mysterious. 


"Wrecking Ball" by Miley Cyrus
To every person who just wants to cast this song aside because of Miley Cyrus, I beg you to listen to both the crafting of the song (which Cyrus surely had very little to do with) and the vocal chops (which are pretty much all her). Not only is the verse very Bush-esque, but Cyrus actually has a pretty rad voice. Just appreciate it.


"Clowns" by Goldfrapp
Goldfrapp have admitted to the influence, and while you can't always hear it strongly, I think this is a great example of the influence. It's somehow both more ethereal and more folky than you would expect from a Bush song, but not without connections.


"Horse & I" by Bat For Lashes
Around ten years ago, it seemed as though, as a female artist, you had two basic options: you could be Florence Welch or Adele. Opting for the former option prior to Florence and the Machine even making their first commercial release, Natasha Kahn was actually pretty original. So, of course, she drew comparisons to Kate Bush. Not undeservedly, however. She didn't gain much attention in the states until the very dream-like "Daniel" in 2009, which was often considered to be THE new Kate Bush song. However, careful listeners would have already heard the epic adventure tale told in "Horse & I," a song which audibly brings to mind "Experiment IV" in the strings.


"Breaking Down" by Florence + The Machine
While we're on the subject of Florence Welch, I feel I should mention what I consider to be her most Bush song. It's somewhere between a more melodic "Get Out of My House," "The Man With the Child in His Eyes," and "Them Heavy People." I don't care what comparisons people want to make between the two artists (both of whom I love), this will always be the Bush-esque song to me.


"Never is a Promise" by Fiona Apple
Another young prodigy, Apple brings to mind The Red Shoes with this song, particularly the video, which reminds me of "Moments of Pleasure," but there are touches of earlier Bush songs in the melody as well. She also heavily conveys that woman-with-a-piano vibe.


"Flash Me Up" by Happy Rhodes
With a very Bush-esque sound as well as vague lyrics, this isn't the only song I could have used by a longshot. I thought the performance/film aspect of the song might make it extra fitting though. Sidenote: there were a lot of 90s artists inspired by her as well as the recent surge.


"Fingers and Toes" by Alex Winston
Alex Winston shares both the classical training and vocal range with Bush, but definitely has a sound of her own. Still, I feel that fans of Bush who haven't heard of Winston yet are missing out.


"Charlie" by Milla Jovovich
Yes, that Milla Jovovich once made an album with some Kate Bush vibes. The actress and musician continues to release "demos" occasionally on her website, which she encourages fans to work on. 


"I'll Get You Back" by Kristeen Young
In the vein of "Sat in Your Lap," this song by former art student and pianist is both strange and catchy. Young has collaborated with Morrissey and David Bowie.


"Chloe in the Afternoon" by St. Vincent
Described by some as Annie Clark's attempt at The Dreaming, Strange Mercy, does have some of that distinctive sound to it. Never having delved much into St. Vincent, I can't help but agree on this track at least.


Special thanks to these articles, which I used as resources.