A Few Words About Michael Nesmith
Friday, April 12th Steve took me to see Michael Nesmith at the Union County Performing Arts Center; a charming theatre that has been around since the early part of the last century and miraculously survived being torn down and becoming a parking lot. It was not the first time the two of us had seen “Papa Nez” in concert. While promoting his album Tropical Campfires in early 1992, he had done a concert at the now defunct Lone Star Roadhouse in NYC. Both Steve and I were there; even though we didn’t even know each other yet.
Twenty years later that night is still burned in my memory. Friends and I sat at a table that was on the same level as the stage and so close to the band that I was practically sitting in John Hobbs’ lap. (And since I’m assuming that many of you don’t know the various members of the Nesmith band over the years, John was the keyboard player during that tour). While there were wonderful songs from that album written by Nesmith (personal favorites include “Yellow Butterfly” and “Laugh Kills Lonesome”), it was his cover versions of “Brazil” and “Begin the Beguine” that made my youngish heart go pitter patters. (He also covers “In the Still of the Night” on the album; I think Cole Porter would have approved). I don’t need to say that the concert that night was wonderful; it was. At the time I never thought I would see Michael Nesmith in concert, let alone in such an intimate setting. Nor did I imagine that I would have the chance to meet him, however briefly afterwards. (Although we had a LONG wait…at the time he was working with PBS and there had been some bigwigs in attendance that had to be ministered unto prior to his coming downstairs to meet his fans). He was larger than life in his red plaid flannel shirt. And when he put his arm around me for a photo, I just wanted to samba the night away with him. I was in awe and he was charming, even at the late hour (I don’t recall the hour, but I know it must have been after midnight). He graciously signed my The Prison cd (which at the time was only available overseas) and was suitably impressed that I had it. That night his music and his personality won me over for life. (There are certain “celebrities” that I have admired in the past only to come face to face with them and find that well, they aren’t so nice. It’s crushing.)
This brings me to Friday night. Steve purchased the tickets and was also able to purchase the special meet and greet package afterwards. (Yes it cost extra and while we’re on a tight budget it was certainly worth it to both of us.) Friday night after a couple of rather crazy weeks was not ideal for me; I was just bone tired. I honestly wished the concert was some other day or time.
But now I can say that it was the BEST time. I never thought to describe a concert like this, but it was better than spending a weekend at a spa! As the band and Michael Nesmith took the stage and began to play “Papa Gene’s Blues” the tension melted from my body. I full admit that I am a person who carries stress me. But as the scenes were set for each song and then performed, I found myself caught up in the music and visions of what Michael had described prior the song played out in my head. (How hokey it is to give a narration prior to the song I might have thought. But it worked. It worked beautifully!) Visions of a café in Paris will forever float in my brain whenever I hear “Different Drum” (And the European flavored version was the best I had ever heard. “Different Drum” is by no means my favorite Nesmith tune, but upon hearing this new take upon it I was carried away and could almost smell the roasted coffee on the Parisian breeze.) The band took songs I know and loved and gave me a new appreciation and vision for each and every one of them. There was “Propinquity”, “Some of Shelley’s Blues”, “Grand Ennui”…there are too many to boringly list out.
Song after song; story after story, I was lulled into a place of piece. Certainly there were times when I was dancing in my seat (Especially during “Crusin’”) but I was a blissful place for that hour and forty five minutes. (Which flew by. I knew time must have passed because they had done so many songs and yet it seemed as though it had only just begun and I never wanted this Tran splendid evening to end).
The twenty five or so of us who were to meet Michael after the show were told to wait inside the theatre until it was empty. It only took 20 or so minutes before we were ushered into the empty lobby where we all happily and patiently waited for the man to come out. There was serenity among the group; there was no pushing or shoving. No one arguing as to who was first or second. Just a diverse group calmly waiting to share a moment or two with the performer.
When Michael came out, he pleasantly greeted us all; as if we were friends and not fans. A line of sorts formed. Steve and I were somewhat in the middle of the crowd; directly after the woman who wanted her arm signed “Sweet Young Thing, Michael Nesmith” (which would later be permanently tattooed there) A testament to the type of man Michael Nesmith is (or at least the type of man I have seen him to be), he practiced writing just that on a piece of paper several times. He wanted to make sure he had right first. One of his “ranch hands” graciously assisted; putting her arm under the woman’s so that it would easier to sign. Perhaps this was a bizarre request (or perhaps not), but Michael Nesmith handled it with graceful aplomb.
When Steve and I went up, he asked us our names and shook our hands, making us feel welcome. I told him how we had both seen him at the Lone Star Roadhouse, but not known each other at the time. Steve eloquently told him how much he had enjoyed the concert and hoped that it would not be another 20 years before we got to see him again. Again, treating us as friends, he honestly asked us what he didn’t perform that we would have liked to have heard. I immediately piped in with “Harmony Constant” as it is one of my favorites, but everything that he had sung that evening had been perfectly thought out and performed.
He took his time and signed the items we had brought before posing for photos. And then we were on our way. The night was over.
But thanks to Michael Nesmith, the serenity in me lived on (even through backed up traffic on the Garden State Parkway at eleven at night).
I don’t know Michael Nesmith and I don’t pretend to, but I am thankful to him for:
· Growing old with grace. Like Paul Newman and Cary Grant, he has gotten older and not put on any pretense that he hasn’t. And for me silver hair that has receded back is much more handsome (and dare I say it, sexier) than a head full of Grecian Formula (no matter what the commercials may say). Aging naturally and honestly reflects to me a person that is true to himself.
· His wonderful music. He’s not on the top of the hit lists, but his music crosses so many genres. If you don’t know it (and I have to assume there are a few friends out there that don’t), take a listen. If you don’t like country rock (he was pioneer) for which he is probably best known, try something a bit mellower like “The Garden”. If you visit the videoranch you will surely find something to your taste. (And you can sample for free! Just like a fine wine!) Let is wash over you like the gentle ocean waves would on a hot summer’s day.
· His honest appreciation for his fans. The first word that comes to mind is gentleman. It is what he has appeared to me when I have met him. (And yes I know he once punched a wall and told Don Kirschner it could have been his head). I may not know him, but his personality is such that I WANT to know him. He comes across as caring and compassionate. So, Mr. Nesmith if you’re ever in the area again and want to sit down for coffee or a glass of wine (gin and tonic, scotch and soda?), the drinks are on me. You just tell the stories…and I’ll be more than happy to listen.