James Grauerholz, the bibliographer and literary executor of William S. Burroughs (1914-1997), was the late writer’s friend, intimate companion, collaborator, business manager and, in the end, keeper of his flame. He co-edited Burroughs’ trilogy, Cities of the Red Night (1981), The Place of Dead Roads (1985) and The Western Lands (1987), and Word Virus: The William S. Burroughs Reader (2000). He edited Last Words (2000), Burroughs’ journals; And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks (2008), the collaborative novel by Burroughs and Jack Kerouac; and produced, with Hal Willner, two audiobooks of his work. This is a page from his diary of last week.
12/10/21 Michael Nesmith is dead at 78.
It was announced today that Michael Nesmith has died today of natural causes, aged 78 years, surrounded by friends and family.
In how many ways does this affect me? Well, let me count them:
1.When I lived at Spofford Home [for Emotionally Disturbed Children] in Kansas City, Mo. 1964-1966, all we kids used to watch The Monkees on TV every week. I loved the band and all their songs, which I used to hear on WHB (710AM) radio out of Topeka. I listened to WHB every night on a transistor radio that I hid beneath my pillow after lights-out. “Daydream Believer” is still one of my favorite songs.
2. Things I didn’t know before: He was born in Houston, Texas, on December 30, 1942, almost exactly one decade before I was born in Coffeyville, Kansas. His mother, Bette Graham (née Nesmith), was an executive secretary for a Texas corporation. She invented Liquid Paper after she married, in the mid-1950s when Michael was 13, and she was extremely successful with her patent for this product. She made a fortune from it within a few years.
Michael Nesmith lived in these Texas cities: Dallas; San Antonio; Wichita Falls.
In high school he was active in choir and drama. He never graduated high school, but obtained a GED and an honorable discharge in 1962. (My mother Selda Grauerholz was the president of the school board, and I graduated one year early from Field Kindley High School, where I was classmates with my dear friend Jody Harris, in spring 1969. The Coffeyville Daily Journal published a photo of Mom handing me my diploma at age 16— mortarboard and all.)
Michael Nesmith served a four-year tour of duty in the US Air Force, near the outset of the Vietnam War (1960-1964); he was an enlistee. (Me, I drew a high lottery number and was in no danger of being drafted.)
He was given a guitar for Christmas by his parents in his childhood. (My parents didn’t give me my first guitar until 1969, after I’d seen Jimi Hendrix live in Kansas City, Kansas, on November 1st of that year.)
He was already a “triple threat”—singing, dancing, and acting—plus songwriting. (Dancing is something I’ve never been good at.)
He moved to L.A. after his military service and signed a music publishing deal to place his songs with performing artists. (In 2021, I still want a publishing deal!)
He was the author of such great songs as “Mary, Mary” (Paul Butterfield Blues Band), “Different Drum” (Linda Ronstadt; Stone Poneys), and many, many others.
His first single was released in 1963, when he was still 20 or 21. (That was my age when I moved to New York City in early 1974 and met William Burroughs.)
He moved to Los Angeles, where he was a folksinger and songwriter and performer. He created a Monday-night hootenanny at The Troubadour in L.A. (Burroughs performed at The Troubadour in 1981 – twice.)
In 1965, he auditioned for Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, who were still creating a TV series to be called The Monkees. I met both Rafelson and Schneider in 1977 during the doomed Junkie film project, with William, Dennis Hopper, and Terry Southern).
Michael won the TV series part by appearing nonchalant, wearing a wool beanie to keep his long hair out of his eyes. Rafelson and Schneider remembered his “wool hat,” and gave him a callback.
He was hirsute. At times he wore long sideburns, sometimes even muttonchops. His chest hair was often visible beneath his open shirts.
The Monkees were a prefabricated group, put together for the TV series (that fact I knew). The 23-year-old Nesmith was uncomfortable with this: he wanted the band to record songs that they themselves had written, not just songs their producers handed them, written by other songwriters.
The Monkees broke up in 1968, when I was still in high school. (But I think I read about that at the time in Rolling Stone; it may have even been a cover story.) Also in 1968, The Monkees were featured in a movie called Head that was a commercial and critical disaster. You can easily guess that it was an LSD-and-hippies movie.
His last contractual commitment to Rafelson and Schneider was a TV commercial for Kool-Aid and Nerf balls in April 1970. (I was then a freshman at KU and paid little attention to television – I was too busy writing songs and dropping acid, and so forth.)
There is a lot more that I never really knew until I read Nesmith’s obit and his Wikipedia entry today … but I was very aware in 1984, when Repo Man was released, that he was an executive producer of that film. What I didn’t know is that his mother had died in 1980 and left him a substantial fortune. Another movie he helped to produce was Tapeheads. Truly a great film!
When Repo Man came out, I saw it in first release. To this day, it is one of my favorite movies of all time. I can quote entire scenes from it verbatim, and with my best friend, Tom, I often do – even as recently as a week or two ago.
Finally, I am emotionally affected by the death of this great artist whose work I first encountered in my childhood.
4. Age 78 is not so many years older than age 69 – and I’ll have my 69th birthday in less than a week. However, I come from long-lived antecedents on both sides, m my family, 78 is not that old.
His last public performance was at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles on November 14. I saw the video that an audience member captured of Micky Dolenz and Nesmith (Davy Jones and Peter Tork having died some years before), with a very professional and enthusiastic backup band.
November 14th was less than a month ago. Onstage at the Greek Theater, Michael Nesmith looked pretty good. He sang well enough with Micky Dolenz in the videoclips I saw. Both of them were old pros and still perfectly costumed. Neither had colored his hair. Both men could still dance very nicely.