The Upside of Goodbye

Considering how this blog got started and the recurring themes that have kept it going over the past 13 years, this is a hard one to write. :(

After hearing of Michael Nesmith’s passing last night, I spent much of today listening to the lovely McCabe’s Tapes and reminiscing about the two Nez shows I attended a couple years back, pre-pandemic. For whatever reason, I didn’t write about them at the time (or rather, I did, but never got around to actually posting about it), so figured I’d finish up and share the memories now in honor of one of my favorite underrated songwriters.

In January 2018 I saw Michael Nesmith and the First National Band (Redux) at The Rio in Santa Cruz. I went by myself, partially because no one in my extended circle shares the same fondness for pedal steel-infused cosmic Texas country rock, but mainly because my appreciation for Nez has always been more of a personal one. It’s one of those things you’re perfectly content to call your own; and in fact, you might even enjoy it more because you have it all to yourself. (See also: yearly re-watchings of You’ve Got Mail during the holiday season.)

Obligatory backstory: Late summer of 2008, in the empty weeks between drum corps ending and fall quarter at UCLA beginning, I spiraled deep into my first Nez obsession. Somehow, replaying the Monkees Greatest Hits CD turned into a full-blown obsession with the TV show (leading me to buy and rewatch both seasons ad nauseam and also to start this blog) which then turned into a never-ending Mike Nesmith side journey. Piece by downloaded piece, I loaded up my iPod with all the Nez solo albums I could find. I learned “Nine Times Blue” on the guitar and played it nonstop. While simultaneously worrying about the future and many other now-insignificant matters, I read and re-read the liner notes to And the Hits Just Keep On Coming and felt a little less angsty. In the years since, I think I’ve masked all this by telling people I’m a Monkees fan, but really ever since that summer in 2008 it’s been Nez all the way.

Anyway, even at age 30, I was expecting to be one of the youngest people at the Santa Cruz show, as per usual with these things, but to my surprise I happened to sit next to three teenage girls who had traveled all the way from Denver to be there, proof that there are bonafide Nez fangirls in every generation! They were so enthusiastic and excited, I couldn’t stop smiling while talking with them. It was like meeting a version of myself as a teenager, the version that posted unfiltered fanatical thoughts to LiveJournal and would’ve also traveled 1,200 miles just to see one of my favorite people in concert, if I could find someone to drive me. The teens struck up a conversation with the older couple behind us, and it turns out the man was a DJ at KPIG, who previously worked with Nez at Pacific Arts. In short, I felt like I was among a group of people who were all friends, and all of this even before the band walked onto the stage.

The show was a delight. Mike was so happy and goofy, which I’m sure was partly due to the fact that he was sharing the stage with his two sons and daughter-in-law, who seem like lovely people (his oldest son Christian especially got the crowd going). Nothing I love more than a family band! This was when I realized just how much I loved those First National Band albums I’d downloaded piecemeal a decade prior: song after song (“Calico Girlfriend”, “Dedicated Friend”, “Some of Shelly’s Blues”, “Nine Times Blue”) I sang along gleefully. Mike’s career spans eras and moods—1980s LA grooves, synth-forward sci-fi soundtracks, and tropical campfires to name a few—but I think 1970s rollicking roadtrip romps will always be my favorite.

I saw Nez & Fam again a year later at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, this time with my dad and a bunch of his friends who were in town for the festival. There in Golden Gate Park surrounded by a crowd full of boomers, I made my way to the front row to experience it all myself, singing out of tune to a meandering version of “Papa Gene’s Blues” and letting the pedal steel take me away.

Now that I think about it, this might’ve been the last live show I attended before everything shut down in 2020. I knew Mike’s health had wavered a bit in the past few years, so I was grateful to get to see him two times (three if you count the Monkees show) while he was touring and in good spirits. It seemed like he was doing well these last few months too, having just finished a tour with Micky. So, while I’m a bit shocked and saddened to hear of his passing, it’s nice to know he was playing music up until the end. To paraphrase “The Upside of Goodbye,” I’d like to think our dear Nez’s departure doesn’t leave us empty but instead with a fullness to lean on.

Thanx for everything, Nez. ❤️

What a time to be caught without a turtleneck.

In celebration of Halloween, I would like you to please enjoy a clip from one of my favorite Monkees episodes. It’s the perfect combo of goofy dialogue, physical comedy, and the chaotic, self-aware editing that made the late second season just so completely batty (heyyy see what I did there? 🦇).

Also! I revisited my rock & roll-adjacent Halloween playlist, which was pretty sad and lame back when I first made it on 8tracks. Now that 8tracks has kicked the bucket, I’ve decided to pad it out a bit with some more psychedelic tunes and jammy spooky songs at the end. The resulting extended version lives on Spotify now:

And finally, let us all remember 2021 as the year Paul and Ringo (aged 79 and 81 respectively) graced us with Halloween selfies on Twitter, truly the best gift we could ever hope for:

We are here, and we’re gonna have a good time

Unless you follow me or Mike Nesmith on social media, you probably didn’t know there was a new Monkees album out (after all, they’re almost 75 years old and only 3/4 of the original band remains). But I’m here to tell you that it dropped on Friday and it is ACTUALLY QUITE GOOD.

The album is called —wait for it—Good Times!, and as much as I wish the name was a little more…inventive, I must admit it effectively embraces the cheerful, shameless nostalgia that is the Monkees. At least it’s a better idea than Pool It! (fun fact: I have a signed copy of Pool It!, which I’m pretty sure my dad is going to donate if I don’t take it with me next time I visit).

So anyway, on Friday I donned my Nez hat and went by myself to a Monkees listening party at Amoeba Records, to celebrate the release of the new album while browsing record stacks.

The “party” was pretty subdued, mostly boomers and a couple of very nice Amoeba employees, so I kept my intense fangirling to myself. But it was so fun to hear new Monkees music voice blasting over the speakers while record browsing. Not to mention, I got so much free swag!

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Can’t wait to get started on that coloring book 👍

There were also cupcakes and cookies, so all in all it was probably the best possible way to spend my Friday evening.

Some album highlights, in case you’re interested:

“Me & Magdalena” is straight-up beautiful. It was released a couple weeks ago and I’ve been listening to it wayyyy more than a normal person should. The song was written by Ben Gibbard of Death Cab/Postal Service fame (a whole other kind of nostalgia), and is probably the best ballad the Monkees have ever done. Go listen to it.

“Wasn’t Born To Follow” – I first heard this song on the Easy Rider soundtrack and since then it’s always been a favorite (I only recently heard Carole King’s version, even though she was the one who wrote the song!). I was so pleasantly surprised to hear Peter’s lovely, un-countrified rendition…honestly I think he sounds better than ever?!

No Monkees album would be complete without the voice of Davy Jones, and I’m so glad they chose to include “Love to Love.” It’s a Neil Diamond tune originally recorded in 1967, and really tops off the whole 60s throwback vibe. Hearing this song only made me sad that there was no more Davy on the album. Micky probably sang the most original hits, but in so many ways, Davy was the voice and face of the Monkees. MISS U, MANCHESTER COWBOY.

This is really difficult for me, but my ONE skip track is Nez’s original song “I Know What I Know” (I’m sorry, Mike!!). I’ve always been a bigger fan of his more upbeat, weird country stuff, so this one didn’t really do it for me.

“I Was There (And I’m Told I Had A Good Time)” – I’m mostly just impressed at how many Beatlesque sounds they managed to fit into a 2-minute song. Did you know this song was co-written by Adam Schlesinger from Fountains of Wayne, who also happened to produce the entire album? Other songwriting credits for Good Times! go to Noel Gallagher, Paul Weller, Rivers Cuomo, and Andy Partridge. Also, the title track features Micky doing a duet with Harry Nilsson, so that’s pretty cool. 

The bottom line: this new album isn’t trying to be hip or modern or anything else but a solid collection of 60s-inspired pop songs (several of them were in fact written in the 60s) and I mean, it just works so well. I love the fact that it’s a collaboration with hit songwriters from both the past and present, and that the guys seemed to have had a blast recording it. Personally, I had a blast listening to it, and still can’t get the songs out of my head.

Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to go live vicariously through my Monkees DVDs while wishing I was born 40 years earlier…

Real life is for March

According to 30 Rock, nothing that happens on Leap Day counts, so I like to think this means Davy Jones never actually died (how come none of the other conspiracy theorists are onto this one with me?!). And in that case, we really don’t have anything to be sad about today.

This also marks the anniversary of that time I participated in trivia with a bunch of Googlers in Mountain View, and an entire round was dedicated to the Monkees. Needless to say, I crushed it, although the experience really skewed my perception of pub trivia (I’ve since learned that there’s not always a round that is tailored specifically to my interests).

In honor of our dear—but not dearly departed—Davy, here are two of his songs from the Monkees catalog, a.k.a. “really catchy pop songs with atrocious lyrics.” Also featuring: Peter’s overly enthusiastic clapping, Micky’s fake drumming, and Mike’s total indifference.

Confession: I’m guilty of really liking this song, even though the lyrics are so, so dumb (thanks Neil Diamond!). Basically, Davy is encountering “all kinds of sorrow” because he can’t choose between two girls who like him. #davyproblems

A second season Rainbow Room gem. I just can’t get over the line “how old d’you say your sister was?” Somehow, Davy can get away with it.

Thanks, buddy. 60s bubblegum pop wouldn’t be the same without you.

Top Fives: Monkees Edition

Friday! Finally!

Here’s a #FBF to the first post on this blog (or “online journal,” as I called it back in 2008). In true ethno-major style, it was a celebration of the jawbone as an instrument and also, of course, the Monkees (yes! those two things actually are related). A couple notes about this: A) The number of donkey jaw videos on YouTube has increased probably tenfold since then, and I just spent a good 15 minutes watching a bunch of them, and B) 7 years later, I still have the exact same feels for the Monkees.

The fact that this blog was born out of a Monkees obsession means it’s only logical that I dedicate at least one Top 5 post to these guys. Here’s to my favorite not-so-guilty pleasure, those four long-haired weirdos!

Top Five Monkees Clothing Accessories

…because the 60s.

1. Micky’s “tablecloth” poncho:
tablecloth2 tablecloth3

2. Mike’s “too cool for school” sunglasses:
sunglasses1 sunglasses3

3. Colorful Nehru shirts…
nehru nehru2

4. …and the fact that Mike was the only one who didn’t start dressing like a hippie halfway through the series. The closest he got was his somewhat-groovy ties:
tie tietie

5. Wool hat. Duh.
hat hat3

Ok, already this is a Mike-dominated post. Sorry never sorry.

Top Five Anti-Bubblegum Monkees Songs

…As in, after the band started rebelling against the whole bubblegum pop image thing and started writing their own songs (this was mostly Mike and Micky…I’m pretty sure Davy still liked singing songs about teenage girls)…

1. Circle Sky. The song is apparently about sights and sounds from the Monkees 1968 tour, but it always makes me think of the movie scene with images from Vietnam. Definitely has a dark vibe to me.
2. Daily Nightly. One of the first songs to feature a Moog!
3. Tapioca Tundra. Those Nesmith lyrics…also, there’s a guitar riff here taken straight from “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better.”
4. Listen to the Band. Because let’s be real, Mike’s voice was made for country music. I also love that this stripped-down live version exists. Davy + tambourine = :)
5. Randy Scouse Git. A prime example of “everyone knows we’re not playing this live so let’s goof around.”
Bonus: Ditty Diego – War Chant. Not written by any of the Monkees, but in fact written by Jack Nicholson for the reputation-destroying movie Head.

Top Five Most Ridiculous Scenes

…In, get this, REVERSE ORDER. (Subject to change as I binge-watch more episodes:)

5. In which Peter gets stuck in a trap bed and Davy is chased by a giant gorilla:

4. In which Davy gets captured in Mexico and the other three pretend to be bandits:

3. In which Mike plays a princess:

2. In which Micky’s pants get stolen by aliens:

1. And then there’s Mijacogeo – The Frodis Caper. THE ENTIRE EPISODE.

And that about sums up this week’s laugh riot. Special thanks to this website and this YouTube user for making this post possible.

You’re a nail-biter, and your mother never ever loved you.

Yes.

YES.

YAAAAAAASSSS.

I’ve just thought of the perfect Halloween costume.


Ok, tasteless stereotyping and ridiculousness aside…..MONKEEMEN! I mean, look at them, it’s perfect.

The reason I’m so excited? If you couldn’t guess, it’s the fact that I can wear my glasses for a costume and IT WILL LOOK 100% ACCURATE. My whole life I’ve dealt with the classic glasses-wearer dilemma: how to effectively pull off a costume when you don’t wear contacts and your vision is too bad to forego the specs. Over the years I’ve tried to brainstorm appropriate costumes for myself: Woody Allen (Alex almost agreed to be Annie Hall if I would go as Alvy Singer), Jemaine from Flight of the Conchords (that one actually turned out pretty well), Mike Nesmith and his groovy 60’s sunglasses.

But now I can be an even more fun version of Mike Nesmith!!!

Although, there’s a good chance this could end up like last year, when I was so excited to be the cover of Rumours with Alex that I put a reminder on my calendar 10 months in advance…but by the time Halloween rolled around we ran out of time and defaulted to Star Trek costumes.

But you guys, I really think I could pull this one off.

Catching up

It finally happened!:

Winner-2014-Web-Banner

I made it through November alive! This was my third time attempting NaNoWriMo, and I finally succeeded in writing 50,000 words in 30 days. WOOO! Quite a lesson in commitment. I guess you could call the (un)finished product a “novel,” except I’d have months of re-writing and de-suckifying to do before I could ever consider it readable. So while there’s a good chance the story will never see the light of day, I must admit I had a lot of fun writing it. :)

That said, I’m happy to be back on the ol’ blog! Here are a couple of things that came up during November that I vowed to blog about once I hit my word count:

Nez on Portlandia
Alex and I have been catching up on Portlandia, and one night we were watching an episode in which the Mayor’s parents are introduced (turns out they’ve been paying for all of Portland’s major purchases, including a 3D printer). And I thought for a split second that my eyes were tricking me but BY GOLLY I was right: the Mayor’s dad was played by NONE OTHER THAN MIKE NESMITH OF THE MONKEES.

AHHHHHH. You have to remember that I have a hardcore crush on Monkee Mike Nesmith, but appearances like this don’t help my cause (I swear he didn’t always look like the dad of a mayor!). Luckily for you (me), I found a very relevant episode of the Monkees:

I may or may not have watched the entire episode after finding that clip. Silliest. Show. Ever. “It’s a watch fob for a giant!”

How the rest of my November was spent: fangirling HARD over Queen
I CANNOT stop loving this band, you guys. My only purchase on Black Friday was Queen Rock Montreal from Rasputin Music (at full price, haha). I have no regrets! It’s an amazing concert.

Ugh I love this song so much. Freddie’s voice is perfect and Brian is the king of the power ballad. It’s also part of my NaNoWriMo14 soundtrack, which I have on 8tracks and might post later, if I can ever think of a good title for it.

Ok, turns out those were the only other things keeping me occupied over the past month. I’m also getting back into Tumblr, which is where obsessions are born. So I’ll probably be back soon. BRACE YOURSELVES.

You’re always the dummy, Pete.

My last few posts have been very wordy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that (to quote Seinfeld)…but I’m here to mix it up a bit with these two photos of Stephen Stills and Peter Tork looking like the same person:

Let it not be forgotten that Stephen Stills did in fact try out for the Monkees, but ended up recommending Peter Tork for the role instead.

Micky, Davy, Mike, and Stephen?

I mean, can you even imagine?

The odds are astronomical

Tonight we watched an exceptionally silly episode of Star Trek, in which Kirk and the crew have to outwit a planet full of humanoids who model their entire society off of the Chicago mobs of 1920s Earth (right?).

I especially liked the “Fizbin” scene below, not just because the Kirk/Spock interactions are hilarious and Bones karate chops a guy…


but because it reminded me of when the Monkees trick a guard by playing Creebage” in The Frodis Caper (trippiest Monkees episode ever, btw. Watch at your own discretion). 

Oh man. 60s TV is the greatest. Mark this one down as another “Nikki finds a way to relate two completely different things to each other” post and let’s call it a night.