Thursday, March 31, 2011

Dylan--He Ain't Got No Home. Amazing live from '68.

If pressed to name my favorite Dylan Thing Right Now, I'd have to say it's his performance of Woody Guthrie's "I Ain't Got No Home", backed by The Band,  recorded at Carnegie Hall, NY, Jan 20, 1968. A few reasons why it rolls my socks up and down:

--After having thought that I'd heard all the Dylan I needed/wanted to hear, I came across this song on a Band boxset just a couple years ago. I knew this concert happened, but for some reason (probably because no one ever talks about it like they do other Dylan things) I never sought it out.

--I love The Basement Tapes. The Dylan parts, not really The Band parts. And this is just a few months after those recordings, so it has that chemistry. 

--I had the nerdy honor of playing this for a few Dylan freaks who also had never heard it.

--It really rocks. I'd seen pictures of this concert and assumed he and The Band were just folking it up. Not so. The chemistry of the 1966 tour is here. Dylan wails like his amphetamine old self, but is in fact a whole lot healthier, has filled out a bit and is looking like a hip grad student--not a broomstick with mod clothes and an afro wig.

Here he is singing the hobo anthem by his hero, but he only means it in cultural ways. Hard times would forever be a thing of the past. 

 Watch this video I made (and again, had to post on Facebook due to You Tube restrictions)

And now my essay on the subtext--and Dylan would of course be the first to poo poo it, and that's why we love him. He invites analysis and then says "you're wrong, you're crazy, you think too much and you're wasting your valuable time here on earth." Well, I'm no Dylanologist--I just really dig this performance.

So, 1966--Dylan finishes his world tour with The Band. He's exhausted. He looks and sounds like hell. He's completely dependent on chemicals to bring him up, down and and keep him sharp and mellow and witty and creative and Dylan-ish. He's got a brief vacation before his slave driver manager Grossman wants him back out on the road/in the studio, etc.


Who knows how serious the fabled motorcycle crash of '66 was? Either way, it was good timing, because Dylan would not have survived much longer at the rate he was going. So, the western pop music world gets psychedelic while he hides away in Woodstock, recuperating/detoxing, settling down with his wife, reading, writing, whatever. Staying away from the parties. Meanwhile, psychedelia would not have happened without him.

"The ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face"
"Jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule"
(both from 1966's "Visions of Johanna")
are more definitively psychedelic than 98% of the stuff that the class of '67 was coming up with. He could sit out this Summer of Love game. In fact, he could spend all year on the disabled list.

Not many knew what he was up to, but it turns out he was hanging out with his buddies in The Band, coming up with the tunes heard later on The Basement Tapes. Some strange tunes that still had some trippiness in them, but were slowly getting reacquainted with reality.
That's a whole other subject, and it's been written about a lot.

So 1967 comes and goes. The game has changed. Dylan's hero Woody Guthrie dies after a long, not-pretty illness. A tribute to Woody is scheduled for January, 1968. Bob Dylan is asked to be a part. He accepts.

The guy who takes the stage looks nothing like the guy on the cover of Blonde on Blonde. This Dylan is bearded, his hair is short and his eyes are focused. The Band looks a little more hippie-ish, but that's because they were about to become The Next Big Thing.


Well, listen again.  Dylan is not the strange, honey-voiced crooner he pretended to be a year later on Nashville Skyline. The angry, nasal rasp is still the sound that comes from his mouth. He wails this song like he means every word. Especially the chorus, on which he's joined by The Band. Nice solos by Robbie and Richard, too.

Perhaps it was the emotion of paying tribute to his now deceased hero. Perhaps it was the excitement of returning to the stage after 18 months. But I have a deeper, possibly bullshit, but fun-to-explore reason why Dylan's performance of this song is so emotional.

Dylan in January 1968 bloody well MEANT IT when he shouted "I ain't got no home in this world anymore". In 18 months, the world of arts and music had gone technicolor. He was an architect of it, but sat out the unveiling.

Dylan had no home in the post-Sgt Pepper world. Didn't want one.

Dylan also had no home in the world to which he was finding himself singing on January 1968. It was Woody's world. IE, the folkies he had so royally given the finger to at the Newport Folk Fest just two and a half years before. He'd gone electric, sided with the pop/rock world, got his leather jacket and polkadot shirts, and didn't look behind.

Now, on this day, he realized...he was neither tripping in meadows discussing god with the hippies, nor was he plotting the worker's revolution with the old guard--the protest Bobby. He in fact, was about to release John Wesley Harding--his record full of 3 minute religious parables (and a catchy love song), recorded with a pretty funky Nashville band--the same band who recorded Blonde on Blonde, and which was now wondering where all the 8 minute songs went.

In fact, the only home that Dylan did have was the only kind of home that he'd NOT known for most of his life of a musician--a quiet home with a wife and kids waiting for his return.

Ironic and very Dylan.

A Tale of Two Warlocks--a video essay in two parts.

Two movies I made and uploaded to Facebook, because YouTube deemed both in breach of their ever-stricter copyright rules.
Hey...I'm not trying to get away with anything sneaky. I just have a lesson to teach.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Anatomy of 'Trains'

                                                                                     cd art by Marisa Filippone

I wondered how long it would take until I bit to the center (my ego) of this Tootsie Pop of a blog.

The other day, a song of mine, "People On Trains", from 2007's POLITE came on the iPod and I listened with fresh ears. I enjoyed it, and remembered how recently, an esteemed songwriter friend of mine called it one of his favorite songs by anyone.
I've said this before: the vast majority of my songs are Frankenstein's monsters--song scraps that I record and catalog and let ferment for anywhere from a few days to a few years. And for these scraps to "play nice together", they often have to compromise their original intent. Something that was written as a tango ends up disco and in a different key. Or something like that.
The other main ingredient is conscious or unconscious influence. This is always for arrangement purposes. There's not a whole lot new under the sun, so one can either pay tribute to a previous style, or mix and match and put through filters. One of the most effective filters is having those unfamiliar with a certain artist or genre unknowingly play something that the songwriter knows is influenced by said artist or genre. Have a Syd Barrett freak play on a Willie Nelson ripoff. or vice versa. Recently, a band had me play drums on something that was Yes-influenced. I'm not a huge fan of complex art/prog etc. So they got it through my filter. I just never strove to have Bruford licks.

Back to the matter at hand. The patchwork of influences that is my song, "People On Trains". 
The best way to describe this is to listen to the song and then list/link to the various  influences that went into it.

See if you can hear how the following songs influenced the arrangement:

Save Me a Place--Fleetwood Mac 
Section 43--Country Joe and the Fish
To Love Somebody--Nina Simone
Long Gone--Syd Barrett
Singapore--Tom Waits
Where is My Mind--Pixies
Inspector Gadget Theme

Isn't this fun? Tell me you're not having a blast.

Other facts about the song:
--the initial slow verse part was originally written about an annoying neighbor I had many years ago.
I knew I was never going to write a song about a neighbor, so I shelved the words. I think I only had two lines anyway. But the melody was nice.

--the lyrics that ended up on the final song are about a million things. some of it does take place on a train; specifically, the G train to/from Greenpoint (Brooklyn) that I rode for 3 weeks and took note of the people I'd see every day. and contrasting it with the wordless shoe clomping one hears in some European subways. there's also a scene or two from the Berkshires (cheap hotel in wealthy town). oh, and a laundromat in Northampton where I watched a guy getting really into reading a book about Che Guevara --I imagined all the people in the last half century reading said book and plotting their own revolutions, sticking it to the man, what have you. writing speeches in their heads. not knowing that all the while, some wiseacre could be writing lyrics about them.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Ships. Fools. Discuss.

From Wikipedia: 
"Ship of Fools (painted c. 1490–1500) is a painting by Hieronymus Bosch which shows prodigal humans wasting their lives instead of spending it in useful ways."

As a songwriter, I've fallen prey to the allure of certain ideas and images that have become artistic cliches.
When the music critic in me kicks in, while writing songs, I've spotted the majority of these cliches before they went from brain to paper, and either rejected them outright, or messed with them so that they're unrecognizable.

Here's an example from an old song I've never released:
"I wouldn't want to belong to someone whose name I won't remember"

That stemmed from the popular quote (which I'm probably misquoting), "I wouldn't belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member."
-- Groucho Marx

I wasn't about to trot out Groucho's quote in a song. So I messed about for 30 seconds and came up with my own variation, which is really not very clever at all. It's a dumb throwaway, in fact. And part of why I've never released it.

Anyway, with April Fools Day approaching, we gather today to ponder why the image of the Ship of Fools has so captured the imagination of a disparate population of songwriters. I'm willing to bet there aren't a lot of record collections that contain records by ALL of these artists who have songs entitled "Ship of Fools"

The Doors--1970
John Cale--1974
The Grateful Dead --1974
Bob Seger--1976
Soul Asylum--1986
World Party --1986
Robert Plant--1988
The Scorpions--1993
Ron Sexmith--2006

Let's quickly examine the background of the phrase.

According to another Wikipedia Page:

"The ship of fools is an allegory that has long been a fixture in Western literature and art. The allegory depicts a vessel populated by human inhabitants who are deranged, frivolous, or oblivious, passengers aboard a ship without a pilot, and seemingly ignorant of their own direction. This concept makes up the framework of the 15th century book Ship of Fools (1494) by Sebastian Brant, which served as the inspiration for Bosch's famous painting, Ship of Fools: a ship--an entire fleet at first--sets off from Basel to the paradise of fools. In literary and artistic compositions of the 15th and 16th centuries, the cultural motif of the ship of fools also served to parody the 'ark of salvation' (as the Catholic Church was styled)...

"A 1962 novel by American writer, Katherine Anne Porter of the same name, set in the autumn of the year 1931, also uses the device of the allegory, and can be seen as an attack on a world that allowed the Second World War to happen..."

So now, let's see how the phrase inspired/was interpreted by/captured the imagination of each of the below artists/songwriters. Why did they employ this phrase/image to depict what their song was about? 

The Doors-- From Morrison Hotel (1970)
This does not appear to be one of Jim Morrison's strongest, or most well thought-out lyrical efforts.

The human race was dyin' out
No one left to scream and shout
People walking on the moon
Smog will get you pretty soon

Morrison is imagining a not-too-distant future, with not-terribly imaginative images and scenarios. 

Everyone was hanging out
Hanging up and hanging down
Hanging in and holding fast
Hope our little world will last

Not much time went into that verse, I'm guessing. 

Yeah, along came Mr. Goodtrips
Looking for a new a ship
Come on, people better climb on board
Come on, baby, now we're going home
Ship of fools, ship of fools

That people (in the first verse) are living on the moon may mean that this is a spaceship.  
Mr. Goodtrips? Really? 

 The Doors win in the "first to title a song 'Ship of Fools'" category, but for a "poet" and for someone as well-read as Morrison, this is "scribble on a bar napkin five minutes before the recording session" material. Who the narrator is and who the "fools" are and where the ship is going is all left vague. The main thing this song has going for it is the interesting jazz-pop arrangement. And this video is kind of cool footage from a not-often-seen era of The Doors.

John Cale--from Fear (1974)

This, at first glance, seems to be a song rich in imagery and vague references. Cale has always been a sophisticated cat, but also spent the entire 70's in a haze of hard drugs and drastically shifting fortunes. So, not sure where this will go.... 

The ship of fools is coming in
Take me off I’ve got to eat
Same old stories same old thing
Letting out and pulling in    

Cale may be referring to a posse of old friends coming to town,  unhealthy party favors in tow. His tone lets us know that he's really not in the mood, or just tired and wary of this low-down, dirty life.

Mister, there’s a caravan parked out back

Restless hoping for a christian rider
The black book, a grappling hook
A hangman’s noose on a burnt out tree
Guess we must be getting close to tombstone

I would guess there's some literary reference here. But suffice to say, Cale's mood is dark. He's been to this self-destructive place before.

The last time we had eaten
Was when the flies were going for free
You could count the hardships by the open doors
But sandwiched in between
Were the fishermen who still
Wished they could sail from Tenessee to Arizona    

If we're still employing the same metaphor, Cale is referring, possibly, to a Chelsea Hotel type setting, populated by starving, self-abusing artists, spending what little they have on dope (the "fishermen") and dreaming impossible, broken dreams. That he uses "we" shows that he counts himself as one of them,

So hold on, won’t be long

The call is on the line
Hold on, sister’s gone
South to give the sign  

Umm...not sure. A good chorus? Or, "the call"= the drug score. "Sister's gone south"= downtown? Although we're much more south than that.

We picked up dracula in Memphis

It was just about the break of day
And then hastily prayed for our souls to be saved
There was something in the air that made us kind of weary

 More dark imagery. Dreary characters, desperate behavior, again, an overall tiredness of their situation.

By the time we got to Swansea it was getting dark
Tumble, jungles, bugles and the prize
The tides turned west at Amerforth
As if they didn’t know what to do
But Garnant stood its ground and asked for more

Right, so suddenly we've gone from the American south (Memphis) to various cities in Cale's native Wales. A change of scenery that seems to give Cale some comfort. Is Garnant both the name of a city and a person? Like "Hadley"or something?...I dunno. 

In the next verse, these people/cities greet him warmly. He responds by telling them that the party of derelicts has arrived and make sure they leave in time for the holidays. 

All the people seemed quite glad to see us
Shaking hands and smiling like the clock
Well we gave them all the message then
That the ship of fools was in
Make sure they get home for christmas

He's lost me for good. Am I just getting lazy? Or is he? The ship of fools image returns. Why do they need to be home for Christmas? Is this Cale returning to "Christmas in Wales" from his Paris 1919 album? I'm a bit lost. I guess it's time to sing the final chorus and end the tune. 

So hold on, won’t be long

The call is on the line
So hold on, sister’s gone
South to give the sign

The Grateful Dead from The Mars Hotel. (1974)

An Elton John-meets-The Band ballad, with a fairly straight forward structure and resentful lyrics. The young Jerry Garcia vocal delivery doesn't deliver the bitterness, however, Elvis Costello's cover version (1991) does. One of the best songs in the Dead cannon and classic example of the music of Jerry Garcia and words of Robert Hunter. 

(I won't get into it here--follow the link if intrigued-- but the skinny, indie-nerd guy in the white t-shirt playing keyboard behind Garcia below is the mysterious Ned Lagin. He was an MIT/Berklee Music student who attended a Dead show in 1970, befriended the band, sporadically recorded and toured with the band in 1973-75, made an electronic noise album with Phil Lesh, occasionally led the band in electronic noise fests during their shows...and then asked to be erased from their history as much as possible. Thus, not many people know of his existence. Many old school fans have horrific memories of "Phil and Ned" making their scary electronic noises. The album they released was called Seastones.)

Went to see the captain
strangest I could find
Laid my proposition down
Laid it on the line;
I won't slave for beggar's pay
likewise gold and jewels
but I would slave to learn the way
to sink your ship of fools

The only part of this verse I don't understand is the word "strangest". There's usually just one captain on a ship.  Otherwise, the message is quite clear: the narrator cares not for any material reward, no matter how great or small. He only wants one thing: to destroy the ship and its crew, and end the voyage. 

Ship of fools
on a cruel sea
Ship of fools
sail away from me 

It was later than I thought
when I first believed you
now I cannot share your laughter
Ship of Fools

Catchy chorus, and straight forward. Like in John Cale's song, the narrator would like to distance himself from the ship of fools. He's not one of them, or at least no longer wishes to be.

Saw your first ship sink and drown
from rocking of the boat
and all that could not sink or swim
was just left there to float
I won't leave you drifting down
but oh, it makes me wild
with thirty years upon my head
to have you call me child

He's recalling having seen the wreckage from the reckless first voyage--a tragic sight. He assures this crew of childlike adults that he himself won't be responsible for any future destruction, but that being counted among them is just driving him batty. Could this be Robert Hunter's message to the crazier members of the Dead scene? "We're all getting older. Let's act like it"

The bottles stand as empty
as they were filled before
Time there was and plenty
but from that cup no more
Though I could not caution all I yet may warn a few:
Don't lend your hand to raise no flag
atop no ship of fools

The narrator says: At one time, we were all young and indestructible.  Now, the booze is gone and all we've gotten is old.  And I'll pass along my lesson learned to the few people smart enough to listen. Have a good look at the crew before joining in. 
That this was written in 1973-74, when the Dead were contemplating a break or even a break-up, shows that Hunter was giving voice to the mood of a tired and spent band/crew. Let's break now before we turn against each other.

This clip is from 1981, so Garcia's voice has a bit less youthful ambiguity to it. He himself is a couple years into his foolish voyage into smack  addiction (in addition to existing addictions) which hastened his demise. He looks a lot older than his years here. 

Bob Seger from Night Moves (1976)

I don't know this song, nor would I call myself a Bob Seger fan. So let's just see what happens here.  

"Tell me quick" said Old McFee
"What's this all have to do with me?"
"I've spent all my time at sea a loner."

I don't know who Old McFee is. But apparently he's a pretty self-centered guy who doesn't want to hear what's being said. A grouchy old man. 

"Is there something else I should know?"
"Something hidden down below the level of your conversation?"
He turned away before the answer
Though I yelled aloud he refused to hear
It became too clear
So it went as we put out
I was left in constant doubt
Everything I asked about seemed private

A ha. Seger was shouting some kind of warning to McPhee. McPhee fleetingly shows interest, but walks away. Kind of like an annoying friend who says "what? oh really? then what happened?" and walks away. OR, more like a parent, to Seger being the child who's asking too many questions. 
Let's now recall the Dead line about a 30 year old being treated like a child. Hmm...

The captain strolled the bridge one night
I stopped him in the evening light
To ask him would it be all right to join him

But he stood there like some idol
And he listened like some temple
And then he turned away

Seger really just wants to be treated as a peer, or at least with respect in the eyes of the captain. You never know, he may just be able to see clearer than this stubborn, self-important captain. This time, at least the captain gives Seger some time, but then walks away silently. Not one for conversation. So, guess what happens? 

All along the fateful coast
We moved silent like a ghost
The timeless sea of tireless host possessed us
The wind came building from the cold northwest
And soon the waves began to crest
Crashing cross the forward deck
All hands lost

I alone survived the sinking
I alone possessed the tools
On that ship of fools

How he alone survives, he doesn't say. Raft? Passing helicopter? Mermaid? Who cares?

World Party from Private Revolution (1986)

We jump ahead to the mid-80's. Former Waterboy Karl Wallenger scores a big alternative hit with his new project, World Party, and their single...well, you know the title.  
Though big on the retro vibe, let's see if and how the concept of the Ship of Fools has changed with the generations. 

We''re setting sail to the place on the map
From which no one has ever returned
Torn by the promise of the joker and the fool
By the light of crosses that burn
Torn by the promise of the women and the lace
And the gold and the cotton and pearls
It's the place where they keep all the darkness you meet
You sail away from the light of the world on this trip, baby

Karl is saying "We're following in the footsteps of those before us who have desired the not-so-pure things in life. It's a voyage where temptation leads into darkness and our ultimate demise". 
Is Karl saying "YEAH! You only live once! Let's party!" Or is he high-horse preaching like many of the brainwashed products of Thatcher/Reagan? Just say no! Sex is dangerous!

You will pay tomorrow
You're gonna pay tomorrow
You will pay tomorrow

Oh, save me
Save me from tomorrow
I don't want to sail with this ship of fools
Oh, save me
Save me from tomorrow
I don't want to sail with this ship of fools
No, no, I want to run and hide
Right now

Well, there's your answer. Karl is saying, "go ahead, fools. I aren't one o' ye"

Avarice and greed are gonna drive you over the endless sea
They will leave you drifting in the shallows
Drowning in the oceans of history
Traveling the world, you're in search of the good,
But I'm sure you'll like I knew you would
Using all the good people for your gallant slaves
As your little boat struggles through the warning waves
You will pay
You're gonna pay tomorrow
You're gonna pay tomorrow
Yeah, you're gonna pay tomorrow

Ok, I should stop assuming that he's not talking to the conservative leadership that was ruling the world at this time. But the bit in the first verse about "women and, cotton (cotton?) and pearls". This sounds like some Catholic sermon. Preaching against greed is always good, but Catholics do that a lot. Right? And who uses "avarice" and the phrase "light of this world" AND "save me" except those preaching from the Bible? 
Hmm, really, I've heard this song many times--never loved it, compared to the many great singles from Goodbye Jumbo (1990)--just not much of a melody in the verse. And I just never paid attention to these preachy, doomsaying lyrics. Weird. Anyway, finish up, Karl. 

Oh, save me
Save me from tomorrow
I don't want to sail with this ship of fools
Oh, save me
Save me from tomorrow
I don't want to sail with this ship of fools
Where is that coming from?
Where is it going to?
It's just a ship of fools

Soul Asylum--from Made to Be Broken (1986) 

Ok, another I never heard before. And the only video I could find was a poor-quality, homemade 90's acoustic version. Not worth it. Anyway, let's see what the Minnesotans were singing about in the years before megastardom.

Shipwreck sailors searching for some fools gold
They're the local drunken boys
Been out drinking all night feeling alright
We watch them kill each other in a fight

The narrator again is among, but does not feel part of, this particular ship of fools, which is immediately identified as local yahoos. The narrator is a passive observer to their drunken, violent ways.

Ship of fools, drunken hearts
Making yet another new start
Ain't it hard to play that part
When you've got a drunken heart

Pirner is kind of bar stool preaching. I mean, Soul Asylum never appeared to be a healthy, well-rested clan. 

I can't change the world by complaining
You can't change it with a kiss
(Be no?) concentrating contemplating
No time to find out what we miss

First line: right. 
Second line: who can't? the listener? your girlfriend? your mom? 
Third and Fourth lines: "sounds good, let's let the little bastards make sense of it." 

Erasure--single from 1988

I've enjoyed a few Erasure singles. I don't know that I know this one. 

I can´t believe what is happening to me
My head is spinning
The flowers and the trees are encapsulating me
And I go spinning

The narrator has ingested some sort of psychedelic drug for the first time. That's my guess. He's outside. Or staring at some wallpaper. 

He was the baby of the class you know
He really didn´t know that one and one was two
And two and two were were four
He was the baby of the class you know
He really didn´t know that, really didn´t know that
Oh what a poor soul

Anyone? Who's "he"? How old was he? And what was wrong with him? 

Oooh, do we not sail on a ship of fools
Oooh, why is life so precious and so cruel?

What I have so far: it's really sad that they put an actual baby in a 1st grade class and kept asking it what 1+1 and 2+2 are. 
Yeah, that IS sad.  

I close my eyes and I try to imagine
What you´re dreaming
Why can´t you see what you´re doing to me
My world is spinning

Oh, right. He's tripping. And he's with someone who may have administered the drug the singer is on.  But he wishes his friend was awake so he could tell him about this hallucination he's having about an infant sitting at a desk being ridiculed for not knowing basic math.  

You were the baby of the class you know
You really didn´t know that one and one was two
And two and two were four
You were the baby of the class
You were so young and so uncertain
Suffer little children
Oh what a poor soul

Fuck! His sleeping friend was the infant! What an unfortunate past--and to think, this poor person lay right next to him as he sings.

Oooh, do we not sail on a ship of fools
Oooh, why is life so precious and so cruel?

Put like that, yes. Life is cruel when your friend has an odd past, and is sleeping while you're totally obsessing, aided by chemicals, about it. 

Robert Plant from Now and Zen (1988)

Oh, Planty! Push! Push!  I didn't buy this album nor did I like this song (I enjoyed "Tall Cool One", ONLY because of the Zep samples.)
I did see Robert Plant on this tour. I was in 9th grade and boy, I'm sure we were a geek-ass posse.  I was a Zep freak and kept wishing Jimmy Page would step onstage during the show. The only good bits were Zeppelin songs and I think he held an orange traffic cone up to his face and said something about his nose. Like someone thew a traffic cone onstage. I don't know. 

Ok, Robert. Do it. Do it. Give us Now and give us Zen. Now.

On waves of love my heart is breaking
And stranger still my self control I can't rely on anymore
New tides surprise - my world it's changing
Within this frame an ocean swells - behind this smile I know it well

Oh yikes. Robert's sad, and I'm truly feeling his pain. This is no joke. 

Beneath a lover's moon I'm waiting
I am the pilot of the storm - adrift in pleasure I may drown
I built this ship - it is my making
And furthermore my self control I can't rely on anymore
I know why - I know why
Crazy on a ship of fools
Crazy on a ship of fools
Turn this boat around - back to my loving ground

He's let a good love go bad, and while he's numbing the pain and putting on a brave, happy face, he knows it's not the same as the true happiness that he abandoned. He's joined the ship of fools, but wants it to turn back and drop him at his (I assume) beach front property where his equally heartbroken love is (hopefully) missing him just as much (and hopefully isn't doing the young bartender she was always flirting with).

Who claims that no man is an island
While I land up in jeopardy - more distant from you by degrees
I walk this shore in isolation
And at my feet eternity draws ever sweeter plans for me
I know why - I know why
Crazy on a ship of fools
Crazy on a ship of fools
Turn this boat around - back to my loving ground
Oh no, oh no - ship of fools --

More of the same. Regret. Heartbreak. It's sad, especially when you're no longer the Golden God and you really just want that solid foundation that so many your age have. It's 1988, not 1972!

Horrible 80's production, but the lyrics are clear and tug a bit at the heartstrings. 

The Scorpions--from the album Face the Heat (1993)

Right. Like I've ever heard more than two Scorpions songs in my life. 
Picture's awesome. 
Let's see what it's about! The 80's metal bands sure hated 90's grunge, and this is from 1993! But in Europe, things were probably different? Once a Scorps fan, always one?

Another bloody Monday
Thirty-nine Just died
All hell breaks loose in the crowd
A hopeless helter skelter
Another mindless crime
Some corner of the world is burning down

Been watching BBC news. Could be a lot of places, any time. 

Heading for a nervous breakdown
Can't take it anymore
I see the fear explode just like
A thousand nights before

He cares. It's fucking him up, really. Metal singers have feelings too. 

The ship of fools
Keeps on rollin' through a deadly storm
It won't take long 'till we collide
The ship of fools
Keeps on following the siren's call
Damned to be sacrificed

Collide with what? With who? The ship is being led into temptation via sex, like in the World Party song. But again, who, what etc...?

Corrupt politicians
Promise paradise
The thieves are reaching out for the crown
Violence is a killer
Threatens all our lives
Judgment day has come here and now

Yes...he's been watching the news--possibly a new activity--and he's got his notebook out and he's writing down a lot of obvious things. ("Holy crap, the world isn't backstage massages and flying first class!") And then turning a bit religious: "the end is nigh!"
Sadly, this is the mindset of half of America. Shame on a German for being so alarmist.  

Ron Sexmith--from the album Time Being (2006)

I met Ron Sexmith around this time. Maybe it was more like 2000. Mutual friend. He's always great. I dig his voice and how offhand and effortless his whole vibe is. But not in a sloppy/slacker-y way. Just smooth. So we may be in for something nice to end on. No video, I'm afraid. 

Famous disappearing act
Kills ‘em every time
The willing subject sneaks out back
And leaves her space behind

Lady left him. 

But life is not a parlour trick
There’s no slight of hand
Just tryin’ to save the sinking ship
And there’s no sight of land

A bit of anger/resentment is creeping in. "What the hell kind of move was that? Sneaking out? Grow the fuck up!..Oh, Christ does this suck! I am in no shape at all to be having to deal with this kind of crap."

And we are all in the same boat, darlin’
On the same rough sea
We are all in the same boat, darlin’
The ship of fools it seems

Well, he's trying to win her back by saying, "Look. We're both fuck ups. That was a lame stunt you pulled, maybe I deserved it...maybe we deserve each other. How's that?"

There’s no good news in the news
Only bad newspapers
As black humour stands amused
At the plight of human nature

Turning his view outward, Ron is lamenting the state of the world. Hip irony and cynicism aren't going to make this world a better place. We all could use a bit of heart-- the world at large, and specifically, you and me, babe. 

There’s still a lot of good in the world
No matter what they say
And when the darkness comes unfurled
There’s a light that was built to stay

This is maybe the third SOF to use the light/dark analogy. Redemption. "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with... us, sweetiepie! You like the Smiths, right? I'm gonna reference that song in the fourth line. You'll dig that."

And we are all in the same boat, darlin’
On the same rough sea
We are all in the same boat, darlin’
The ship of fools it seems

Optimists and realists, and,
cynics all agree
That we are all in this
Together whatever will be

So, to reiterate: World: broken. Us: broken. Both situations suck, but there's only one that we have any control over. So let's make things work. We are too good for this ship of fools. 
Good tune, Ron. Great one to end on. 

So that's that. Though it's never appealed to me as a songwriter, the image of the "ship of fools" has attracted a relatively large and positively diverse bunch of songwriters as a way to describe a group of people doing dumb things against their own best interests--be it local boys getting in bar fights, a straying lover, or the world at large. 

But let's now put a cap on it. No more songs called Ship of Fools. Tea Partiers may be the latest deserving targets, but I'm not writing that song.  It just doesn't resonate with me. But maybe I'M the fool. Quite possibly, yeah.  

Saturday, March 12, 2011

"I've Got Me Own Album To Do!" "Really? Why?"

The emergence of the solo album, specifically by a member of a functioning band, in my estimation, coincided with their being an excess of money and drugs, and thus inflated egos, and thus a new "art form" called "rock journalism", in the world of pop music. It gave the record companies more to spend money on, gave artists more reason to "seek external inspiration", gave critics more to blather on about...

Of course, all it really did, in those golden years of rock, is shorten the lifespan, either literally or just creatively, of many talented people, cause a financial bubble in the music world, inflate the egos of and create delusions in otherwise level headed team players.

Let's get personal for a moment and explain some exceptions to the rule.

Why would someone, such as, say, I, do a solo project?
a solo project? 
a solo project? 

Believe me, it had nothing to do with too much money or a drug-inflated ego.
I'll save my story for another time. 

I like to think of my ego the same way I think of my prostate. Ignore if you can,  because when it comes a-knockin, the news ain't gonna be pleasant.

Except of course, my talking about myself in the previous and subsequent paragraphs is pretty darn egocentric. A healthy sense of denial is about as useful as an unhealthy ego. I'm just here to entertain. 

This entry is the beginning of a series called "Solo Albums. Why?"

(I'd like to do John Cale's debut soon. And Lou Reed's. And a few others. But for now....)

I'd like to start with the three solo albums that blow the concept out of the water. The most savvy of the music journalists in the Golden Age of Rock As Art (1966-74) recognized Crosby Stills and Nash for exactly what they were: A record executive's dream.
While they weren't created by an outside party, like The Monkees, they were in fact created at a Monkee's house. Peter Tork's house, in fact (party central for every Laurel Canyon hippie and sold, by Tork, to his pal Stephen Stills when it was obvious that houseguest Stills wasn't going to move his party of naked teenage girls and coke dealers elsewhere. Actually, Tork was just as responsible for the hedonism.)
Stills, kind and generous soul that he is, returned the favor, by not allowing Peter to visit his just-sold house when The Rolling Stones were staying there in 1969. "Yeah, Peter, I know you haven't gotten all your stuff out yet. Come back when I'm through being The Most Important Person In Hollywood, maaaan."

This being my blog, and not a thesis, you'll have to take my word for the above story. I've read several variations of it (many Laurel Canyon memoirs have materialized in the last few years), and who really knows the truth? People were so out of their heads and everyone tells their version with such animated conviction that you can only guess that they learned that tone a) in acting school b) through repeated encounters with police c) through repeated encounters with jealous lovers d) though repeated encounters with angry, gun-wielding drug dealers or e) all of the above.

Anyway, CSN began earnestly enough. Founding Byrd David Crosby's ego and distaste for country music (where they were heading) got him kicked out of the Byrds. Stills couldn't handle not being King Buffalo Springfield and his thunder kept getting stolen by the much more interesting and subtly manipulative Neil Young. That band broke up. And Graham Nash was the guy in hit-making UK act The Hollies who fell in love with the psychedelic scene and with the US and wanted to reinvent himself. And thus, introductions were made. And poolside at Peter Tork's, while a young Jackson Browne was getting busy in the pool with some chicks and John Phillips was knocking at the door with a sugar bowl full of not-sugar, and Mickey Dolenz was taking pictures of it all, CSN discovered that when they sang in three part harmony, dollar bills and cocaine would fall out of the sky. They wanted to call their new band "The Frozen Noses" because oh my god, doing all the blow in the world and advertising that fact is just SO FUNNY!

Months later, the self-titled debut album was released. They'd each brought their newest and best songs.
--Stills insisted on playing everything but drums. He also wrote the best songs. But already, he wasn't showing much team spirit.
--Crosby..well, can anyone think of any song that David Crosby has ever written that you can HUM? Or WHISTLE? I cannot. Is it because they're weak? I don't think so.  Perhaps just "beyond mortal or 'wicked high' comprehension?"
--Graham Nash, with his high British voice and pop sensibilities, knew how to write a hit. You take a slogan and a catchy melody and a chorus.
Crosby was allergic to this formula.
Stills knew it well, but was all over the map, for better or worse. Too busy pretending to be a superheo.

Nash's bonafide hits would have to wait 'til the next album, though easily the catchiest song on the album is "Marrakesh Express", left over from the Hollies days, and considered hip because Marrakesh is where all that hashish came from. But it does disturb the hippie vibe with its peppiness. On the other end, unfortunately, he'd picked up from Crosby how to write one of those formless songs that put you to sleep immediately ("Lady of the Island"). Wake me up when it's over. 

Woodstock was their second gig. Already, Neil Young was in the band. Stills was happy, then realized to his dismay he'd walked into the exact same trap he'd escaped from a year earlier. Neil's songs were going to be better. His stoned stage patter would be dryer and funnier. His stage presence would be darker and more mysterious. And his guitar playing would be, if less "technically good", more intense and interesting.

Then came the second album,  Deja-Vu. Neil Young was part of the band.
This was a harmony band and Neil couldn't sing on key if his life depended on it! Who cares? His stinging guitar solos gave the band some much needed balls. And, don't worry dudes, Neil won't upstage your songwriting--he'll donate one classic ("Helpless Helpless"), but otherwise, he's got about 50 songs all ready for his imminent HUGE solo career. 
I find Deja-Vu to be fairly enjoyable. Stills' "Carry On" and Crosby's "Deja Vu" are both innovative pieces which point to an almost Yes-like prog-rock direction that the band shied away from immediately after. Too bad.

Nash, of course, made the album a favorite with the maturing/settling down hippie crowd, with "Our House" and "Teach Your Children".

"Ok", Graham Nash was saying to his audience, "you got naked at Woodstock/a love in/a crazy party, and screwed some random folks and your parents will kick down some money for a house if you get married and have the baby".
This is the soundtrack to that scenario.

And of course, they got pedal steel novice Jerry Garcia to play on "Teach Your Children". They could have afforded any of the seasoned pros, but CSN had been spending a lot of time in the Bay Area, "getting their heads together away from evil LA", one would assume.

Jerry had  been playing the notoriously tough and exotic instrument only a few months. He figured he'd have to have a few passes to get something record-worthy. Especially for an album that was going to sell 50x more than any Grateful Dead album.
"Great! Thanks Jerry!"
"Yeah, we were rolling and you nailed it"
"Are you sure?"
"Yup! That's the take. Perfect. As a thank you, we're giving you a 1957 Fender Strat that you'll use on stage for a year or two and you're going to be hearing this tune on the radio for the rest of your life!"

So anyway, I initially just wanted to talk about solo albums.
The aforementioned egodrugsmoney thing came to a head in 1971. CSN(and Y) were HUUUUUGE.
But all was not well. So, they said,  let's all make solo albums and make more money! And see who's the real genius in this supposedly happy hippie commune of a band.

Well, then, ok. Let's have a  look.
First off, I'm taking Neil Young out of the competition. He was and is his own man. Like Michael Nesmith, he came out of the womb with his own agenda. Neil's not gonna do what anyone, except maybe his trusted manager, tells him. And he's NOT gonna play the showbiz game, as much as he perversely loves his fame. 

CSN solo albums: 

--Stephen Stills: Stephen Stills: 1970  

Photographer Henry Diltz says that the white powder on the cover of this album is symbolic, as well as simply what it looked like outside. Stills solo debut has both his strengths and weaknesses right on display.
Crosby and Nash's albums used many of the same session people--i.e., the San Francisco scene. They also used Neil Young.
Stephen Stills used none of the above. He went right for the Big Star Power. 

The opener, "Love The One Your With" is catchy, but seems more antiquated every year. I'm sure even back then, your average person wouldn't have said "have a nice business trip. oh, and if you miss me, just go get yourself some strange action". It's so weird that became a hit, and that you can still hear it at the supermarket. "Hey, lady in the cereal aisle. My wife is at the video store..know what I'm sayin'?" His follow up should have been "If you can't cope with reality, go get wicked high".

Oh also, he HAD Jimi Hendrix on this track, but wiped his guitar track in favor of Stills playing steel drum. Lost to history, I think. Bastard.  Hendrix passed away shortly after.  But he is on another song.

In fact, there two songs in a row, in which Stills tells the world "I'm gonna have guitar duels with Jimi Hendrix, AND THEN Eric Clapton! And then I'll RULE THE WORLD!"
Unfortunately, both songs are bor-ing. I don't care about your solos.

Then there are a couple where Stills pretends he's an old blues man. Again, charmless.
So there are, I think, three good songs on this album: "Do For The Others" (which seems to be about CSN), "To A Flame" (easily the best song) and  some of "We Are Not Helpless".
This last tune was apparently written in response to Neil Young's "Helpless". Stephen is coming across as Mr. Peace and Understanding. Funny, since he was really a self-centered bully who would try to beat up an apparently homeless dude who dared to call him out. Cue "Big Sur" clip.

(about 4:00 in, the fun starts)

--David Crosby--If I Could Only Remember my Name: 1971.

One of the best album titles ever.  Ok, as easy as he is to poke fun at, a couple of facts about David Crosby (when not in the depths of 'base addiction) : 1) He's a very, very intelligent guy. 2) He's got a sense of humor. 3) He's a generous, caring, loving guy.  4) While he may not know how to write a pop hook, or excel at any one instrument, he does know harmony like a master, and does that whole "alternative guitar tuning" thing really well, I'd assume. (I don't know a thing about that stuff).

Now, this album.
Crosby enlisted half of the San Francisco music scene (members of The Dead, Airplane and Santana) as well as his band mates Nash and Young. Stills is absent. He and Crosby had butted egos several times and needed a break from each other.  
"Music Is Love", the opener, is notable for one thing: Hearing Neil Young singing the hokiest lyrics you'll ever hear him sing. "Everybody knows that music is love..." His voice is just not made to sing communal hippie choruses. It sounds sarcastic coming from him.
What else is there? Some multi layered a capella things that show Crosby's adept skill at fancy harmonies. Several songs that are more "vibes" than anything, if you know what I mean.

A highlight is "Cowboy Movie", a long one which has a shouted/sung/spoken lyric which is somewhat buried by the music, but apparently tells a metaphorical tale about CSNY. I always assumed the duel, left/right panned lead guitars in the song was Jerry Garcia and Neil Young trading licks. Wrong. It's two Garcias, though one of his tracks sounds like he's "doing a Neil". Kind of neat, especially since he's usually one of those players that sounds like himself no matter the setting. It's worth a listen--one of Jerry's best studio performances. Here's all 10 minutes, but maybe have it on while you're doing dishes.

This album was embraced by the so-called "Freak Folk" deal a few years back. Odd, but cool. I am all for hippie stuff being embraced by non-hippies.

There are actually a couple of, to me, more interesting bootlegs out there surrounding this album.
One is If I Could Only Remember These Sessions, which some folks out there have blogged and posted. It's headphone listening (a lot of soft, but amusing studio chatter) with lots of breakdowns, writing ideas thrown around, talk about music gear, and weirdness. One odd thing is Jerry Garcia teaching the song "Loser" to Crosby, as if it's going to be a Crosby tune. Of course it became a Garcia/Dead song not long after. Good thing. Crosby's just not getting the chords.

There's also a bootleg called "David and the Dorks", a one off concert by Crosby, with Garcia on lead guitar and Mickey Hart and Phil Lesh as the rhythm section. An oddity to be sure. Mostly material from the Crosby album, a cover or two and a messy, first ever version of the future Dead stalwart, "Bertha".  Has its moments. But not a very together band, for obvious reasons.

The "Laughing" on it is cool.
Sounds Velvet Underground-y.
Drone-y and stone-y.
Recorded at The Matrix, SF-- 12/15/70. Check it out.

Graham Nash: Songs For Beginners: 1971

Lastly we have, in my opinion, the best of the three. Graham Nash may have been Laurel Canyon-ized, but he was always that high-voiced Brit who added an air of purity to CSN. He also never lost his Britpop sense of how to make a song catchy. His songs have good choruses. "Our House", from Deja Vu, is painful, indeed, but it's a heart warmer (even if he and Joni Mitchell--its subject--broke up not long after).
Songs For Beginners was recently re-released, remastered, repackaged. I listened to it and there are several nice moments. It's largely an album of confessional, coherent, piano-driven soft rock.
It's a bit like listening to the first couple Paul McCartney solo albums, for me at least. It was too cute when I was younger. Now, I truly appreciate the songwriting and arranging. 

Like Crosby's album, Nash also used many of the San Francisco scene, with a few exceptions. He also used Crosby and Young, but, again, no Stills.

One of the coolest line ups on a song is "Man In The Mirror", which boasts Graham Nash – lead vocals, acoustic guitar;  Johny Barbata (Turtles, CSNY) – drums, Neil Young – piano;  Jerry Garcia – steel guitar;  Chris Ethridge (Flying Burrito Brothers) – bass

The tune "I Used to be a King" has Grateful Dead's Phil Lesh on bass.

"Phil Lesh is either the best bass player in the world, or the worst." Graham Nash once observed. "I mean, it's not like he keeps time".
True that. I'm sure it's what turns a lot of people off. But it works on this tune.

There's a bit of politics ("Chicago"), and the album opens with Graham's autobiographical "Military Madness".
Most revealingly, though a-little-too-self-confessional-for-this-writer (I just can't hack the over- sincerity, as I've written before) is "Simple Man". That it's his heartfelt goodbye to Joni Mitchell is indeed touching, and we've all been there, but still...I don't need to hear about it.

I don't do stars or grades. I just tell you how much I want to hear stuff, combined with if it floats my boat.

Stills: no. not really. boat no float.
Crosby: I've been in the mood just a couple-three times. It inhabits a unique place, that's for sure. It could have been a big, big pretentious mess (like, say, a Paul Kantner concept album), but Crosby has always been on the right side of professionalism.  It really just sounds like a very very stoned record that floats aimlessly through the room.
Nash: easily the most enjoyable listen of the three.

Irrelevant, but related opinions:

--I like Deja Vu better than CSN, even if I don't ever listen to it.

--Stephen Stills late 70's song "Dark Star" is a great congas and coke Latin disco tune. (from 1977's CSN)

--And last time I was laying in the dentist's chair, I really paid attention to 1983's "Southern Cross" when it came on, and realized it's a very very good song.

I'll leave you with a great singalong from Songs For Beginners, which I would love to do with some people as a huge sing along. Let's do it. Has someone already covered this?
Ok, if anyone actually takes me up on this offer, the mood may have already passed. Still, it'll stick in your head. Thanks for reading. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

XTC were the best live band from 1979-82 and that's all.

Below you'll find some embedded videos to back up my claim.
There are a lot of live shows that folks have posted for download, but I'll let you search for those if you're so inclined. I'll just say that despite the similar set lists, I could listen to recordings from the winter-spring 1980 US Drums and Wires tour all day. They were so good.

 If XTC were to release a Fuzzy Warbles-meets-Dick's Picks series, I'd gladly shell out for some cleaned up live recordings.
I wish I could have witnessed one of the embedded shows below. Or any of them (I was too young). To my ears, they were the best of the era.

Listen to other bands of the same era:
The Clash--there were some musical limitations. and little joy. oddly plodding at times. lack of finesse.
Elvis Costello and the Attractions--a tend to rush and the live sound was thin.
Buzzcocks--fun but sloppy and dodgy tuning.
The Police--a lot of push-pull. Sting's voice wears thin. Stewart tries too hard.
The Jam--love the songs, but it doesn't hold my interest.

XTC took risks, sounded human, sounded like they were having a ton of fun, all of them played and worked off each other really well, Andy P had a commanding live voice, they sounded big and loud, and there was a spontaneity, or so it sounds. Instruments and rhythms bouncing and clanging off each other. And there is ENERGY TO SPARE. Though they LOOKED cooler onstage with Barry Andrews, they undoubtedly SOUNDED much, much better with Dave Gregory.

The drag of course, is that they had to stop. Andy Partridge, after giving up Valium in 1981 (after a many-year dependency), realized he had crippling stage fright (and right there is a wonder of wonders: one Valium and I'm comatose for 8 hours. Andy was taking several daily, and drinking, and going out and playing 2 hour speed-a-thon shows. We're all wired differently, I guess). He battled the panic attacks for the final year, but it got the best of him one fateful night in Paris, in March, 1982. 

Andy, in the past, has dissed their live shows, but in fact I'm sure it's his being defensive for the forty thousand times he's had to answer the question, "why'd ya stop playing live? ya gonna start playing live again? why not? come on, do it!" (personally I stopped hoping for that somewhere between Nonsuch and Apple Venus. Then I started hoping for a solo Andy tour a la Robyn Hitchcock. One guy, a million songs and stories. Maybe? Ok, I'll stop.)

I referred earlier to my fondness for what I call "wedge bands", or bands that aren't automatically accepted as cool. The Bee Gees, Beach Boys, Monkees, Grateful Dead... This could also be defined as bands who need some defining or explanation. XTC's one of those bands.
I was sure in the wilderness for a while--say from 1990-95--, getting lots of shrugs and blank stares when I'd go on one of my XTC spiels. That has since changed. However, I do still feel like I'm the only one of my XTC fan friends (all of which are people with whom I'm in one band or another) who so much dig hearing this stuff from their all-too-short touring years .

January 24, 1980--Washington DC

November 18, 1979 Paris 

Late 1978

February 10, 1982 German TV

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Where's this obsession coming from? Three men, three defining moments.

Whenever I begin formulating some musical thesis, there's a good chance that it will revolve around, or at least tangentially mention any to all of the following: Lou Reed/Velvet Underground, Jerry Garcia/Grateful Dead and Michael Nesmith/The Monkees.

Those who have known me for a long time may roll their eyes and think "still?" I myself have had the same reaction. My music collection may consist of 1000 artists, and yet, these are the ones who continue to make me want to explore everything about their histories, both musical and personal, and come up with new angles to explore in their works.

I've arrived at a true and rather amusing list of reasons, and they all go back to me between the ages of 15-17, and revelatory experiences that influenced my musically and philosophically evolving mind.
Let's go down the list of the big three: 

1) Lou Reed. You'll notice that though these may be the Big Three, in previous or subsequent entries, I will also be quite critical of them. I mean, how can one not be critical of chunks of these guys' work? There's a lot that I won't touch. Stuff I've tried, shuddered and walked away. Maybe I'll do a bit about that, but for now, let's stay positive.
My sister, responsible for getting me into the Dead a couple years later, was my introduction to The Velvet Underground, and this was right around when Verve's reissues were coming out--1985? I liked some of it...some of it was freaky. My fave was VU, which I remember listening to on my walkman before a baseball game (I was a baseball geek in my early adolescence).
But I never felt a huge huge bond with the Velvets. Most things I loved were either from England or California. I couldn't get too into the NYC scene. Then, I befriended this guy, a fellow Beatles freak, and started writing songs with him. He borrowed my VU tapes and immediately got it, loved it, became obsessed with it.
We were hanging in a friend's basement bedroom. Maybe 7 or 8 people. It was either 10th or early 11th grade. I was in the midst of a big Brian Wilson phase. My friend didn't get it. I was drawing pictures of a chubby, bearded Brian Wilson saying "Hi! I'm all big and fat and I'm home to stay!" I thought it was funny.
My friend was disgusted. He said "is that what you want to be? a fat guy that never leaves his house?"
I said, "well, no, but sometimes I feel like that's my future."
He said "you need to listen to less Beach Boys, more VU"
I replied "you know I dig the Velvets, but I think this is my main question: if you could summarize Lou Reed's outlook, what would it be?"
He thought for a minute and said "'There are problems in these times, but none of them are mine'".
I realized, that right there there shields anyone from fear and doubt. That's awesome. I'm ready to go off into the world. God bless Lou for saying that. Thanks to my friend for saying that. 

2) The Monkees/Michael Nesmith.
In the summer of 1989, my sister and I saw about 6 or 7 concerts together, mostly at Great Woods, in Mansfield, MA (now the Tweeter something). I was between sophomore and junior years of high school and she was somewhere near the start of her undergrad at U Mass, Amherst, but living at home for the summer. The Monkees syndicated reruns were shown every evening at 5 during the summer on channel 56. This was the third summer in a row that I knew of. And I tried to never miss an episode. I'd tape them if I wasn't going to be home. Especially the second season, more trippy episodes.
One show we were planning to attend was The Monkees at Great Woods. This was 1989. Their big comeback had been in '86, and most folks were happy enough to welcome back the guys that summer and go on to the next thing.But they wouldn't go away. They kept touring. And watching the attendance drop with each year. For them, it was history repeating all over again, 20 years later (in 1966-67, and 1986-87, a Monkees show was a sure sell out. By '69, and again in '89 they could hardly get arrested--and were hardly talking to each other).
So, Alyssa and I tried to make the most of it and made sure we brought a good attitude to the Monkees show. I don't remember much about the show. What I do remember:
-- sequined tank tops and a real sort of gay/Vegas vibe
-- running up front to watch Mickey play the drums on one song--and one song only. And there was another drummer on said song too. Bummer.
-- seeing Rodney Bingenheimer--or, at least we swore it was him--hanging out near the backstage area, possibly scoping out ladies for the band. Alyssa wanted to talk to him, but I was getting way too creeped out.
THE MOMENT: I coined it The Lack Thereof Tour.  Lack of enthusiasm, lack of crowd...and of course, lack of Mike Nesmith. Now, I loved Nesmith going into this concert, but I REALLY loved him afterward, raving to Alyssa in the car how "Nesmith would not have let a travesty like this happen! No sequined tank tops, no stupid wigs, no not-playing-instruments...this was Davy's World! And it's not what I wanted to see!".
Later, I drew a picture of the band: Malted Mickey, Diet Davy and Perturbed Peter. I wish I still had it.
In any case, my obsession with all things Nesmith began after that.

3) Jerry Garcia--well, Jerry's the one I've spent the most time NOT into. I only started listening to The Grateful Dead/Jerry Garcia again about 3 years ago. From 1990-2005 or so, you'd be hard pressed to get me to expound on anything Jerry-related. However,  I was definitely on the road to serious Dead fandom when I was 14-16. My sister had hundreds of tapes and after I heard "Anthem of The Sun", I knew there was something there. I mostly dug 1967-72 stuff and listened to The Grateful Dead Hour on WZLX each week.  But then I started hanging out with more alternative/punk/goth types and found I really jibed with their vibe and enjoyed hanging with them in smoky diners and listening to The Cure, than getting high and cranking a 17 minute "Eyes of the World".
But back to THE MOMENT when Jerry made his permanent mark on me. It was some summer night, 1989. I could not sleep. I borrowed my sister's vinyl copy of Live Dead and put on headphones. I was sure that side one, 22 minutes of "Dark Star", would put me to sleep. I'd never made it through the first 6 or 7 minutes previously. Instead, that night, I got it. I heard it. Jerry was heading a conversation with the rest of the band. Not verbally but through his guitar. There were questions asked, jokes told, proclamations made, advice given, apologies made, arguments made....and I was understanding it all. Perhaps it was the half-awake thing, but I felt like I'd landed in another land and could magically understand the native tongue.
Later, in 2005, Jerry came to me in a dream and gave me part of an unfinished song to use in one of my songs. But that's another story. However, it's partially responsible for waking up the dormant, Dead-appreciating part of my brain that had been on sabbatical for 15 years.

The Curious Parallels in the Careers of Nesmith and Garcia (written and posted 2011, updated, 2017)

2017 Intro:

A little over a year ago, my attention was directed to a certain Facebook post by Michael Nesmith. 
It read: 

"5th June 2016
Sunday Reading –Coff’ o’ Cuppee and an entheogen – well done piece IMO – and gives one answer to the question “what is your book about?”
Where’s That Sound Coming From?: The Curious Parallels in the Careers of Nesmith and Garcia"

Oh. My. Gah. Nesmith had read the piece you're about to read. And liked it. And posted/linked to it. 

So I had to thank him in a comment: 

Brian T Marchese: 
And just like that I feel inspired to start up my long-dormant blog again. Since writing that particular piece I’ve felt sheepish that it was overreaching and trying too hard to connect disparate dots. Thanks so much, Michael, and looking forward to your book!
and he responded...

Michael Nesmith:
glad to hear this – it was/is an excellent blog. I encourage everyone to cruise the files you have created there – it is nothing like over reaching IMO – analogies get wonky on their own – and when the dots really do connect they open wide the doors of perception. Huxley would be proud and you should be too.

So thus began a second half of  2016/early 2017 which found me working for a short time on Nesmith's website and maintaining pretty steady contact with him. 
It didn't work out in the end, but I learned a lot and sure appreciated that he was trying to find an official outlet for my writings. 
In some ways it's good that it didn't blossom and open up into anything huge because whereas in 2011, when I first wrote this post, I was a bit more fancy-free, I'm now quite busy with work and music and a new family. I do hope to dedicate more time on my writing sometime in the future, but right now isn't that time. But what a trip! 
Enjoy this piece if you're reading it for the first time. If you've read it before, check out a few fun new links and photos and embedded videos. I've learned a lot since 2011, and I could add a whole lot more, but I prefer the fearless "coloring outside the lines" (as Nesmith put it) that was a reflection of my not thinking anyone besides a few friends and music geeks would ever read it. Enjoy! btm 8/2/17

PS: this is the book that Nesmith was referring to in the above post. It's good. You should read it. I started a Facebook page dedicated to it, but am going to leave it in the hands of others, as I've realized I just don't have the time to put into it the effort I'd like to. Plus, I feel like I've written my share on Nez over the years, and the well has run dry for now. 

So let's travel back to 2011 and join me, when I had a whole lot more time on my hands....

The Seeds of My Perspective and Aesthetics

In music, as in all things in life, I'm a fan of the level playing field and of judging things on their merit and without prejudice or external influence (critics, current fashion, etc). Thus, I often lean toward a kind of historical revisionism based upon those beliefs. I am of an age where my concept of the 1960's and 70's (in particular, the music) was initially formed through the lens of the reissued, repackaged, newly unearthed, alternate takes, from the vaults, remixed and remastered etc etc. The example I often give is how in the mid 80's, both the Velvet Underground's and the Monkees' catalogs were being reissued. To my 13 year old ears, just emerging from the top 40 of the early/mid-80's, The Monkees' Head was as weird as The Velvets' White Light White Heat. And The Velvets' song "Sunday Morning" was not dissimilar to The Monkees' "Sometime In the Morning". Both bands had cool pointy boots and groovy hair, were liked by The Beatles and disliked by most hippies. And each had a disproportionally short person in the band. If I could go back in time however, your average rock fan or journalist would have institutionalized me for putting The Monkees and The Velvets in the same league. And your average west coast hippie would have banished me for liking either band.  So, like I said, revisionism is everything these days....or at least a road to justice.

The Velvets, like the Beatles, stand at the top of the heap because they merged good music with good fashion sense pretty much every step of the way. They were/are infallible. It doesn't take much convincing to get someone, especially someone who wants to be thought of as "cool", into the Velvet Underground. Yes, they are awesome in every way, IMHO, but it does kind of suck that it's almost a rule that being a VU fan equals being cool, enlightened and cynical in all the right ways, as well as being a person of good fashion and taste. Perhaps one can get away with wearing a VU t shirt under a blazer at a formal art opening because, though there may be no t shirts allowed, it's sort of like showing one's credentials. Conversely, a dude in a Monkees shirt will probably be redirected to the nearest Wendy's. And to switch gears into my next topic, someone in a tie dye would be kicked right out on his or her ass. To opine once again, tie dyes are, frankly, ugly and show no regard for fashion, so I show no sympathy for that person, uptight soul that I am.  But I do show sympathy for those who have room in their hearts for The Grateful Dead. I've had to remind people, "the Grateful Dead aren't about tie dyes...Jerry was a devotee of the black t-shirt for the last 20 years of his life. Just like Lou Goddamn Reed!" As far as I can see, the only era Jerry wore tie dye was around 1970, when Pete Townshend, Jim Morrison, Led Zeppelin and Lou Reed were seen wearing them too--none of them exactly flower children. And we'll speak not of some members of the Dead's fondness for tie dye in the 80's...or of Lou Reed's mullet-and-shoulder-pads phase.

So, taking the Velvet Underground, and fashion, out of the equation, let us now focus on two talented men, seldom if ever mentioned in the same breath, who are known best for their work in bands that I can describe as "wedge bands", like wedge issues in politics: The Monkees and The Grateful Dead. I tend to get fanatical about bands that make my friends' eyes roll, and yet whose more rabid fans I'd rather stay far away from. It was a slow, but eye-opening process when I began to gather up the evidence to support the theme of this essay: that despite their differing images, legacies and fan bases, Jerry Garcia and Michael Nesmith were musically kindered souls.

For much of my life, these two artists have made repeated trips to the center of my musical world, usually when I need some sort of calming or stability...or am too unmotivated to seek out something new. But they usually do the trick, even if I turn them off after just a song or two. And it has struck me on several occasions, that there are some strange parallels in both of their personal and professional lives. Listen to the early 60's coffeehouse performances by each that various bloggers (who will remain unnamed here) have posted online. Listen to Magnetic South (1970), Loose Salute (1970) and Tantamount to Treason (1972)  alongside Workingman's Dead (1970), American Beauty (1970) and Garcia (Jerry's 1972 solo debut). All of these albums present the listener with a musical education--marrying Americana past and (then) present.  Listen to Nesmith's 1976 release From a Radio Engine to the Photon Wing next to Garcia's Reflections from the same year. Again, not an incompatible pair--they had evolved and yet remained true to their roots.

I think the main differences come down to a) where the two are from (Dallas vs San Francisco), the only child (Nesmith) vs the sibling (Garcia) and finally, how lady luck treated each. At fame's first flash, Nesmith was in a setting (The Monkees) where he was supposed to be cuddly and friendly, but came across as odd, angry and off-putting. Conversely,  Garcia was king of the scary, poisonous Bay Area hippies, yet he could charm and warm anyone who took the time to talk to him--as well as amaze them with his encyclopedic knowledge of almost anything.  In fact, both men were extremely verbose, but Nesmith more in a lecture-y way (the only child) and Garcia in a bouncing ideas way.

The other big difference is what each of their musical specialties were--Nesmith expressed himself through his poetic lyrics and pitch-perfect voice. He never was a lead guitarist (until later). He did fancy a fancy chord, and had a distinctive rhythm guitar style, but soloing was not his thing.
Garcia, while writing the music to probably 100 songs, wrote lyrics to exactly two;  both unremarkable showings. His voice was thin and often veered off the mark, his harmonies were hit or miss, but he did love to give singing his all. His main form of expression was, of course, his guitar playing. This is a topic for another day, but I like to call his playing "ADD guitar style". A solo may start in the middle of a thought. That thought may well bleed into another, never to be completed. Flashes of "wow!" inspiration can be followed by "huh?"-inducing bouts of feeling around for the next idea that catches his interest. His improvisations are like an imperfect natural marvel as opposed to a perfectly-planned, well-built structure that's sure to amaze. A walk through the woods as opposed to an architectural masterpiece. IE, you may see/hear something you'll remember your whole life, and never see/hear again; or you may say "what's the big deal?" because you happened to be passing through at the wrong time. There's a baseball analogy in there somewhere too, but I'm sure I've read that elsewhere.

At the end of this, I've prepared a long, somewhat comparative playlist of songs, alternating between Nesmith and Garcia, which not only celebrate a) their songwriting and b) their similar taste in cover tunes, but also serves to show that if you like one, there's not much of a reason to not like the other.

I’m writing this not just to celebrate the artistic output of two 20th Century American pop icons, but to show how foolish a thing it is to indelibly label someone as one thing; how, so often, that early label is an unshakable brand on the forehead of an artist. When speaking of these two men, there are keywords that are spoken usually only by the uninformed:
Nesmith: bubblegum, woolhat, prefab, MTV.
Garcia: hippie, aimless, sloppy, tie dye.

Let’s lift the curtain and examine where these labels came from and how absurd it is that they survived all these years, and quite possibly always will. I've attempted to underscore the similarities by putting them in bold.

Michael Nesmith--
born Dec 30, 1942, Houston, TX.
Raised by his mother from age 5 (parents divorced).
Childhood games end ugly: A friend's sledgehammer to his right hand resulted in permanently losing the use of one finger.
Troublemaker, loved the early rock and roll, country and blues.
Dropped out of high school, joined Air Force.
Tipped over general’s airplane. Honorable discharge, 1962.
Decided to dedicate life to music. Lived in car.
Married first wife in 1963 and had a son while barely making ends meet as a folk musician and songwriter in Los Angeles.

Jerome ( Jerry) Garcia--

Born August 1, 1942, San Francisco, CA.
Raised by his mother from age 5 (father died tragically in fishing accident).
Childhood games end ugly: His brother's axe to his right hand resulted in the loss of most of his middle finger.
Troublemaker, loved the early rock and roll, country and blues.
Dropped out of high school, joined the Army.
Went AWOL several times. General discharge, 1961.
Decided to dedicate life to music. Lived in car.
Married first wife in 1963 and had a daughter while barely making ends meet as a folk/bluegrass musician in San Francisco.

                                     Nesmith and Garcia in their folkie days, 1963-64

Jerry Garcia (left) with Robert Hunter.
Mike Nesmith (right) with John London.

At this point, 1963-4, is where the two men’s lives take drastically different turns…or do they? I would say that musically and culturally they were on the same team, but due to the inherently isolating properties of each of their unique situations, not only did they never directly cross paths musically, but fans of one would most likely look at fans of the other with scorn and disdain. Some still do.
Another big difference would lie in their upbringing: Nesmith was an only child, and thus his career seemed to always show a "me against the world" attitude. Garcia had a brother he was fairly close to, was raised in part by grandparents when his mom took over ownership of a bar following Jerry's father's death, and perhaps learned to depend on family and friends for support and love much more than Nesmith, who described his childhood as "wretched" and himself as "thin, poor and ugly".
Later in life, besides eating and breathing music, Garcia's career was spent largely on the road, and usually on an unknown quantity and combination of illicit substances. Nesmith has rarely toured, and while there's no definitive account of his drug use, it would seem that drugs have never played a huge role in his life. Photographer Henry Diltz was quoted as saying that Nesmith and the Osmonds were the only musicians he never got high with. Yet, Nesmith hung with The Beatles, Hendrix and Nilsson. And Tantamount to Treason is nothing if not a marijuana record.  Oh, and there's also this bit of a well-kept secret.  (Nez was busted in Denver in '71? Well, then. The Grateful Dead were busted in New Orleans in '70!) Maybe all will be told some day.

                                 Displaying some nice guitars and groovy threads, 1967


                               Live at the Hollywood Bowl (not on the same bill, obviously), 1967

                                                Two Different (Golden) Roads-1965-70

Michael Nesmith— In 1965 begins to have some success as a songwriter on the LA folk scene. Hosts “hoot night” at the Troubadour, thus rubbing shoulders with those who would define “the LA sound” a few years later. Answers ad for TV show (out of financial desperation rather than a yearn for acting) and gets the part out of thousands of applicants, despite no acting experience. Becomes lead guitarist in fictional band The Monkees, despite mostly being an acoustic strummer/folk jangler and songwriter. Angered over not being allowed to play on records, punches wall and threatens Don Kirshner, the boss. After two records, The Monkees are allowed to play on record and in concert. Mike takes up the pedal steel guitar in 1967. Monkees integrate socially with counter culture figureheads, and music becomes more sophisticated, but still the youth marketing machine keeps them in the pre-teen category. Peak of experimental psychedelic phase comes in 1968 when the band makes trippy, avant garde movie Head, but no ones sees it.
Nesmith goes to Nashville to record his country songs and soon after leaves the band to pursue solo career. Forms The First National Band, which fuse pop, country, psychedelia and a bit of latin. Grows a beard in 1970 which stays 'til the mid-90's.

Jerry Garcia—floats from  folk and bluegrass clubs to electric rock and roll and forms The Warlocks. Is the reluctant leader, as he shares the vocal and songwriting duties with everyone else, but is admired for his magnanimous personality and distinctive guitar playing. Adopted as house band for Ken Kesey’s acid tests and soon change name to Grateful Dead. Band gets signed soon after and release first album in 1967. From there, band tours constantly for next 28 years, pausing only in 1975. Peak of their experimental psychedelic phase comes in 1968 with their second album, Anthem of the Sun. Garcia grows a beard in 1969, which remains more or less, 'til his death in 1995. Takes up the pedal steel in 1969, as the Dead began to embrace country along with their usual psych rock explorations, and uses it on recordings until the mid 70's.

Dig the musical similarities....
This is what both guys were up to in the fall of 1965. "I Know You Rider" is a traditional song that's been done a million ways, but it's a neat coincidence that the chord changes the Warlocks (the Dead's first moniker) settled on are pretty much the same that Nesmith used when writing one of his first original songs, "How Can You Kiss Me". Three part folkie harmonies too. The biggest musical difference is that Nesmith's song has that funny extra four beats between each line. 

Garcia in the studio with bassist Phil Lesh--1967
Nesmith in the studio with bassist Peter Tork, 1967.

Two strange photos from 1966-67 which lead me to believe that illicit substances may have been involved:


Rocking the Gibson SG, 1968-69


 Two great photos which support the theory that taking up the pedal steel may lead to growing a beard:

Between 1963-1970, Nesmith frequently played with a bassist named John Kuehne (aka John London). 
Between 1970-95, Garcia frequently played with a bassist named John Kahn

This is just sort of a "oooohhh" coincidence. More interesting is that each relationship is symbolic of many relationships in each man's life. Dig:

--After hitting it big with The Monkees, Nesmith used his standing to employ Kuehne (who not only played on some Monkee tracks, but was also an extra and stand-in on the TV show). Kuehne then became the bass player in First National Band, but left the band (along with drummer John Ware) in the middle of recording their third (and final) album, Nevada Fighter. The nature of the split never went public, but things I've read seem to point at money and management problems. Nesmith and Kuehne never repaired their friendship. Symbolic because Nesmith seems to like using his status to help friends and those he admires. He also seems to have a lot of short-lived friendships that aren't allowed to grow and evolve.

--Garcia first played with John Kahn at informal, public jams at the Matrix Club in San Francisco. From then on, Kahn was there on bass (most of the time) whenever Garcia had a non-Grateful Dead musical project, playing rock, bluegrass, gospel, blues, pop and of course, experimental jams. Kahn was also quite a talented producer and arranger and played a big part in Garcia's solo albums between 1974-82. Symbolic of many of Garcia's closest relationships, he and Kahn bonded over music and drugs. Some didn't like Kahn because he enabled Garcia's heroin habit, but really Garcia didn't need much enabling. Garcia died in his sleep of a heart attack in August 1995. Kahn died in his sleep of a heart attack in May 1996.

Nesmith in 1970 playing live with bassist John KUEHNE
Garcia in 1976 playing live with bassist John KAHN

Fun fact: Before becoming Garcia's and Nesmith's respective closest musical partners, John Kahn and Red Rhodes played together on Mike Bloomfield's album It's Not Killing Me (1969) and Brewer and Shipley's album Weeds (1970)

Michael Nesmith--1970's
  Releases 10 albums in the 70’s. They span country, psychedelia, rock, bluegrass, new age, reggae and disco. None sell very well due to his unshakable image as a former teen idol, which keeps the buying public at bay. Instead, they're snatched up by a small but loyal worldwide fanbase. 
1975 releases "The Prison"-- a concept album Nesmith described as a whole new experience in listening to music--  which is largely scene as overambitious, overwrought and hard to grasp. In fact, it is quite an impressive collection of psychedelically-informed songs that combine guitar, drum machine, pedal steel and analog synth (later in the 90's, Nez adds more New Age-sounding synths, which ruin it for me, though many prefer it. Only the re-worked version is available for purchase and download. A shame). A hit ("Rio") in Australia leads to a tour and live album (Live at the Palais), which feature slowed down reworkings of older tunes, and solos traded among the players (except Nesmith, quite content in his role as a rhythm guitarist). Eager to branch out, Nesmith starts getting into film and video, beginning with 1977's video for "Rio".

Jerry Garcia--1970's
When not doing Grateful Dead tours, Garcia plays 50+ gigs a year with Jerry Garcia band. The Dead release ten or so albums of new material (much of it recorded live instead of in studio) between 1970-80, and the Garcia band release five. The Grateful Dead integrate many musical styles (blues, avant psych, country, fusion, reggae and disco), and utilize the most cutting edge equipment as soon as it exists; and yet, they can’t escape the stigma of being retro dinosaurs. None of their albums sell very well, due to the band's increasingly insolated scene, and never ending experiments. As Deadhead population grows, mainstream public loses interest they may have once had around early 70's. Deadheads for the most part don’t mind because it keeps away the gawkers. In 1975, the band release "Blues For Allah",  the title track hyped as "a new kind of music". A singular, intriguing piece that takes up one side of the album, but proves to be impossible to play live and not really what Deadheads want to hear. Garcia starts getting into film and video. Solo band shows feature slowed-down reworkings of older tunes with generous time given to solos. Eager to branch out, Garcia gets into film, beginning with 1976's "The Grateful Dead Movie".

                                  Bearded and rocking (in their own ways) in the 70's

Michael Nesmith--1980's-90's
Doesn’t write or release much music for much of the 80’s, instead concentrating on his video/multimedia company Pacific Arts. Big resurgance for The Monkees in 1986-87 puts limelight on his old band, but he largely stays away. Early 90’s revisits roots with an acoustic album and tour. Reforms with orginal Monkees for one final album and tour. Reunion album, "Justus" and TV special, both produced by Nesmith, are met with lukewarm reviews. Quits tour after European leg after realizing the touring life was never his thing. Tour also gets mixed reviews, despite fans being overjoyed by the original quartet playing as a band without any outside help for the first time since 1968.

Jerry Garcia--1980's-1995
Doesn't write or release much new music for much of the 80's, instead adding drastically to his drug habit and weight until a diabetic coma in 1986. A top 10 single in 1987 puts sudden mainstream limelight on the Grateful Dead, and while Garcia tries to deflect all the attention, the influx of new fans spells the beginning of the end of the band. Spends an increasing amount of time revisiting his folkie roots in a series of releases and tours with various players from his past. The drugs and ennui slowly creep back until he is a half-awake, half aware shell of himself playing on the Grateful Dead’s final tour in 1995. A heart attack in rehab sends him to his eternal home in August 1995.

Fun fact:

On page 321 of  David Browne's excellent 2015 book about the Grateful Dead, So Many Roads, he says that Jerry Garcia and his brother Tiff watched Nesmith's comedy video Elephant Parts at a very loud volume in the hospital room that Jerry was staying in, recovering from his 1986 diabetic coma.

I had the pleasure of telling Nez about this tidbit and he was indeed delighted to hear it!

            Settling into Middle Age....

                                                    Fun Facts:

Fascinating fact #1: the only songs in common that I could find that both Nesmith and Garcia recorded?
Angel Band by The Stanley Brothers.
Nesmith recorded it in 1969 (unreleased until 1995)
and Garcia did it with Old and In the Way in 1973.

Long Black Veil by Lefty Frizelle
Garcia did it in his early folkie days and again with David Grisman and Tony Rice in the 90's. 
Nesmith never recorded it, but there are bootleg recordings of him doing it on his 1992 Tropical Campfires tour. 

Get Out of my Life, Woman
Written by the legendary Allen Toussaint and recorded by New Orleans R+B artist Lee Dorsey in 1965. An unreleased studio version of Nesmith performing it with session musicians was released as a part of the Deluxe Reissue of the first Monkees album. Recorded early 1966 before he was officially a Monkee. A pretty hip song to record, as it was concurrently being performed by such bands as the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, The Doors and The Leaves. 
Jerry Garcia Band started doing it in 1984 and performed it semi-regularly for the next decade. 

Fascinating fact #2: 
In 1975, Nesmith was living near San Francisco and checking out a local reggae band called The Tasmanian Devils. He really dug their bass player, David MacKay and asked him to join him for some recording and possible gigs. MacKay left his band and joined Nesmith to record 1976's From a Radio Engine to the Photon Wing, tour Australia in 1977 (Live at the Palais) and record 1979's Infinite Rider on the Big Dogma. Mackay left the Nesmith camp and soon after began playing with the recently widowed former Grateful Dead vocalist, Donna Jean Godchaux (whose piano playing husband ,Keith, an integral part of the Dead's 70's sound, was killed in an auto accident in 1980.)
David and Donna fell in love, married and are still a couple as well as playing music together. 
(MacKay recently said in an interview that he still views the Nesmith tour of '77 as one of his career highlights). 

David MacKay in 1977 (top left). Nesmith's Live at the Palais LP

David MacKay (second from left) in 1981 with Heart of Gold band. Future (and current) wife, Donna Jean Godchaux is in the center. She had left The Grateful Dead along with pianist husband Keith in 1979. Keith was killed in a car crash in 1980. 

Donna and David performing in 2011. David sporting a Jerry Garcia Band tshirt.
Donna is on said JGB album. It was recorded in 1977, during Mackay's time in Nesmith's band. 

Fascinating fact #3:
the only musician that was employed by both men?
Ron Tutt--Elvis Presley's drummer from 1970-77.
Tutt plays on a few tracks on Nevada Fighter (including the title track). 
Tutt was part of the Jerry Garcia band from 1975-77, and again briefly in 1981. He now plays with Neil Diamond. 

Bonus points for James Burton, also from Elvis' band, who played guitar on Nesmith's Witchita Train Whistle Sings, as well as "Papa Gene's Blues" and "Sweet Young Thing" from the Monkees' debut album, as well as Nez's Nevada Fighter LP; and who jammed with Garcia and another Elvis (Costello) in 1989), as well as playing a good Garcia-esque solo on Costello's cover of the Grateful Dead's "Ship of Fools". 

Only direct reference to each other:
(I don't have the quotes in front of me so I'll paraphrase)

1967 interview with Garcia: 
Journalist: what do you think of the Monkees?
Garcia: what am I supposed to think of the Monkees?
Journalist: it drives me crazy that they're always #1 in the charts
Garcia: well, the reason they're #1 is that their records are good
Journalist: but who plays on their albums?
Garcia: I understand that they used studio guys on their first couple but that now they do it themselves.

And in The Monkees Illustrated History, Nesmith says that live, the original Monkees were more like the Grateful Dead, than, say The Eagles. He doesn't expand on the thought, but I would guess that in their own ways, it was a sometimes great, sometimes sloppy adventure.

In David Browne's new (2015) book about the Grateful Dead, So Many Roads, he mentions that Garcia watched Nesmith's comedy/musical long form video, Elephant Parts, while recuperating from his diabetic coma in 1986.

As far as I know, the two men never met. But judging from the mix below, had they met, I'm sure they would have spent hours playing and talking, discovering their shared musical roots, talking about science and metaphysics. 

who remembers this photo from Rolling Stone Magazine's 20th anniversary issue? One of Nesmith's sons (the glam rocker), and two of Garcia's daughters (the smiley girls with Garcia's build) are in this group photo of 60's rocker offsprings...

                                                      The Audio Thesis: 

Besides underscoring the hitherto unexplored compatibility and similar influences of these two artists, this is also just an enjoyable mix to listen to—probably on a long car ride, or in the background, or in small doses, as I divided it into below. When I could, I put similar themes side by side. I tried to defy clich├ęs and expectations and show that Garcia was quite capable of the slick, well-produced 3 minute studio slice and Nesmith of the long drawn out stoner vibe. I would love to put this mix up in some capacity so folks can download, but I'm not quite sure of the legality....maybe a podcast with relevant excerpts? Comments welcome. But I do want to stay on the good side of the music industry.

Playlist One: pre-fame and original tunes...

1) Rosa Lee McFall    Black Mountain Boys    Black Mountain Boys -03-07-1964 (Charlie Monroe)
2)  Don't Let The Deal Go Down    Michael Nesmith    Pre-Monkees Rarities   (trad. author unknown)
3) Barefoot Nellie    Black Mountain Boys    Black Mountain Boys -03-06-1964   (Don Reno, Jim Davis)
4) Pick A Bale Of Cotton    Michael Nesmith    Pre-Monkees Rarities (Leadbelly)

--rare and rough recordings that have survived of both artists, pre-fame, in their folkie days, playing on local radio broadcasts. The Black Mountain Boys were Garcia's bluegrass band. Amazing that he continued to do Rosa Lee McFall for the rest of his career.

5)  I Know You Rider    Grateful Dead    GR (1965-1973) Birth Of The Dead (traditional)
6) How Can You Kiss Me    Michael Nesmith    Pre-Monkees Rarities

Both songs recorded in 1965. I Know You Rider was from the first recording session The Grateful Dead did, when they were still the Warlocks.
How Can You Kiss Me, a Nesmith original, seems almost to be the same song, just with different lyrics and an extra beat every few measures. A mash up would be quite easy for someone who knows how to do it.

7)  Cream Puff War (Full Length)    Grateful Dead    The Grateful Dead
8)  Sunny Girlfriend    The Monkees    Headquarters Deluxe Edition [1 of 2]

Both from 1967. Cream Puff War is one of two songs Garcia wrote music and lyrics to. Nothing groundbreaking, but the punk vibe is great.
Sunny Girlfriend appears to be a double entendre drug song. "Dolls" was slang for pills. I think the Sunny Girlfriend just may be Owsley, or some other drug manufacturer. But that's just been my long held conspiracy theory.

9)    St. Stephen    Grateful Dead    Aoxomoxoa
10)  St. Matthew    The Monkees    Music Box (Disc 3)

In 1968, both artists got Saintly and trippy.

11) Dark Star (single)    Grateful Dead    Live/Dead [Bonus Tracks]
12) Writing Wrongs    The Monkees   The Birds, the Bees and the Monkees.

Dark Star, when it was a 2:38 single, as opposed to the 20+ min improv piece it became.  Conversely, Writing Wrongs has a long instrumental passage, which, if The Monkees were more of a live act, could have evolved into something of Dark Star epic proportions....

13)  High Time    Grateful Dead    Workingman's Dead [Remaster]
14)  Lady Of The Valley    Michael Nesmith & The First National Band     Loose Salute

mellow, California countryside, 1970, smells like weed...

15)  Sugaree    Jerry Garcia    Garcia
16)  Nevada Fighter    Michael Nesmith    Nevada Fighter

durable rockers from 1971-72

17)   Brokedown Palace    Grateful Dead    American Beauty
18)   Joanne    Michael Nesmith &The First National Band    Magnetic South

heart-meltingly beautiful ballads from '70

19) Loser    Jerry Garcia   Garcia
20) Grand Ennui    Michael Nesmith    Nevada Fighter

pondering life's gambles

21) The Wheel    Jerry Garcia   Garcia
22) You Are My One    Michael Nesmith    Tantamount To Treason

more stoner Cali vibes from 1972. The jam in You Are My One is right out of the Dead's playbook....

23) Friend Of The Devil (live)    JERRY GARCIA BAND    Let It Rock - DISC 1
24 )Calico Girlfriend (live)   Michael Nesmith    Live at The Palais

Mid 70's live workouts of 1970 songs.
This version of Friend of the Devil has Ron Tutt (Elvis Presley) on drums and Nicky Hopkins (Stones, Who, Kinks) on piano. This version of Calico Girlfriend, with a Dead-like bounce, has Al Perkins (Stones, Gram Parsons, Stephen Stills) on lead guitar.

25) Bird Song    Jerry Garcia          Garcia
26) In The Afternoon    Michael Nesmith    Tantamount To Treason

another toke of contemplative Cali good vibes..

27) New Speedway Boogie    Grateful Dead    Workingman's Dead
28) Hollywood    Michael Nesmith & The First National Band    Magnetic South

Two songs that express getting a bit sick and tired of their individual scenes. Hollywood features an extended, if a bit stiff, jam.

29) Eyes Of The World    Grateful Dead    Wake Of The Flood
30) Release    Michael Nesmith   Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash

getting into a new, more mid-70's sound. Nesmith's lead guitarists seem to have a Garcia-esque touch.

31) Mission In The Rain   Jerry Garcia Band,  San Francisco Bay Area 1978
32) Silver Moon    Michael Nesmith    Live at The Palais

Slowed-down, mellow live work outs.... Near the end of each, the ice is broken:  Garica breaks the ice with some aggressive leads, and Nesmith does the job with some heroic singing.

33)  Ripple    Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band    The Very Best Of Jerry Garcia [Live] [Disc 2]
34)  Papa Gene's Blues    Michael Nesmith    Live at the Britt Festival 1992

Late period live, acoustic versions of old faves....audience swaying back and forth time.

35) Cats Under the Stars (live)   Jerry Garcia Band 1978-03-18* Warner Theatre, Washington, D.C.
36) Flying (live)    Michael Nesmith    Live At Armadillo World Headquarters

Coked out Cali disco rock from the late 70's. Flying features one of the few examples of a Nesmith guitar solo.

37) Crazy Fingers    Grateful Dead    Blues for Allah
38) Rio    Michael Nesmith  From a Radio Engine to the Photon Wing

1975, the reggae/Carribean influence...both beautiful songs with some fancy-ass chord progressions.

Playlist 2: Covers....

1) When the Hunter Gets Captured By the Game    Jerry Garcia    Compliments of Garcia (Smokey Robinson)
2)  I Fall To Pieces    Michael Nesmith & The First National Band   Loose Salute  (Hank Cochran, Harlan Howard)

toe tapping, charming covers of songs written by men, made famous by women.

3) Russian Lullaby    Jerry Garcia    Compliments of Garcia    (Aaron Copeland)
4) Prairie Lullaby    Michael Nesmith   Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash (Billy Hill)

Lullabye time...

5)  Blue Yodel #9    Jerry Garcia & David Grisman    Been All Around This World  (Jimmie Rodgers)
6) Begin the Beguine    Michael Nesmith    Tropical Campfires   (Cole Porter)

the older, more weathered voices of each. Unsurpisingly, non-smoker Nesmith's voice withstood much less abuse.

7) She Once Lived Here    Howard Wales & Jerry Garcia    Hooteroll? (Bonus Edition)
8)She Thinks I Still Care    Michael Nesmith    Tantamount To Treason

George Jones! Who can say no?

9)   Angel Band    Old & In the Way    That High Lonesome Sound
10) Angel Band    The Monkees    Missing Links, Vol. 3  (Stanley Brothers)

Here it is, the same song!

11) Catfish John    Old & In The Way    The Very Best Of Jerry Garcia [Live] [Disc 2]   (Bob McDill and Allen Reynolds)
12) Back Porch And A Fruit Jar Full Of Iced Tea
a. "The F.F.V" (Trad. Arrangement by Michael Nesmith)
b. "Uncle Pen" (Bill Monroe) Michael Nesmith   Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash

      Hardcore bluegrass. You gotta wait til the end of Nesmith's piece to get to the big bluegrass breakdown.

      13) I'll Take A Melody    Jerry Garcia    Reflections (Allen Toussaint)
      14)  Wax Minute    Michael Nesmith    Tantamount To Treason (Richard Stekol)

      Covers of contemporary songwriters: Allen Toussaint and Richard Stekol, respectively 

      15)  The Harder They Come (Live)    Jerry Garcia & Merl Saunders    Well-Matched (Jimmy Cliff)
      16) How Insensitive    The Monkees    Missing Links, Vol. 3  (Antonio Carlos Jobim)

      Non-American covers. Interestingly, Garcia was covering this Jimmy Cliff song very soon after its release. This version is from 1973.
      Nesmith blends country with Latin way back in '68 and covers Jobim's How Insensitive. The latin/country mix has been a favorite fusion of Nesmith all through his career. I'd be surprised if KD Lang didn't listen to "Rio" when arranging "Miss Chatelaine"

      17) Let's Spend the Night Together    Jerry Garcia    Compliments of Garcia
      18)  I Looked Away    Michael Nesmith    Nevada Fighter

      paying tribute to their UK contempraries. Jagger/Richards and Eric Clapton, respectively.

      19)  Accidentally Like A Martyr    Jerry Garcia    All Good Things: Jerry Garcia Studio Sessions [Disc 6] (Warren Zevon)
      20) Rainmaker    Michael Nesmith    Nevada Fighter  (Harry Nilsson)

      paying tribute to their American contemporaries--Warren Zevon and Harry Nilsson, respectively.

      21) Let It Rock    JERRY GARCIA BAND    Let It Rock - DISC 1
      22) Nadine (Is That You)    Michael Nesmith    Live at The Palais (Chuck Berry)

      Paying tribute to their childhood idol, Chuck Berry, live in the mid-70's.
      Each of these songs contain an element that give strength to arguments against each artist:
      Garcia's song appears to take a pure rocker and get it waay too stoned. But get on its level and you'll find its intensity. Tutt and Hopkins both shine as well.
      Nesmith's song...oh those horrible screaming fans! I have no idea what's going on. The entire album, the auduence is subdued and polite. Then suddenly, it sounds like a Monkees concert for this one song only. Yeah, I'd poo-poo this if I wasn't a Nesmith fan. But, tune out the screams and it's a great rocker.

      23) Simple Twist Of Fate    Jerry Garcia Band    JGB - Stanley Theatre 03-19-78 Pittsburgh PA  (Bob Dylan)
      24)  Navajo Trail    Michael Nesmith    From a Radio Engine to the Photon Wing (Jack Elliot)

      No analogy here. Garcia does an intense version of Dylan, and Nesmith covers an Indian-themed Disney-type song.

      25)  Oh Babe, It Ain't No Lie    Jerry Garcia    Reflections   (Elizabeth Cotton)
      26)  Tumbling Tumbleweeds    Michael Nesmith    Nevada Fighter (Bob Nolan)

      Again, no analogy. Just enjoyable listening.

      27)  You Win Again    Jerry Garcia    Reflections   (Hank Williams)
      28)  Bonaparte's Retreat    Michael Nesmith And The Second National Band  Tantamount To Treason   (Pee Wee King; Redd Stewart)

      again....just two good covers

      29) Without Love    Jerry Garcia    The Very Best Of Jerry Garcia [Disc 1]   (Danny Small)
      30) The One Rose (That's Left In My Heart)    Michael Nesmith & The First National Band    Magnetic South
      (D. Lyon, L. McIntyre)

      finally, the two pour their sad little hearts out on a couple of tearjerkers.

      And that is the end of my essay. I hope you enjoyed it, if you in fact made it this far. Again, maybe I'll make an accompanying podcast with musical excerpts, but only if anyone cares...thanks for reading.