Sunday, March 6, 2011

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 clichés 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.


      1. I'd love to hear a podcast that included the juxtapositions you posited.

        1. That was the plan when I published this, and then it got left in the dust. But now I'm motivated to do it. Thanks! Gimme some time though.

      2. interesting i learned a new word insolated: exposed to sunlight. for some reason i find nesmiths attitude a little bitter compared to jerry

      3. Grateful Dead not into tye dye? Hmmm, tye dye, not just for tee shirts. Please get clue on that one.

        1. Why the angry tone, Smoker? I didn't write that the band as a whole wasn't into tie-dye. Obviously, Phil and sometimes Mickey+Billy would wear it even into the 90's. I was referring to the fact that Garcia was never seen in tie dye past, say, 1973 (except for one '78 photo I've seen), and rarely even before that. Bob Weir's been quoted as saying he hates tie dye (tiny cut off shorts and pink Izods are another matter...).

      4. I've only just come across this now, in 2016! But a great piece, very enlightening! Did you ever get that podcast done? Love to hear it. Otherwise, I'll have to search out these songs myself!

        1. Thanks! And no I haven't. I had a lot more free time up until my daughter was born 18 months ago. I also had a spell of being unemployed back then so I had time, energy and inspiration....and now I have very little of all of the above! I'm actually working on a podcast for a Monkees blog (Monkees Live Almanac) who asked me for a guest submission. I'm doing an alternate history of the Monkees from 1967-69--as if they DID gain respect and acceptance from the hipper music fans of the day. Should be fun--if I ever finish it!

      5. fascinating research -- I've researched Nez but did not know everything you offered here. A small portion of my research ended up in the article at the link below, in case it interests you.

      6. What a fun read. Thanks!

      7. Mike Nesmith was also President of the Gihon foundation where he gathered leading intellectuals from various fields to discuss major issues of the day. He produced two of my favorite movies, Tapeheads and RepoMan, and served as vice-chair on the American Film Institute. His interests were and are far-ranging.

      8. I'll have to read this again, with coffee. But very interesting, even reading way past bedtime. I especially enjoyed the pedal steel references, since my dad played. Hope you follow up with that podcast.

      9. I am jovial you take pride in what you write. It makes you stand way out from many other writers that can not push high-quality content like you. subliminal messages