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Michael Nesmith of The Monkees dies at 78

  • Nesmith, who died this morning of natural causes, shot to fame in the made-for-TV rock group, known as the Monkee in the green wool hat with the thick Texas drawl. Nesmith, whose The Monkees TV series aired on NBC from 1966 to 1968, was "a struggling 23-year-old singer and songwriter when he saw an advertisement in Variety seeking '4 insane boys' for “acting roles in new TV series," Neil Genzlinger writes in Nesmith's New York Times obituary. "Two aspiring television producers, Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, inspired by the Beatles’ movies, were hoping to make a TV series about the zany antics of a rock band — not a real rock band (although the Lovin’ Spoonful was briefly considered for the job), but actors with musical backgrounds who could create the illusion of a band. The four members were picked to fit types. Davy Jones, a British vocalist, was the cute scamp; Micky Dolenz, the drummer, was the wild jokester; and Peter Tork, the bass player, was the lovable dim bulb. Mr. Nesmith, a guitarist, was variously described as the cerebral Monkee, the introspective Monkee, the sardonic Monkee, the quiet Monkee." Dolenz once said of Nesmith: "He has that dry Will Rogers sense of humor. That’s probably one of the reasons they cast him." Nesmith later played a pivotal role in the creation of MTV. His 1977 song "Rio" is credited with being one of the first music videos. “They wanted me to stand in front of a microphone and sing,” Nesmith was quoted as saying in Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum's 2011 book I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution. But he did something different. “I wrote a series of cinematic shots: me on a horse in a suit  of light, me in a tux in front of a 1920s microphone, me in a Palm Beach suit dancing with a woman in a red dress, women with fruit on their head flying through the air with me,” he said. "As we edited these images, an unusual thing started to emerge: The grammar of film, where images drove the narrative, shifted over to where the song drove the narrative, and it didn’t make any difference that the images were discontinuous. It was hyper-real. Even people who didn’t understand film, including me, could see this was a profound conceptual shift.” In 1979, Nesmith and the director William Dear launched the Nickelodeon show Popclips, which showed nothing but music videos introduced by a V.J. The show is said to be one of the inspirations for MTV, which launched two years later in 1981. ALSO: Watch Nesmith's 1983 interview with David Letterman.

    TOPICS: The Monkees, MTV, The Monkees (TV Series), Michael Nesmith, Music Videos, Obits