Everyone is looking for an edge in today’s uncertain economy. Perhaps a somewhat counterintuitive guide to thriving in this era is Michael Nesmith, who has been a part of pop culture for more than 50 years, since his mid-1960s days as a member of The Monkees. These thoughts are prompted by his book Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff, released last year in hardback and recently in paperback.
The book (only partly about his experience in The Monkees) is a candid look at a varied life, one in which he owns up to often being his own worst enemy. His honesty about his personal and professional shortcomings and what he has attempted to learn from them is admirable and not something many authors would easily admit. And although he certainly had years of traditional schooling, it’s clear that he is mainly self-taught, through study and often bitter experience. Think of his life as a curriculum, with topics about what the various aspects of his experience represent. While it might be going too far to consider him a role model, these topics are all worthy of more study.
Gather your books, get ready to search online, and consider what might form the basis of a syllabus for a Nesmith-inspired educational experience:
Entrepreneurship: This is in his DNA. His mother, Bette, invented Liquid Paper, and made a fortune because of it. She was recently featured in The New York Times ‘Overlooked’ feature, with features on people who did not have obituaries at the time of their death; in her case, in 1980: “Overlooked No More: Bette Nesmith Graham, Who Invented Liquid Paper.” Michael Nesmith has been an extremely active entrepreneur since the breakup of The Monkees nearly 50 years ago, starting and operating record labels and music and production studios, as well as staging theatrical events. His company Videoranch sells all-things-Nesmith, including the constant stream of reissues of his earlier albums, such as signed, colored vinyl editions of his early ‘70s First National Band LPs.
Innovation: Nesmith was a pioneer of country-rock, initially with the Monkees and then with his post-Monkees venture The First National Band. He was particularly a pioneer in rock videos, and writes in the book about the work that may or may not have been the inspiration behind MTV, which began operations almost exactly 37 years ago.
Spiritual seeking: Nesmith devotes considerable space in the book to his devotion to and study of Christian Science. He is as much a philosopher as a musician.
Continuous learning: He has engaged in an extended, post-traditional-schooling learning exercise, via learning from reading and especially from other people. One of the most interesting segments of the book is about what he learned from a renowned Christian Science teacher, Paul Seeley.
The Gig Economy: Long before this term came into vogue, Nesmith was living it. Given his life experience and the tone of his writing in the book, it’s nearly inconceivable to think of him as a one-organization-at-a-time employee. Besides The Monkees and his own bands, he’s also done recording session work, production, and as mentioned above, work on film and videos.
Longevity: People are living and working longer, and we must retain our relevance in some cases well beyond traditional retirement years. Nesmith is 75 years old, active, and in demand. However, he had a serious health scare in June when he was hospitalized early in a since-cancelled tour with fellow-Monkee Micky Dolenz. The current incarnation of The First National Band is still scheduled for a nationwide tour in September.
Creativity: All of the above. Creativity has become one of today’s most overused buzzwords, and it is the very basis of Nesmith’s life and career. This includes writing books; there were two before Infinite Tuesday.
Multimedia: Again, all of the above. We are often reminded that (especially in any form of self-promotion), we must be conversant with multiple forms of media. Nesmith has long had this ability mastered.
Branding: The Monkees remain one of the most successful brands of all time, even though they haven’t been an active band in years (except for occasional tours), and the fact that singer Davy Jones died of a heart attack, at 66, in 2012. Among other things, a successful album of new material, Good Times!, was released in 2016.
Seeing and acting on the Future: Whether it is country rock, home video, or music videos, Nesmith has been able to see around corners to what’s coming next. It helps if you are actually driving these changes, as has been the case with him. He’s been adept at inventing the future.
Whether or not you follow Michael Nesmith’s lead and example, the curriculum outlined above may represent required courses for thriving in the unforgiving economy of today and tomorrow.
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