Just in case you get any ideas: The first thing to confront visitors to Michael Nesmith’s L.A. office is a circle-and-red-slash sign prohibiting ”Monkees Jokes.” Not that Nesmith’s embarrassed by his tenure as one of the Prefab Four. But that was almost 30 years ago, and the 51-year-old has since become a major player in home-video distribution, film production (Tapeheads, Repo Man), and television production (his 1981 Popclips was the progenitor for MTV)-through his company, Pacific Arts. All of which supports the creation of Nesmith’s ”aggressively uncommercial” music, as in his latest release, The Garden.
Worlds apart from the Monkees’ top 10 pop, The Garden is a concept album that includes an audio portion-instrumental music with echoes of classical, country, and rock-and a fairy tale-like text chronicling the mythic journey of a hero who winds up where he started. Nesmith describes the project as a ”convergence” of reading and listening that works only if ”both mediums are lightly attended-meaning it is not intended that you become fully immersed in either.” The result? ”You catch a function of your thinking that you’re usually unaware of,” he says, before breaking into a self-deprecating laugh. Nesmith splits his time between L.A. and his New Mexico ranch and takes his music seriously, but doesn’t mean to come off like a highfalutin aesthete. ”There’s no deep insights here,” he says. ”It’s more like discovering you have the ability to cross your eyes.”
The multimillionaire has absolutely no delusions about The Garden making it anywhere near the pop charts. In fact, the last time Nesmith tried a concept album-1974’s The Prison-it was universally loathed. ”It has been given several magazines’ awards for the most dreadful concept album of all time,” he says with a sly smile. ”All the more reason to do a follow-up.”