And just like that, one of my favorite musical foursomes of the sixty’s just became a solo act.
Singer and guitarist Michael Nesmith passed away from natural causes on December 10, 2021.
On December 10, 1966, the same year the Monkees became big stars, my life took a different turn. I signed up for six years in the Missouri Army National Guard.
On February 28, 1967, I boarded a Greyhound bus in Springfield, Mo., with fellow recruit, Dean Asher. After a 30-hour bus ride, we arrived at Fort Benning, Ga. On March 1, 1967, we were introduced to Army life. Slick haircuts, lots of pushups, learning to march and shoot and up before dawn to get started.
Unlike Basic Training today, which has more of a “dormitory atmosphere,” we were housed in a left-over, 2-story “prison camp” atmosphere World War II barracks. Twenty-four guys occupied twelve bunk beds in one big open room per floor. Ah, what a rare blend of imaginative profanity, melodious farts, and, once the lights were out, symphonic snoring that was.
I was 18 years old.
Each morning we were rousted from our bunks before dawn with only minutes to dress before a whistle sounded. That was the signal for us to charge down the dark hillside beside our barracks, screaming at the top of our lungs. There we formed up on the parade ground to begin our P.T. (Physical training to some, Physical Torture to others). Each day our Sergeants did their enthusiastic best to make our Basic Training memorable for us.
While getting dressed each morning I had an unusual habit. I liked to sing. One of my favorite songs in 1967 was “Last Train to Clarksville”, a big hit by the Monkees.
“Take the last train to Clarksville and I’ll meet you at the station. You can be here by 4:30 if I make the reservation. DON’T BE SLOW!!! OH, NO! NO! NO! And I don’t know if I’m ever comin’ home!”
Imagine yourself, half-asleep, dreading the day, and the guy on the bunk across from yours is cheerfully performing a repertoire of Monkee songs. After a couple of weeks of this, you would probably react like the guy next to me did. He was a grumpy Alabamian named Milwee. In no uncertain terms, he said “REECE, if you don’t shut your mouth, I’m going to come over there and shut it for you!”
Ah, the camaraderie we shared.
What brought that memory from deep in the recesses of my brain was the news that Michael Nesmith had become the third Monkee to depart the scene. Only Mickey Dolenz remains.
Another part of my youth has bitten the dust.
Formed as a Beatle knock-off group, the Monkees starred in a TV show by the same name from 1966-68. Though those were the days of the “British Invasion,” Davy Jones was the only Brit. The other three Monkees were home-grown. The Monkees did not have the talent, the mysteriousness, or the edginess of the Beatles. They were zany, semi-talented and fun. Looking back on their music videos, the Monkees had an innocence the Beatles started with, but lost along the way.
In 1968, the Monkees had a hit song that still has deep meaning for me today (even if they did spell the name wrong).
The name of that song was “Valleri.” If you are younger than thirty, you have probably never heard of it. Until today. The lyrics were:
She’s the same little girl who used to hang around my door
But she sure looks different than the way she looked before
I LOVE HER!
VA-A-A-A-A-A-LUH-REEEEEEEE!! (Repeat until someone threatens you with bodily harm).
In 1972 I married my first (and, so far, only) wife, Valerie. “Valleri” is, unofficially, “our song.” I say “unofficial” because my wife hates it.
If you are up for a cruise down memory lane, here are the Monkees performing “Valleri.”
Rest in peace Michael Nesmith