Michael Nesmith's Sand City Roots Run Deep

Aug 25, 2017

Tonight the West End Celebration will kick off with a talk by Michael Nesmith. The annual arts gathering in Sand City continues through the weekend. 

Nesmith, who was a member of the 1960s pop band The Monkees, also has deep roots in the Sand City art scene and still has a studio there.   I recently spoke to him about that and his new book, Infinite Tuesday.

Dylan Music (DM): It’s the fortieth anniversary this year of the release of your 1977 hit song “Rio”

Michael Nesmith (MN): Wow

DM: Which I believe was accompanied by what is largely regarded as one of the first-ever music videos. Do you take credit? Did you pioneer the music video?  How did that all get started with you?

MN: Well, as I say in the book, I don’t think anybody invents anything.  We go back and pick up from this infinitely expanding and forever unfolding universe of ideas that are available. They’re just free. They just fall from the sky. And so, you either pick it up and dust it off and figure out a recipe for it, or you move on to the next thing.

Well, when I made the song “Rio,” I turned it in to my record company, which was based in London, which was owned by Chris Blackwell.  And Chris said, “this would make a great promotional clip. We send things around on television and that’s how they get their exposure. So will you go back home and make a promotional clip for it?”

Home for me had been, since 1963, Carmel and Monterey. And early in the 70s, I got a studio in Sand City. And a friend of mine, Bill Deere, and my wife at the time, Catherine, and we all sat around and I said, “Look, I’ve just gotten this request for this. I’m thinking I’ll just do a bunch of pictures.”  I just think about people on the beach and I think about guys in a hat and glasses and I think about palm trees, coconut drinks and dancing, and all the other things that go with this sort of tropical land that you would go to in your fancy dreams.

So we got a crew together and we filmed these pictures, brought them in to a studio, a video editing studio, and Bill was kind of like “well, now what?” and I was too; “well, I don’t know what now, but something’s got to happen.” And I said, “Well, let’s just lay it down--the song--down, and we’ll start adding pictures to the videotape and let’s see what happens as it unfolds.”  And what happened was that, as it unfolded, was a music video. But neither one of us had ever seen anything like that before.  

DM: You didn’t know what to call it.

MN: Well we were calling it a clip.

DM: Yeah, right .

MN: But we didn’t know that this was a music video…we didn’t know what to do with it. We would show it to people and they’d go, “oh my gosh, this is fantastic. What are you going to do with it?” And invariably it was a “thank you very much and we don’t have no idea about it.” And there was a lot of pushback early on but where there was no pushback was in my own creative life and in my own creative mind and it was like you follow this. And that was in 1970…6, 7, like that? And it was right up at 361 Orange in Sand City. 

DM: And then a few years later, MTV came around and the rest is history.

MN: You’re exactly right.  Now I just got a YouTube channel, which finally I’m glad to get going.  And VR 3D, which is a virtual world coming to life now at the new studio that I have in Sand City.

DM: Video Ranch 3D.  So, let’s talk about that.  So is it an interactive concert performance?  How does it work exactly?’

MN: Well, I’m in the same boat that I was with the music video.  Nobody quite knows what you do with it.  Nobody knows quite what to call it.  It is, technologically, virtual reality.  Well, I looked at that and thought, I can imbed a virtual audience full of avatars in here with a live performer that is not an avatar, but is a video image, an actual video image, and that will be a new medium.

They are in world performing live, and the avatars are in world attending live and the whole thing is live.  Live, live, live.  It’s like a live performance.  And the thing that makes it magic is the avatar can communicate with the performers, and the performers can communicate with the avatars and the avatars with the avatars all in real time, all real live.

We started in, I guess, `06 maybe, `05 over there at the new VR studios and we did 200 concerts.  And so it’s the next step for me.   I don’t know how far I’ll be able to take it out there, and of course there are some big, big guns who are looking at the same space.  But that’s what we are doing.  Ironically, it’s a block and a half away from the studios that I did "Rio" in.

Michael Nesmith will kick off Sand City’s West End Celebration tonight with a talk about his life, his virtual reality project Videoranch 3D, and his book Infinite Tuesday. Proceeds from tonight’s book sales will go to the Henry Miller Library. 

When: Friday, August 25th at 5:30pm

Where: The Independent @ 600 Ortiz in Sand City

Admission: Free

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