Tuesday, April 16, 2013

THE MONKEES - GOOD CLEAN FUN

I was having a (somewhat) friendly argument with some online cronies over who the father of country-rock really is - Gram Parsons, Rick Nelson or Mike Nesmith. Of course, it ultimately doesn't matter, because now, really BAD country-rock is what passes for country nowadays (with a few exceptions, of course: George Strait, Alan Jackson, Billy Currington when he's in the mood). But it really was amazing how many good points were brought up in the argument, like how Bob Wills was the first guy to try and combine country with an R&B/rock and roll feel (instead of the other way around). Nesmith himself has said that Rick Nelson was the guy who pointed the way to country-rock. Gram Parsons? OVERRATED AS ALL HELL. Rich kid, nothing to do, liked country, had good dope, hung out with some degenerates, screwed Emmylou Harris, OD'd. Fuck him.

Me? It's a toss-up between Nesmith and Nelson. But I gotta say, old wool-hat made the more interesting records, with or without The Monkees. Or both, in this case (yes, it's a Monkees record, but none of the other three Monkeemen are on this song). As with a lot of Nesmith compositions, the title is mentioned nowhere in the song. Mike was kinda weird like that - or was he? More on that later.

I was actually lucky enough to see Mike Nesmith in concert twice - once with The Monkees in late 2012, and once solo this past Friday (April 12, 2013). They were two completely different concerts. While the Monkees concert was more fun, the solo concert was more interesting (no big surprise). The Monkees did what was expected - they did hit after hit, did the "Head" LP in its entirety, and did a tribute to their fallen comrade, Davy Jones. With the solo concert, I had NO idea what to expect. Mike came out, acknowledged the cheers - and swung right into "Papa Jean's Blues"!! Turns out that was the only time he acknowledged the Monkees all night - which was fine with me. I was there to hear the best of his solo material - "The Grand Ennui", "Rio", "Some Of Shelley's Blues", "Different Drum", and the hits "Joanne" and "Silver Moon". Mike played 'em all, and he prefaced each song with a little spoken vignette, putting each tune into its own framework. It was a nice way to link the songs together, and to give us a glimpse of Nesmith's thought process (obtuse as that may be).

Now some folks might think that Mike, in giving his audience these vignettes, is talking down to them. If he is, he can't be blamed. Mike Nesmith is one of two artists (Scott Walker is the other one) who, no matter what they do, will always be imprisoned by their earlier personas, never being forgiven for their artistic growth, and never being forgiven for looking forward instead of backward. The Scott Walker of 1968 - young, beautiful to look at, singing Jacques Brel songs and standards in that honeyed, rich baritone - is never coming back, and those who love 1968 Scott revile the material that Walker's made since Climate Of Hunter in 1984; they refer to those albums as "that weird crap". As much as the audience last Friday came to hear Mike's solo material, most of them were wearing Monkees T-shirts and I'm sure some of them wished that Mike would put on his green wool hat with the pom-pom on top and play that 12-string Gretsch guitar and play "What Am I Doing Hangin' Round?" or "Salesman" or "Love Is Only Sleeping". Nope. Not gonna happen. Mike's playing what Mike wants to play - Michael Nesmith songs. Therefore, he's already got a strike or two against him before he comes out. Not that the songs aren't good, but they can't compete with old-fashioned TV and music nostalgia - and they shouldn't have to. But they do, at least in the minds of the people who go to see him perform. Like Scott Walker, Mike's music needs to sink in a few times before it can be truly appreciated for the genius work that it is, and, to be fair, Mike has always had an obscurantist streak in his writing, leaving you scratching your head and saying, "what does he mean by that?" So his explanations of the music he's making, while a bit peevish on some levels, become totally necessary when facing an audience that doesn't really understand him anyway.

The above record is just one of those examples. For years, I could never figure out why he named this tune "Good Clean Fun". Listening to the lyrics, it's just a guy waiting for a plane carrying his girlfriend who he hasn't seen in over a year. Big deal. But sometime in the 1970s, someone interviewed Nesmith and asked about this song (I wish I could remember who, so I can give them credit), wondering if there was more to it than meets the ear. Nesmith admitted that the song's last line, "I told you I'd come back / and here I am", is actually meant as a threat, and that the song's narrator means to do his (ex) girlfriend great harm. Hence the ironic title "Good Clean Fun".

Anyhoo, I thought I'd end this by saying this is the 100th post for "On The Record"!! Do I get some kind of syndication deal? No? Oh, well, I'll just keep going anyway. Thanks to all the readers out there for showing your support!!

The Monkees - Good Clean Fun (Colgems 5005) - 1969

3 comments:

  1. .Thanx! totally agreed, Gram Parsons!! ? WTF.. why "alternative Country" Country music don´t need any alternative!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hey,can the guy in the song be waiting for his plane to land, and not his girlfriend's? Does it make any sense to you?

    ReplyDelete