Mike Nesmith: The Early Days
Magazine: Monkee Spec. #5
Author: Charlie Rockett
Editor: Ralph Benner
Publisher: New Asbury Ltd. Publishing Co.
Charlie Rockett is a Monkee bodyguard and a sound man at their concerts. He has always been interested in music and has been writing songs tor about three years. Currently he is writing songs with Davy Jones. He lives with Davy in Hollywood.
Since our first meeting, over four years ago, Mike Nesmith has never ceased to amaze me. His approach to life, love, material possessions, music and friends just has to be the most unique I’ve ever seen.
The first time I saw Mike was at John London’s house in December, 1963. John and I were longtime friends, and he’d invited me over to his house for a practice session. John played the bass and he and Mike were starting to work up a folk-music act with which they hoped to make some money.
Mike and I took an immediate dislike to each other. We had completely different personalities and at first we just didn’t hit it off, but we were to become friends later, when we understood each other. That evening Mike, John and I went to a club called The Rebel in San Antonio, Texas. Mike wanted to talk the owner into letting him and John play.
Mike left us at the table and went to do the negotiating. Meanwhile, I ordered a pizza which arrived at our table at the same time Mike did. “We got the job, John!”, he exclaimed. Then, with one huge scoop, Mike grabbed half of my pizza. I watched in total amazement as he proceeded to devour it, pausing only to ask people at the surrounding tables if they wanted some of the prize—my pizza!
I wasn’t used to Mike’s sense of humor and was totally unaware of the fact that he was pulling my leg. I got mad! I jumped up and told him I was going to knock his block off and naturally Mike sat there as calm as you please and helped himself to another slice of my pizza.
I just about exploded and invited him outside to do battle over the kidnapped and mantled pizza. He acquired a totally astonished look and said innocently, “What for?” I turned red and sputtered.
He smiled and said very nicely, “Sorry, I can’t fight you. I’m a judo expert and I don’t have time to bother with you.” Naturally I was completely floored and, muttering a few comments, made for the door amid gales of laughter from one Mike Nesmith.
I was still fuming later that night when I heard a knock on the door and discovered Mike standing there. I asked him what he wanted and when he said he wanted to apologize I let him in. We had a long talk that took nearly all night and we finally shook hands.
He said, “I’m sorry, man, I just didn’t understand.” I said pretty much the same thing and we became fast friends. We gabbed on late into the dawn. We got to understand each other a lot better that night and it was easy to talk to each other because Mike found it easy to swallow my story and I found his tales absolutely fascinating. He mentioned his starving existence as a child and the desire he had for fame, fortune and all the things that go with it.
His high school days were something to hear about. He had tried to register in the high school nearest his home but he learned that it was all colored. Since he was white he was urged to attend another school. It meant that he had to walk a few extra miles and since he was used to walking anyway, it was cool. Besides, it kept him in good physical trim. He never had much trouble making friends. They were groovy people, not the “In” crowd. Mike had a kind of an allergy to “In” crowds.
Mike’s iron horse
One of Mike’s friends had an old yellow Lincoln convertible that ran like an iron horse and looked like it had survived a bombing. Mike took a good long look at the old yellow and decided that it could be the life and the fun of the party. At least it would break up the monotony of school. Both guys started to decorate the old yellow for fun. They madly painted bulls-eyes, slashes of lightning, oranges, pine trees, red and white polka dots and elves all over the old battered vehicle and then stripped it of its tires. They started the car and drove off on the rims to a secluded spot about a mile from the school. They found that the car was a perfect gem and ran beautifully on the railroad tracks—what’d I tell you, it was an old iron horse! The car was parked on the railroad tracks and Mike and his fellow conspirator headed for home.
The very next day Mike and his friend slipped out of school during the noon hour and streaked for the car. It was still where they’d left it and they started her up. Then they proceeded to serve everyone on the schoolyard a generous helping of Nesmithian humor. The two of them drove by the schoolyard on the railroad tracks with their Lone Ranger masks on screaming “Choo-Choo! Choo-Choo!” and laughing their heads off. The school principal almost gave them the heave-ho but decided that the whole routine was so funny he’d let it slide if they promised never to do it again. They promised and the matter was dropped.
By the time Mike finished telling these tales to me I understood him a whole lot better.
A few nights later, Mike and John started playing at The Rebel every night. The house was always packed. The audience loved them and Mike with his showmanship was a terrific draw. Not too long after they had built up a groovy following at The Rebel it was closed down because the local citizens complained about the extra loud noise. This really bothered everybody because The Rebel had turned into such a groovy place. The closing didn’t set Mike back too much—he just went right ahead and booked John and himself into whatever gigs he could find. He found enough to keep them both in bread; in fact, they played almost every weekend that spring and found it necessary to hire an agent. The agent they decided to hire was me. They offered me ten percent of the profits so Mike and I got together and talked about the new job. As usual, I thought his ideas were incredible.
He said, “Look, Rockett, I want you to tell people that I am the hottest thing to come along since Elvis. Tell them that I’m rapidly becoming the hottest thing in show business.” I asked when we started and he replied, “Well, I’d like to go to Dallas and build a name there, and then I want to go to California.” I agreed, and we decided to go in a couple of weeks, as soon as school was out for the summer.
John and I left San Antonio for Dallas with all our possessions in John’s old car. Mike was already in Dallas and invited us to stay with him until we could afford to get an apartment.
For the next week or so, we went around starving and trying to book Mike and John into Dallas folk clubs. We managed to wangle our way into a few, but we weren’t really satisfied with the city. Nothing much was happening.
After playing at the Rubiayat one night, Mike, John and I sat up and talked until just before dawn. I suggested to Mike that we pack up and head for California.
“I can’t go now, Charlie. I’ve got bills up to my ears, my car won’t make it and besides, Phyllis and I want to get married. The earliest we can go would be next fall.”
After three exhausting hours I finally convinced Mike that California was the place to go. It was decided that John and I would leave that weekend for Los Angeles and Mike would go to San Antonio to marry Phyllis. We would meet in Hollywood a week after they were married to pursue fame, fortune and all the rest.
When John and I got to California we had to wait a week for Mike and Phyllis. We talked to a lot of people trying to get gigs and finally got one at the Troubadour, where John and Mike got a groovy reception. But we didn’t know anyone here and it was pretty hard.
Mike and Phyllis moved to an apartment in the Valley and the manager of the apartment house had a daughter who was an agent. I didn’t know anyone out here so she began to get gigs for them. After that I lost contact with Mike for awhile. I went to New York and didn’t see Mike again until he and John did a tour of the public schools in Texas.
After that I lost contact again until Mike became a Monkee. Then he asked me if I would run sound at the concerts and act as a bodyguard. I accepted and that’s what I’m doing today.