“Anecdotes and riffs are true things, even though they seem loose and unscientific. In music, the definition of a riff is essentially broad. … A riff by definition is not written or defined before it is played or sung or said. It is of the moment. … It might even be a wisecrack, if it’s insightful enough….
“A good riff can embody and express the essence of a song … the same way a quick anecdote can frame an actual event, making its spirit clear even to those not present at the event.”
These are the words of Michael Nesmith in his memoir, Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff.
If you don’t know who Michael Nesmith is, then you should read the book to learn about him. If you are over forty, you probably know Michael as one of the members of the pop television music groups, The Monkees, and you should read this book to get to know more about him.
If you can read, you should read this book.
Infinite Tuesday is a memoir, not a biography. It is a collection of memoirs, which are sometimes written in time-sequential order, and sometimes not so much. Note that the sub-title of the book is “An Autobiographical Riff.” Now note Nesmith’s definition of a riff (which comes about near the end of the book). These memories are riffs. They embody the essence of moments of Nesmith’s life, as he remembers them.
Like so many pre-teens of the era, I loved The Monkees. I watched them faithfully and bought all their records and played the albums until they were worn out. But I wasn’t what you would call a fanatic fan. I knew their names. I knew what instruments they played (if they did), but that was about it. Oh…and I’d heard that Nesmith’s mother made a fortune as the inventor of Liquid Paper. And so nearly everything in this book was a revelation to me.
But celebrity biographies/memoirs have rarely impressed me. So what makes this different? Why should you read Michael Nesmith’s riff?
Because he’s a tremendous writer with a unique insight, not only to the world around him, but into himself.
One of the things I don’t like about celebrity biographies is the sense of name-dropping. There is a bit of that here. Nesmith almost too casually mentions hanging out with John Lennon and the support he got from Jimi Hendrix, and Ringo Starr, and what John Cleese said to him once. What doesn’t come across as name-dropping is his close friendship with Douglas Adams.
It is understandable, of course. Nesmith isn’t like you or me. He achieved fame through pop culture and music (even if that fame didn’t serve him well for some time), and pop culture and music were the circles he moved within, so those are the people who met and worked with.
But the more interesting parts of the book following him when he was struggling. Whether it was early, before the Monkees, or afterward, when he struggled for recognition for his work. And the most interesting parts are when he is creating something new. Nesmith appears to have a gift for anticipating and creating new art forms – whether it’s music videos, or the home video market, or virtual 3D reality, Nesmith is there to bring it forward.
I very much liked the tone of the book. Nesmith comes across as the guy I would hang out with. That guy I’d sit with in a diner all night and talk about art and existentialism and religion and business, and we’d appreciate what each other has to say. Do we all have friends like that? Mike Nesmith is that friend for all of us and this book is that night in the diner.
Looking for a good book? Michael Nesmith’s Infinite Tuesday is a memoir of pop culture and human growth and required reading for anyone interested in a great non-fiction book.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff
author: Michael Nesmith
publisher: Crown Archetype
hardcover, 352 pages