Oklahoma State University-Tulsa, January 19, 2011
I sat in the middle row of the classroom on our second night of class, in my first full semester as a Doctoral student. Most of the people in that room were about to become some of my best friends ever (I may have accidentally broken down in tears with one a year later during a phone call in O’Hare airport while coming home from Anissa’s funeral). However, it was still that awkward stage where we were feeling each other out, and I didn’t want to come off as a Weird Socially Awkward Nerd any sooner than I had to. We were in Research Methods, and the topic of the night was epistemology. In plain English, epistemology is the study of how we make meaning from the world around us, or in my prof’s words that night, “how we know what we know”. We had three guest speakers–advanced PhD students who were to share how they saw the world through each of the main epistemological schools. Some readers will likely not believe this particular coincidence, so I have taken the liberty of providing an audio snippet complete with snapshot of my notes below. Yes, the quiet gasp when our first speaker announced the name of the poem was from me, though I rapidly roped my inner ten-year old in and struggled to shove her back in the black box where (at the time) I knew she damn well belonged–far away from my adult professional self.
Our speaker for subjectivism shared the old poem of the Elephant and its Parts as a handy metaphor for how, according to subjectivists, people’s meanings often vary based on their perspectives and limitations. I fought to hold a straight face. I was an ADULT Damn It, a serious-minded academic librarian who had long set aside such childish things, and a new PhD student, no less. Rather than attentively listening to a handy refresher on philosophical issues that I hadn’t considered deeply since my sophomore year abroad, I was trying not to let my face show that biggest meaning I was making at that moment involved freaking Neighborhood Nuclear Superiority!
As we walked out of class, I allowed myself a quiet smile. While I definitely appreciated the seemingly good omen and it brought back fond memories of old adventures and old friends, I figured it was probably the last time I would think of Nez for the rest of my PhD coursework. I mean, it was 2011. The man was never exactly a road warrior, hadn’t put out anything in a good 5 years, and was pushing 70 to boot. He barely even posted to Facebook anymore. What in heaven’s name could possibly draw Michael Nesmith out of retirement at this late date?
City Winery, November 23, 2013
As some of you know, I should NOT have been sitting there, enjoying a scrummy braised pork belly alongside my husband before the show. From the moment I saw the tentative tour dates, I knew that the tour was going to almost entirely overlap with my qualifying exams—a three-week monster of a take-home test that would determine whether I passed the course work portion of the PhD and would be allowed to propose a dissertation project. So I privately went through all the stages of fangirl mourning. I tried to set an example of maturity for others in a similar boat. I conducted myself with quiet dignity and grace in public and private.
But then…Nez added a second Chicago date the weekend AFTER Quals—an easy 90 minute flight from Chez Fandom Lenses.
And finally, in the midst of a chaotic server crash that sent a small-but-noisy contingent of Nezheads into nearly Fallon-esque (Fallonian?) levels of entitled meltdown… somehow I made the right click at the right moment and…
Well, OK, it looked a bit more like this when I slipped it on my wrist,
But I still whooped around singing like Charlie Bucket on a sugar high when I saw the order confirmation pop on my screen. I felt a little of that thrill again as the house lights dimmed, and Boh, Chris, Paul, and Joe saddled up for a most unexpected night of concert joy.
(Note: Much as I did with the Tulsa Show in referring folks to my Cleveland Review where appropriate, see my coverage of last spring in Ferndale for more detail on areas where the set list overlapped. Also, I didn’t take any pictures this time because I was somewhat further back than in Ferndale, and I wanted to just immerse myself in the evening rather than getting a bunch of likely-mediocre iPhone snaps from the 5th table back. This artsy pic is courtesy of Siamesemeg on Tumblr, but I think you can see my head just to the left of Nez.)
First, I have to say the following:
ZOMG BOH COOPER!!!!!
Now, I definitely sang Boh’s praises in my Ferndale review, but frankly I had been too gobsmacked by Chris Scruggs’ talent and overall adorableness to pay as much attention as I should have to Boh. This was a grievous oversight, as you will soon see.
After entering to rousing applause and introducing the band, Nez took us into the opening triptych, set in the 1880s and also the trio of songs that kicked off Magnetic South. Calico Girlfriend was performed very like the original (with the addition of cute hoofbeats thanks to 21st century sound effects). Then we transitioned into Nine Times Blue, which unexpectedly broke my brain in a good way. This was excellently sung by Nez, one of the most evocative vocal performances of the night, actually. Just like The Door into Summer back in August, Nez INHABITS this tune at a core level. There was some serious emotional content here, to swipe a phrase from Bruce Lee. But before I could even pick my jaw off the floor Paul’s urgent (and not electronic! Yay!) drumming was speeding us down the tracks with Little Red Rider–Again, this was very album-esque, with some excellent steel work from Chris on the bridge.
After some bitching about the 14 degree weather…(It was annoying, and killed about 75% of our planned strolling and sightseeing), we settled into Propinquity. And then Boh took his solo, and my jaw hit the ground. Again. I was so mind blown back in Ferndale between my waning cold and the electric ambiance and the unbearable cuteness of Scruggs (or as Kevin put it afterward, “the Buddy Holly guy”) that I hadn’t fully comprehended just how awesome Boh’s keyboarding was till this show. I made a note to share the live CD with my brother Daniel when it arrived.
After the delightful Tomorrow and Me (one of the many tunes I discovered initially from the first solo Nez album I ever owned, a bootlegged cassette tape of Live at the Britt I scored in ’96 when I was a brand new Nezhead stuck on the far side of the Atlantic in the pre-e-commerce days), Nez started talking a bit about his writing process. I grinned and leaned forward. I’d already decided that if I had an opening during our conversation I was going to ask him about that very thing, thanks to being inspired by my friend Janet’s lovely essay on the creative process as related to HER conversation with Nez in Dallas. In any case, according to Nez, his process isn’t that fancy–his songs tend to “show up at the door” in something close to their final versions. I was really a bit surprised when he said that–for some reason I’d always envisioned him laboring intensely over a hot thesaurus, guitar in hand.
I mostly write prose (fiction and non), NOT poetry or (yeah right) music like Nez. However, my flashes of insight usually only include a line or a snippet of dialogue or (worst of all) a vague premise. I have to make the damn thing work from there on my own, with the occasional spurt of insight or flow to break up my more craftsman-like toiling. Now, in fairness, Gazpacho, Grief, and Gratitude was delivered in the manner Nez described (actually, right after I read the first “But it’s the not the Monkees without Davy!!!!” comment on Nez’s facebook wall, Anissa’s ghost flung a near-final draft through my home office window attached to a brick), and I’ve had other rare occasions of Complete Work Delivery like that. However, 99% of the time my muse tends to reward me for hard work rather than tackling me while I’m minding my own business. Even when ideas show up at the door, they’re usually closer to toddlers in need of toilet training than full-grown works (ask my beta readers on “It was Easy then to Know what was Fair” or the editorial staff at a journal where I have an article currently in review. In addition, I have to be within hearing range of the doorbell (i.e. writing) on a regular basis or my muse takes me off the delivery route. So…I wondered, does Nez have some sort of daily routine to make sure he stays close enough to the door? If so, what’s it like? As he started into the opening for Different Drum, I smiled. If I got a chance to ask a question, I now knew exactly what it would be.
Different Drum featured some of Chris’s best mandolin work of the night. I discovered after the show that I have GOT to work on Kevin’s Nez Knowledge, as he hadn’t realized that song was one of his! Some of Shelly’s Blues seemed to have been reworked since Ferndale and was more overtly country, with great keyboard work from Boh again. By the end of this number the crowd really seemed to be getting into the groove–just in time for Joanne and Silver Moon. After some exceedingly deserved groans at a bit of word choice in the intro description–“Grassy Knoll”, Nez? Really?! 😉 –We kicked off into some of the highest notes of the evening. I have to tell you, I was a smidge nervous for Nez as he started this pair of songs. It’s probably not anything who somebody who hadn’t seen the man three times live in the past year would have noticed, but up to that point Nez had sounded a little like he was babying his voice a bit, and I was a little worried the aforementioned 14 degree weather might be effecting his pipes. Of course, I needn’t have been concerned–the seasoned pro was simply pacing himself for the more vocally demanding second half of the show, and proved it by nailing both songs. 🙂 May I be able to hit those notes when I’m a month shy of 71. Good thing his voice was in full flourish too, because as it was Boh and Chris nearly stole Silver Moon out from under Nez with steel (drums, via the keyboard) and steel (guitar) solos respectively.
The crowd had seemed a bit slow to warm up (of course I’m comparing this to three of the most near-orgasmic responses I’ve ever seen from any audience for any act), but by the time we made the turn into Joanne and Silver Moon, everybody in the hall was on board for the ride. I even saw our waiter take a discreet break at a couple of points to lean against the wall and watch a few minutes of the proceedings. The excitement continued to build through Rio and Casablanca Moonlight, as did the Boh and Chris show, with two lovely solos during Rio. Casablanca Moonlight was the first song of the night that I’d say was definitively better than Ferndale–most everything else that had been in both sets was too close to call. This pair of songs got some of the longest applause of the night, and it was obvious that everybody was fully invested now. That was good timing, for our next movie of the mind was ready to roll.
Yellow Butterfly was THE BEST STORY OF THE NIGHT. Slightly sad as I was that I Am Not That hadn’t made the cut (it’s tied into a nasty breakup I had while I was in Scotland in ’97 and other personal stuff), I still had been looking forward to this number a great deal, and was not disappointed. I loved Boh’s improvisations on the keys, which reminded me a bit of the kind of noodling Daniel did sometimes when we both still lived at home and he was in a jazzy mood. I reminded myself AGAIN to get a copy of the show for my brother. In addition to Boh, Chris’s steel sounded downright unearthly, in the best possible way. Kinda like the flight of a cosmic butterfly. 🙂
The set list transitioned organically to the similarly astral Light and Rays. My Ferndale enthusing still applies. Light also sparkles much more brightly in this setting than on the album/Elephant Parts. 😉 Finally, not to be a broken record, but Oh My God, Boh. AGAIN. Especially the transition from Light into Rays.
Once we all recovered from THAT trip to low earth orbit, it was time for Cruisin’, Dance (Not Ramona, hon…), and Tonight. Boh got the audience going with apropos head banging gestures, and the crowd responded enthusiastically. Paul finally got a nice long stretch in which to show off in this batch of 3 tunes, and he dotted tasty fills throughout this movie. Chris had a particular barn-burner of a solo during Dance, and then Boh got in the action with a tasty intro to Tonight. Approximately 70% of the ladies in the front section of the audience (your author included) got going with the appropriate hand gestures. I think we might have distracted Nez from the lyrics a tad toward the end. Oops 😉 And with barely a stop for a breath and a story, Nez growled and snarled his way through Grand Ennui and the end of the main set, with Chris shredding away on his guitar… By this point Kevin was utterly in the moment and loving every bit of it. Again I had worried whether he’d get into the show–again I didn’t need to. 🙂 Paul brought us to the end with a thundering flourish, and the hall was on its feet. Any yuppie reserve that had been present during the opening 15 minutes or so of the evening was LONG gone.
After about 45 seconds we were rewarded with an encore. Nez gave a plug for Videoranch and the live album (GO FORTH AND ORDER NOW), then Rising in Love, which featured more great keyboards from Boh. Finally, we had the excellent closer Listen to the Band, done rockabilly style as found on Loose Salute. One note of continuity that will become important later in the evening–Chris’s guitar unplugged from the amp at the crucial instant when he stood up to take his solo, but he pantomimed admirably at the moment of FUBAR. As we all died laughing (including some on stage, I later learned), a roadie scampered out to plug him back in. On take 2 Chris scorched the acoustic discs made from wine corks that were dangling from the ceiling. As is sadly often the case for bassists, Joe Chemay hadn’t had many good spotlight moments all evening, but he rocked his solo hard enough that I image my sister Mich felt a tingle in Cleveland. Nez had utterly abandoned anything even vaguely resembling the original lyrics by this point in the proceedings and so we were all just rocking out to Paul’s drum solo–his best of the night in the estimation of this 10th grade percussion dropout. 😉 and then, as Nez said, that was all she wrote.
Except for the Conversation Reception of course… But that’s another story that shall be told another time, as this review got rather long.
*Observes the Tumblr Nezheads approaching with pitchforks and torches*
*Tumblr Nezheads grumble, drop their weapons, walk away*
It’ll be worth the wait. I promise. If nothing else you’ll get to read about what happened when I gave the man this. And I’ll tell you the story of submitting my qualifying exam too.