You know what? Just watch the damn thing. The whole vulnerable, loose, joyous enchilada from Nez tentatively walking up the stairs to the stage with a massive grin on his face to Christian and Jonathan’s moving gestures and mouthed words of appreciation to us for supporting their dad before walking offstage (The video stopped before that point, but it happened. It was perhaps the most touching moment of the evening). Not kidding, you need to watch it all. THANK YOU JODI FOR CAPTURING IT. At the risk of seeming more woo-woo and new agey than I intend, I feel the need to note that this show fell on the autumnal equinox of 2018. Not sure why, but I’m rolling with the impulse. Once you’ve watched, keep reading.
(What follows is a Post-show free-association that is way more lightly edited than my usual essay, which seems kind of appropriate too)
How Do I describe the first time I saw him after his bypass…In the SAME TOWN as when he had to end the M&M tour…
There aren’t any words to…
Maybe I just go through the setlist like I usually do, could try that…But it was really more an evening of impressions and moments and tears and more talk of Phyllis than the man’s uttered in public in the last 50-some years TOTAL. This isn’t a show that calls for a checklist of musical moments like “wow I loved what Christian did during that tasty solo in Grand Ennui” or “Pete Finney is fucking amazing” or “NEZ WAS HITTING HIGH NOTES IN JOANNE 4 MONTHS AFTER HAVING HIS RIB CAGE CRACKED OPEN”, though all those statements are factually accurate.
You could start with the moment, right around the 2 minute mark, you knew he was Still Nez, when he shut down that twerp who thought it would be witty to yell out “Missed you at the Keswick”!
Yeah, that was pretty fucking awesome—his deadpan “thanks for sharing” certainly beats Peter’s “I remember my First Drink…” back in 2016 for Epic Heckler Comeback Award.
How about the Quaver in his voice during Nine Times Blue that you’d almost but never quite heard before? He always seems a bit vulnerable when he does that one, but Holy Shit. First of several times he wiped his eyes after a song. Gotta mention that.
But wait, don’t make it sound like it was all Maudlin and “Deep Thoughts after staring into the Existential Abyss last time I was in town”-ey! You gotta tell them about that HILARIOUS tale of the couple who went up to Nez to tell them how Joanne was so emblematic of their relationship (Um, had they LISTENED to the Lyrics?!).
You’ve got to tell them about how you will NEVER look at a jar of Jif Peanut Butter in the same way!
And you have to explain that those hilarious tales were emblematic of how his between song patter, though surely planned to a degree, was loose and chatty and the utter opposite of the tightly scripted literary jewels he presented verbatim before every Movies of the Mind number.
There was a joy and gratitude on that stage that I’d seen sporadically at shows since 2012, but never so nakedly open and out there. Yes, there were moments like this in Cleveland earlier this summer (which take on a new resonance now), but those were dim little twinkles of starlight compared to the supernova of feels last night.
There were the poignant, vulnerable moments, like when Nez sat back while the band played Rene, his mind obviously a million miles away, with his absent friend Red Rhodes. One of only 2 times I snapped a picture.
There were the moments when Nez talked lovingly of Christian and Jonathan (and their mom). His “Number One Son” and “Number Two Son” flanked him like an honor guard, and it was lovely seeing how their two very different onstage vibes somehow both took after aspects of their dad I’d seen in the past.
Speaking of Phyllis, Nez told a little tale before Some of Shelley’s Blues of how their marriage lasted so long because each would “grab the other by the ankles” on the way out the door. I suddenly mentally flipped the genders of the singer and subject of the song, and a different layer of meaning came to me about a song that I’ve always felt a wee bit ambivalent about.
But for me, I think the highlights of the show were the last two numbers. Rio is always a humdinger when done live, but the flight went somewhere else. Yes, it always goes airborne into the stars, but there was a new trajectory to the song I’d never heard before. The destination was less another world, and more the next world, if that makes sense. Once again he was wiping away what looked like tears after the song. So was I.
And then there was Thanx for the Ride. I’m gonna write out what he said before the song, but you really need to hear the tone in his voice to grok it (If you can grok it without having been in the room—honestly not sure on that one). Forward Jodi’s recording to about 5 minutes before the end, right after Rio, when he tells us the show is drawing to a close, and says “All good things must…be good things.” He wipes his face, and as the band starts the intro to Thanx for the Ride, Nez said:
“What a joyous thing to live the life I’ve led. How deeply grateful I am to all of you for making it possible. You will never know how it feels (and there he touches his chest, and I started losing it), but this is my way, of singing it to you.”
There’s something about my heart defect repair I’ve never told y’all about, though I hinted around the edges of it when my friend Kathy passed away the day before Davy’s church burnt down, right before Peter’s SSB Mini-tour. The oldest folks with my plumbing setup are about 15 years older than me, give or take, because the surgery that saved my life was invented in the early 60s. Some are fine, some are trucking along with some minor re-operations and pacemakers and such, some have had more serious problems with heart failure (including transplants in some cases). And some are no longer with us. But because there’s only 15 years of data ahead of me, I have no clue which category I will land in as time rolls on. That’s true of all of us, or course, but it’s always been harder for me to lie to myself about it than it seems to be for most people.
I’m working on losing weight and getting healthier (I’ve dumped about 40 pounds, but you can see from my picture with Circe I’ve still got some work to do). That’s why I’m in a rush. That’s why everything is so high stakes for me. That’s why I have to dent the universe and leave my campsite better than I found it and sooner rather than later. It’s why decline scares me WAY more than death—if I have my pick I’d rather check out in my sleep from some wacky arrythmia (Similar to how Anissa died) then linger from months or years of declining, painful, freakishly expensive congestive Heart Failure. I haven’t had the ‘pleasure’ of the experience since I was a toddler (and don’t remember a bit of it), but the reports I’ve heard make it sound every bit as nightmarish as Nez’s account.
But in this year since I became a leader and moved to Philadelphia and started on more changes at my new library in the span of two semesters than my last library saw in over a decade, the universe, my inner self, or a combination of the two has been teaching me that being Great is a hell of a lot less important than being Whole. To see Nez on stage, not just accepting the changes and challenges the last few months have brought but even celebrating them—well, it was a powerful lesson. Nez talked a lot last night of what we’d given him. Christian and Circe talked on the podcast and again last night after the show of how healing this tour has been for Nez. But last night gave us—gave ME—some healing too. I wonder if I’ve been a little too scared of physical weakness and decline. I wonder if I’ve been underestimating the gifts someone can give to the world in their later years. It’s a different energy than defiantly Mooging the Nightly into the Abyss in 2012, or the last time I saw Nez solo, flying around the stage with Music of the Mind at the 2014 convention, at what I thought would be my last monkees-related event but turned out to be mere prelude to the day a month later when I heard about a new podcast, I messaged some dude named Ken who had put the thing together, and he promptly changed my life in ways I am still attempting to comprehend.
Shit, I’m rambling. Well, if Nez was allowed last night, I’m gonna roll with it too. Where was I going? Ah yes, Energy.
I can’t compare and contrast to the Troubadour because although I love the live album, I wasn’t there. I can only compare and contrast to the surprising large number of other times I’ve stood or sat in front of Nez as he performed live. But the lesson I learned this time was quite simple. Sometimes the parts of yourself that seem the most tender and scary, can also be the most powerful of them all. And maybe the end isn’t a failure of will or body or worthiness. Maybe it’s just a moment to say thanks for the ride, and use the music to fly on to a new destination.
But for now, all good things must…be good things. If more good things come, I’ll share them here, and on Zilch.