Thursday, October 29, 2015

Personal Favorites #6 - Michael Nesmith's Nevada Fighter by Peter Reum

Michael Nesmith is an artist who has always followed his intuitive expression, not necessarily bound by the demands of his fans or the expectations that his listeners present. His post Monkees music has always knocked me out. I first heard his solo albums while looking for some Country Rock that sounded natural, like the Western genre I listened to as a kid. There were so many people from Los Angeles making money from Country Rock in the late Sixties and early Seventies that I heard and thought to myself "nope, that's not what I want to hear..." I walked into my favorite record store on an afternoon break from the rigors of the Colorado College block system and they had Nevada Fighter on the store turntable. I happened to first hear Michael's composition "Propinquity," and the sheer nakedness of the tune, it's emotional honesty, caught my attention. You see, in my mind, the best Country Rock resonated with the type of fingernails on a chalkboard honesty that Propinquity expressed. Every human being has had a friend who did not fit the idea of life partnership, but rather was a friend in the best sense of the word. The idea of knowing someone as a deeply trusted friend without seeing the friendship as a romantic partnership resonates with an honesty that is straight and true. That it may turn romantic is just as equally true.

The Nevada Fighter album was new, fresh, and had that Western sound that I had grown up hearing. The opening track, "Grand Ennui" is a whimsical and true accounting of life in the music business probably derived from his years with The Monkees. Five years before Hotel California, Nesmith captured the phoniness of the LA music scene and the accompanying emptiness an artist feels when he or she has lost direction. The recurring theme of losing your soul in the music business, then fighting to regain it, is an archetype that every artist seems to struggle with. Perhaps this is why Michael formed Pacific Arts, his own label, to release his recordings.

After Propinquity, Here I Am reinforces the theme of love found. The song is a gentle acoustic tune and the song's protagonist humbly approaches his long time love, apologizing for his part in being self-centered in their life together. The couple has grown older and there is scar tissue. The song's singer asks his partner to "let me offer what I've taken back to you, here I am." For me this song eloquently captures the honesty of Western music as I remember it.

Track 4, Only Bound, is a tune in waltz time, one which a couple would slow dance to at the Legion Hall or the VFW. The song paints a picture of a man who came back from a war and married his sweetheart, only to fall into his horrible war memories, then drowning them in an alcoholic haze. When facing the sunset of his life, the singer realizes that he has selfishly focused on his memories, then sees his partner who has faithfully stood by him, emotionally withered, yet still trying to hang in their relationship. He then turns and realizes he has consumed his partner's soul while focused on his own painful memories.

The title track, Nevada Fighter, closes the first side of the album. This tune exemplifies what a well played Country Rock song should sound like. For some reason, this song reminds me of a country bar, miles from anywhere. The song's narrator walks into the bar, pockets bulging with his share of the annual sale of cattle (or sheep), ready to party, only to find that no one cares to share his money or his company. The person singing could just as well be a guy who has been working on atomic weapons testing or some other isolated, lonely occupation.

Texas Morning, the next tune, is a slice of life song, the singer describes an early morning coffee shop encounter. The singer has been let down easy by a female friend who perhaps did not like the obsessive approach to love the singer has taken. She told him she was going to Texas, being careful to not be specific, promising she would see the singer when she returns, which she has no intention of doing.The tune is true Country Rock, lyrically and instrumentally. The singer's creepy behavior is noticed by the waitress, cook, and store patrons. Eventually they chalk his searching as odd, labeling the singer as "probably a California bum."

Original Artwork for Nevada Fighter Album

If you as listener are beginning to see a song cycle, you might be on the right track. The loneliness of finally realizing that he might have been lied to by his lover is sorrowful. As in Elvis's Kentucky Rain, the desperation of trying to find his lost love has made the song's singer begin to feel the meaning of his life has gone. There is no song more lonely than Tumbling Tumbleweeds. This singer has entered a prolonged time of trying to grieve his way out of the loss of the love of his life. There can be no comfort here, just desolation.

I Looked Away, track 8, is at once a reflection on the part of the singer, summarizing for his own understanding of how the relationship ended. This retelling of the story is a coping strategy to help a broken man begin to pick himself up, dust himself off, and release the woman he loves to be free, following her own path of life. The songwriter tells himself that he will always love this person, and that he will let her go.

Harry Nilsson's Rainmaker, track 9, uses rain as a metaphor for the desolation, anger, and grief he felt so deeply. Kansas is the location of the story, but it could be anywhere. Tears flow, harder than ever before. Many Country listeners have told me that the pedal steel guitar is, if played the right way, the most important instrument in Country Music for expressing the utter and complete sadness that Country (and therefore, Country Rock music) has to express a broken heart. The album's last tune, Rene, exemplifies this truth. Red Rhodes spills sorrow 💔, closing this album as eloquently as Caroline No from Pet Sounds.

That the Nevada Fighter album has been misunderstood is sad. It is a song cycle about the complete devastation that the end of a relationship brings. In that light, it equals any Country Rock or Country album ever recorded for it's emotional downhill run into feeling completely and utterly lost.

Copyright 2015 by Peter Reum - all rights reserved