The unexpected entrepreneur

Monkee iconoclast Michael Nesmith was the original inventor of MTV. Now he's moved on to online worlds.
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Vicci Martinez rocking a Seattle Secret Show at the College Club on Lake Union.

Monkee iconoclast Michael Nesmith was the original inventor of MTV. Now he's moved on to online worlds.

Occasional Monkee Michael Nesmith was awarded a patent on Christmas Day for a process that incorporates live video into a virtual environment. Called VR3D, it has the potential to increase the reality quotient of virtual worlds, bumping up interaction and integration a notch or two.

“This allows the video images, including people, to appear seamlessly in the virtual world — as if they are a part of it," Nesmith explained in an email. "And for the virtual audience to see and talk to the video image live and in real time — and for the live video image/person to respond live and in real time with them.”

“My purpose for it is social and cultural — but anywhere there is a live gathering is a candidate for replicating inworld — a lecture, teaching, demonstrations, performances, speeches, all can work inworld by this process.”

Nesmith was the iconoclastic Monkee. He sat out most of the reunion projects, including the Dolenz-Tork-Jones swan song in  2011. After Jones died one year ago, he hooked up with his former bandmates and went out again, playing many of the same songs. He denied the fans the full scale reunion that would have made their decade.

The Davy Jones version played Tacoma in June 2011, while the twelve-date tour with Nesmith only got as close as Cupertino. A solo tour begins next month, including a March 30 appearance at the Neptune Theater in Seattle.

Nesmith’s entrepreneurship is hereditary. His mother invented Liquid Paper when he was a teenager. He came up with the idea for MTV in the late 1970s and ran a prototype for a while before determining that he didn’t have the financial assets to make it work. He sold the idea to Time-Warner, which then carried the ball to the finish line, such as it is.

His path for VR3D is a bit different. He may not have anything to do with its commercial development or administration, but anyone who uses it commercially will need to pay a licensing fee.

The technology works, he said, but is not yet in use.

“VR3D was built as a virtual world to contain this technology and we have no scheduled programming for the live performance tech at present,” he wrote.

“I have no idea what I will do with the patent – if anything. That may not be my chapter to write, but if it is then I don’t see it yet.”

Artists such as Paul Simon and Neil Young have commented about the random aspect of songwriting: A great song, they say, just “appears” and they need to write it down before it gets away. Nesmith applies the same yardstick to his technology brainstorms, saying he was just in the right place at the right time.

“Like MTV, the VR3D patent was a gift to me. It was another stranger that appeared at the door long ago that I let in and fed and played with, protected and helped,” he wrote.

“If the invention of something is the creation of something, then I had nothing to do with MTV any more than my involvement with the now patented processes of VR3D.

But if invention is drawing a circle around naturally converging ideas, bringing them into the inner chamber of one’s thought, clothing, feeding, encouraging and protecting them, then I did invent it. It’s a question of perspective.”

Nesmith writes that he remembered when he had the idea for MTV.

“It is not the MTV that exists now. It was the late seventies and there was nothing like MTV anywhere on the communications landscape. Like most ideas that pop into my thinking, I had nothing to do with it. 

"The choices I seem to have at such a time are to accept or reject the notions that show up at mind’s door. When MTV appeared, I recognized a friend and a positive force. I let it in, worked with it a while, helped shape and build its early expressions, and then I left it to its own devices.

“I made a little money from it, but not much. I had a lot of fun. I still have the residuals of the joy it brought me.”

There are several Michael Nesmith fan pages on Facebook, though it takes a little doing to find the official one. His posts are a bit like Brigadoon, popping up on my timeline then disappearing. Nesmith uses Facebook like nobody else, posting long, often profound pieces and then deleting them a few days later. He once explained why he did this, but when I attempted to refer to that post it was gone.

In a Facebook post commemorating the patent, which I managed to copy before it disappeared, Nesmith said he was thrilled about the timing. After all, what do you give a Monkee for Christmas?

“I didn’t know the Fed was even open on Christmas Day,” he wrote. “It made me smile. The notion of life handing me a patent on Christmas — in the middle of the gift-giving holidays — was delightful.” 

If you go: Michael Nesmith at the Neptune Theatre, Saturday, March 30, 8 p.m. Buy tickets.


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