Michael Nesmith’s Mother of an Invention
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 — 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,” Nesmith said in an email message.
“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’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 so 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, how a great song just “appears” and they need to write it down before it gets away. Nesmith applies the same yardstick to his technology ideas, saying that 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 anymore 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, it takes a little doing to find the official version. It’s a bit like Brigadoon, it pops up on my timeline when he posts something than disappears. He 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 , if it is.” 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.”
TOP: Nesmith channels Frank Zappa and vice versa. BOTTOM: A recent Nesmith publicity shot.
3-21 The Franklin Theater, Franklin TN/ 3-24 Canyon Club – Agoura Hills CA/3-26 Rio Theater – Santa Cruz CA / 3-27 Palace of Fine Arts -San Francisco CA/ 3-29 Aladdin Theater- Portland OR /3-30 Neptune Theater – Seattle WA / 4-03 Boulder Theater – Boulder CO /4-05 Fitzgerald Theater – Minneapolis MN/ 4-06 Chicago IL/ 4-07 Magic Bag – Detroit MI /4-09 Carnegie Music Hall of Homestead – Munhall, PA / 4-11 Iron Horse Northampton, MA / 4-12 Union County PAC – Rahway, NJ /4-13 Somerville Theater – Boston, MA / 4-15 World Cafe Live – Philadelphia, PA /4-16 Town Hall – New York, NY /4-17 Birchmere – Alexandria VA
Charlie Bermant has written about music since forever, and has collected the best of his interviews in A Serious Hobby, which is available here.