Before The Monkees‘ star Mike Nesmith died in 2021, he seemed to have a full circle moment with the group and their fans. Though he referred to some of their lyrics as “pedestrian” late in his life, singing their debut single, “Last Train to Clarksville,” brought him to tears.
Read on to learn more about the song and how it filled Nesmith “deep with emotion” before his death.
‘Last Train to Clarksville’ had a hidden message
The Monkees’ first single, “Last Train to Clarksville,” was released in August of 1966, just before their television series debuted. Despite a hidden message about the costs of war, the catchy tune achieved immediate popularity and climbed to number one (per Rhino).
“Frankly, it’s an anti-war song,” Micky Dolenz told Rolling Stone. “It’s about a guy going to Clarksville, Tennessee, which is an army base if I’m not mistaken.”
He added, “He’s obviously been drafted and he says to his girlfriend, ‘I don’t know if I’m ever coming home.'”
Mike Nesmith got ‘deep with emotion’ singing ‘Last Train to Clarksville’
“People unjustly kicked us in the nuts over and over because they thought of it as vapid or whatever word you want to use there to indicate no artistic return,” he said. “But it is not.”
He referred to some of their lyrics as “pedestrian,” but the interviewer noted he stopped himself after that.
“I started off listening to my great aunt’s record collection,” Nesmith went on. “One record she had was the Mills Brothers’ ‘Till Then.’ The lyrics go, ‘Someday I know I’ll be back again/Please wait till then.’”
“It recently dawned on me that it was ‘Last Train to Clarksville,’” he shared, singing, “And I don’t know if I’m ever coming home ….”
The writer noted that Nesmith became teary-eyed and explained, “When I start to sing it, I get deep with emotion, and all choked up,” adding, “I think, ‘Wait a minute? Are we singing the same song?’”
Mike Nesmith said being a Monkee was a point on his ‘forever timeline’
In the decades after the television series ended, Nesmith confessed that finding value in his work with The Monkees as a band wasn’t always easy. But as he neared the end of his life and hit the road with Dolenz, he embraced what their music meant to their fans.
Nesmith told Rolling Stone his time as a Monkee “was a point on the forever timeline” and added, “And that’s not a burden to me at all. It’s been a dream job.”
“I’m never going to quit the Monkees, no more than Paul McCartney will quit the Beatles,” he offered. “It’s just not in the cards.”