Davy Jones’ premature death last month was only the most recent (and visceral) in a long line of Monkee tragedies. Journalists have done their best to respect the late entertainer, shoring up The Monkees’ legacy by mentioning their influence on such contemporary attempts to manufacture prefab chart-toppers as American Idol and The Voice. And they’re not wrong. The Monkees do represent one of the more crass meetings of commerce and art in the TV-era. But the larger tragedy is that most people think that’s all they were.

The singles speak for themselves: “Last Train to Clarksville” “Valleri” “Listen to the Band” “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and, of course, “Daydream Believer” are as good and authentically joyful as any pop music ever produced. And 100 years from now, one wonders how much the context will matter… Plus, as a diehard Elvis fan, I’m certainly not going to start towing the indie line and holding non-songwriter’s singing talents against them now.

The irony, of course, is that The Monkees actually had a world-class songwriter in their midst, Mr. Michael Nesmith (the tall one with the funny hat). Nesmith has been called the true progenitor of ‘country-rock’, and I’m inclined to agree. That is, as wonderful as Gram Parsons may be, he’s simply the sexier version of the real thing, inadvertent evidence of the cognitive dissonance involved in giving a Monkee credit for something so unabashedly genuine. I don’t expect to convince anyone on that point, and I’m not sure it’s ultimately of any great importance. Suffice it to say, Nesmith’s songs, many of which went unreleased (tragically so!), are all fantastic; they comprise one of the 60s great ‘lost’ albums. This is the Nazareth Principle at work in a big way.

Which brings me to “St. Matthew”, one of Nesmith’s most brilliant recordings with his original band, put to tape in 1968 without seeing the light of day until the mid-80s. The title hooked me immediately–not to mention all the, um, hooks in the song–but then I stumbled upon a quote from Mike about the song, which officially rocketed it into that small but glorious club known as The All-Time Greatest Mockingbird Finds.

“It’s a song about Bob Dylan,” says Nesmith. “The lyrics ‘steal’ and ‘kneal’ are a reference to Dylan’s ‘She Belongs To Me.’ There’s a line in it, ‘You will start out standing, proud to steal her anything she needs/You will wind up peeking through a keyhole down upon your knees.’ The she is the St. Matthew I’m referring to, as it pertains to the biblical sense of the Holy Ghost as the central character in the Dylan song. I’ve often thought the song was prescient about his born-again phase. I could see that he was wandering into the areas of biblical representations of the Holy Ghost, and I was convinced at the time that he did not know he was doing that. In other words, I could see where the ideas were flowing from. It was interesting to me, but I didn’t ever expect anyone to understand it or try and communicate anything with it–it was just a little note that I wrote to myself in a way.”

To quote Elaine Benes, ‘I am speechless. I am without speech.’ Of course, all that would only be a passing curiosity, were the song itself not such a grand slam:

She walks around on brass rings that never touch her feet,
She speaks in conversations that never are complete,
And looking over past things that she has never done,
She calls herself St. Matthew when she is on the run.

She stoops down to gather partly-shattered men,
And knows that when it’s over, it will start again,
Both the times she smiled, it was a portrait of the son,
She calls herself St. Matthew when she is on the run.

Part of it is loneliness and knowing how to steal,
But, most of it is weariness from standing up, trying not to kneel.

She discovered three new ways that she could help the dead,
Sometimes she must raise her hand to tell you what she said,
Then standing in a landslide she suddenly becomes
The girl that’s named St. Matthew when she is on the run.

Part of it is loneliness and knowing how to steal,
But, most of it is weariness from standing up, trying not to kneel.