Michael Nesmith, The Long Sandy Hair of Neftoon Zamora [audio version, read by the author] (Pacific Arts Corporation, 2002)

Neftoon Zamora was legendary. He was part Zuni, part Martian and part Delta blues player. He hailed from the Great Spirit, or from Mars, or from somewhere in the back country of Mississippi... thousands of years ago. He was over six feet tall, strong, handsome, with long sand-colored hair which hung to his waist. The songs that he sang impacted the listener with a power, almost hypnotic, that went beyond mere music and lyric. Whatever impression Robert Johnson, or Muddy, or Wolf made when you first heard them... the songs of Neftoon Zamora were more terrifying in their imagery, more haunting in sound, more involving than all of them combined! So when Nez (ex-tv star, musician and businessman) received a tape of the lost recordings of Neftoon Zamora, he set out on a trip the likes of which has not been reported since Ulysses.

The Long Sandy Hair of Neftoon Zamora was first published 1998, but I read the first six chapters online in 1997. I had admired Michael Nesmith for many years, thinking him to be the most talented of the Monkees, possibly the father of country-rock music as well, and the developer of the rock video as we know it. And his mother invented Liquid Paper! This novel is not his first attempt at prose -- he had previously released two book and record sets, which attempted to marry music with the reading experience. The Prison and The Garden were only partially successful. The act of reading, for me, requires focus, and so does the act of listening... so to combine the two meant that I was able to give only partial attention to each. It was frustrating.

This novel, on the other hand, was captivating, a piece of magic realism which has been compared to the work of Gabriel Garcia-Marquez or Lewis Carroll. In my mind it cried out to be read aloud, so beautiful were many of the long descriptive passages! So I did; I read aloud to my wife (an exercise she enjoys), and when she was not available I read aloud to myself. Now, Michael Nesmith will read his novel aloud to you in the privacy of your own living-room. This new 6-CD set presents the entire novel, unabridged, with sound effects and music. It is delightful.

I've been listening to this story in the car since I received my copy last week. Nesmith's soft Texas drawl is warm and soothing. His descriptions of the New Mexico landscape paint indelible pictures in your mind as you drive. You feel yourself lifted into this "Land of Enchantment" (the motto on New Mexico license plates). His words allow you to visualize the rocks and rills, the sky, the rivers, the sunsets, the clouds, the environment in which the action of the novel takes place. When he moves from indoors to outdoors, a sound effect assists in the illusion, traffic noise or a bird's squawk. When Nez (he has given his narrator his own nickname) listens to the tape of Neffie's blues tunes, Nesmith (the author/musician) has provided a scratchy recording of two of the songs which sounds authentically old, and authentically bluesy.

Describing sounds is another area where Nesmith shines. The chapter about the dance and the blues band is filled with technical information about stacked amps and cabling, and the true music lover's tone of reverence for the music which issued forth from all that equipment. It is a remarkable piece of writing. His tales of the developing love between himself and Neffie (an affectionate nickname for Mr./Ms. Zamora) range from pastoral to torid. Neftoon Zamora transcends gender in this magical novel; he is at first a man, then she is a woman, now young, then old, always beautiful, powerful and magnificent with that long sandy hair that is her/his trademark. This is a conceit that is far easier to accept in the CD version than it was in the reading, for some reason. As I listened to Nez's warm south-western voice I immediately understood which Neffie was in front of him.

I have listened to other writers read their work. Some are wonderful to listen to. Michael Ondaatje captivates the listener; Margaret Atwood's nasal voice, on the other hand, is simply annoying. Michael Nesmith has done a remarkable job of transforming this work from ink on paper to a living, breathing world. When asked, "What is this book about?" Nesmith answered thus, "In each person, there is a place where intelligence, truth and beauty reside. It is not a mystical or remote place. It is a place we find when we hear a song that may bring tears to our eyes, or perhaps, when we sit under a tree taking in the beauty of the day. This novel is about Nez's search for the search for that resonant spot in his own life and learning how to distinguish its reality from false moments. The search brings him in contact with Neftoon Zamora and the myths that surround her." Whew!

On six CDs you will hear this whole story. You will hear about a place where intelligence, truth and beauty reside. It may be inside your head, or inside your car, but for awhile, it will seem like it is not a remote, mystical place... but someplace close, where that resonant spot comes within your grasp... if only for a moment. Don't miss this opportunity.

[David Kidney]

The Video Ranch is Michael Nesmith's Web site.