I first discovered Harry Nilsson as the guy who sang that song from Midnight Cowboy. In fact, I just assumed he had written “Everybody’s Talkin'” for many years. Sorry Fred Neil. It’s a great frickin’ song.
Then Harry’s hits entered my brain. I loved his voice and style. But that was about it. I knew very little about the man.
Thanks to my good friend Mr. Rich for hooking me into Nilsson Schmilsson, Nilsson Sings Newman (For those who have any doubt as to Randy Newman’s genius, this is a must), Personal Best: The Harry Nilsson Anthology and most recently telling me I had to watch Who is Harry Nilsson and Why Is Everyone Talking About Him? This absolutely brilliant documentary opened my eyes to the man, his music, the artistic process and the sad and all too clear end of a path to self-destruction.
If you know Harry and his music, it will be a revelation to his pure genius. If you don’t, this film will have you running to the record store… or typing your way there! After all, John Lennon named him his favorite American artist and Paul McCartney named Nilsson as his favorite American group. Heady and life-changing praise.
Harry Nilsson – Nilsson Schmilsson
His voice was like no other. His range was amazing. From low to high without all the current histrionics and fifty-note bends in a single minute. It was pure. His songwriting was amazingly simple, powerful and so melodic. But it was also sneaky in its depth and brave understanding of the human spirit.
This is considered his classic. The story after this is sad and frustrating. But genius is what genius is. The line between this and insanity and even no or low self esteem is crazy thin. I had no idea how tortured he was. I did not know about his history, and while his songs stand on their own, knowing where he came from gives a far deeper and more complete appreciation of the music. It is like Picasso’s Guernica. You can look at the painting simply for the art it is, and see many things in it. But knowing where the inspiration came from and the history behind it, puts it on another, deeper level. The personal connection and identification is never lost, but suddenly stories and visions come to life and leap off the canvas.
Such is the same with music. There are times when I will simply listen to a song and am swept up in the imagery or story… and other times when I am suddenly aware of the artist and the process and reasons for its creation. Both listenings are equally vital and pleasurable, but sometimes knowing where something came from can be a distraction… or perhaps just another, different level of awareness. Sometimes when a Lennon or Harrison or Chapin song comes on the radio, I will start crying… for the men and for the loss. That is what art does. That is its power… and of course, the power and significance of the artist.
Art is constantly changing in our minds… it is an evolving thing. Perspectives change with age… as we see ourselves and the world around us. That is what makes us human, and what makes art and the music so important and vital.
Do you hear that school boards??? Governments?
Cultural exchange is the key to understanding other cultures AND people. And this is the key to peace and being human!
This album is amazing and a great place to start, but his work is full of equally special moments. I cannot recommend both this and the documentary enough.
So that is why I am talking about Harry Nilsson!!!