“All glory is fleeting.”
I love the work of Harry Nilsson. And sometimes I think I am the only one who still does.
Harry Nilsson was a singer/songwriter who, at one point in the early 1970s, was one of the most popular musicians in America. He sang the award-winning theme for Midnight Cowboy, The Beatles named him as their favorite artist, he co-wrote and co created the classic animated special The Point, starred in a vampire movie, and he helped “discover” Randy Newman… among other things (such as Keith Moon and Mama Cass both dying in his flat).
And yet, no one plays Harry Nilsson songs on the radio anymore – even classic rock stations avoid/ignore his catalog, except for the occasional play of his song “Coconut.” What happened?
I’ve already covered/reviewed the documentary “Who is Harry Nilsson (and Why is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)? and that film provides several insights around his life work and eventual obscurity… but a new biography tells the story of Nilsson’s life far better than a two-hour film could. Titled Nilsson: The Life of a Singer-Songwriter (by Alyn Shipton), it is a great read, and tells the story of Harry, warts and all. His passion, talent, and (sometimes) arrogance is in plain view, and for a fan like me it is in equal measure intriguing and saddening.
His heavy drinking (usually with friend John Lennon) and independent streak (he rejected putting “hit singles” on his later concept albums, and thus the albums did not sell well) explain a lot, and his eventual separation from RCA records also contributed to his fading from the spotlight.
But the work is still there, and RCA recently released a comprehensive box set of all his albums for that album (a set I happily own). And while I often get a quizzical expression when I sing his praises to some of my younger friends, once I play a couple of songs… they get it, and sometimes become fans themselves.
So I am an “evangelist” for Harry, and as part of that I created a Windows 10 app celebrating the life of the man – you can find it here, and I hope you like it (and Harry’s work) as much as I do.