Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Who Is Harry Nilsson? (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him?)

I’m not sure how this Netflix Wii feature works, but it’s thoroughly entertaining.

I understand that not all of my Netflix queue movies will work as an immediate download-probably some licensing bullshit issues that I don’t care about-but it seems that some titles appear randomly and then disappear, making the game console feature the equivalent of another movie channel, but with the benefit of getting to play the titles when I want.

And last night I wanted to watch the new movie about Harry Nilsson.


It’s one of those documentaries where you immediately want to go out and buy a bunch of Nilsson records, making mental notes of the song samples that come up so you know what to look for later.

For me it’s the song that sings a increasing tally of past years-1941, 1945, etc.-presumably an annual autobiography on events from Nilsson’s past.

And if you know anything about Harry, much of his past was surrounded by turmoil.

Who Is Harry Nilsson? (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?) is a detailed glimpse into this criminally neglected artist, providing a refresher course into the man’s repertoire while painting a fascinating narrative of the man’s personal speedbumps that continuously arise.

I was prepared for the drunkenness; Harry Nilsson was the first person I thought John Lennon might have been with when I first learned that he’d been shot. Nilsson’s exploits were well known to me, and I thought that would have been the only explanation why Lennon would have been shot in the first place.

But Lennon as it turned out had found comfort in family while Nilsson continued on his downward spiral.

The revelation to me is pre-Nilsson Schmilsson. It’s an era of his career that I’m not at all familiar with, aside from the obvious hits.

If I was prepared for the shenanigans resulting from his excess, I certainly wasn’t prepared for how beautiful his voice was for that first record.

I didn’t know that he destroyed that beautiful instrument during the Pussycats sessions with John Lennon.

The film has a wonderful variety of interview subjects, from the slightly irrelevant (Robin Williams) to the long-forgotten (Paul Williams). But the most sentimental are the ones from the musicians and producers who worked with Nilsson first hand, the ones that know the real devastation of his passing.

And now, thanks to this comprehensive retrospective on the life of Harry Nilsson, the rest of us can understand that devastation too.

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