Just watched this documentary. Only a handful of artists meet a tragic end like this, where their fame endures long after their talent burns out. My old boss at TLA Video, Adrian Hickman, used to play Nilsson often at the store. I didn’t have an ear for it then, but listening to his voice completely blew me away. Nilsson wasn’t just a great pop singer/songwriter; the guy was an auteur like Orson Welles, crafting a work so dense and poetic only to have it undo him.
My favorite part of the documentary? Seeing Nilsson at the height of his fame, partying with the Beatles and Elton John. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a photo montage as thrilling, laughing maniacally at photos that would make fans of The Hangover blanch. Watching interviews with guys like Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks gave me a sense that Nilsson wasn’t just some maudlin pop singer, but a guy who was living every moment to the fullest. Equally important, he set lofty goals and achieved them. He did it all. He did it fast.
Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but artists like Harry Nilsson appeal to me more now, just as I find myself appreciating veteran ballplayers who are still giving it a go long after they’ve been written off by conventional wisdom. Makes you wonder how any artist made it through the ‘70s alive. Didn’t matter if you were punk or posh, chances are you were doing things that did considerable harm to your person.
Come clean and admit your favorite ‘70s rockers here. And, yes, you can like the Adverts and X-Ray Spex and still be totally smitten with Elton John.