Harry Nilsson (1941-1994) was an anomaly in the business of rock 'n' roll. He wrote with power, sang with passion, and crafted with skill. With all of that, Harry Nilsson refused to play his music for a live audience. And yet, as is noted in a recently released documentary about Nilsson, “He did pull it off."
Nilsson achieved a level of stardom and respect though he refused to apply any known principles of career advancement. Instead, Harry Nilsson created music in the only way that he knew how, without fetters and chains, without heeding advice against his own intuition.
Despite his insecurity with a live audience, Nilsson stockpiled a wealth of extraordinary songs that stand the test of time. From his Grammy Award-winning version of the Fred Neil classic, “Everybody’s Talkin’,” featured in the Midnight Cowboy film, to his subsequent hits in the ‘70s (“Without You,” “Coconut,” “Jump Into The Fire,” “Spaceman,” “Daybreak”), Harry Nilsson was a unique individual who made his mark his own way.
In the 2010 John Scheinfeld documentary on the life and times of Harry Nilsson, Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everyone Talkin’ About Him?), we’re treated to a wonderful exploration of the underlying mechanics of the songwriter. Great effort is expended in trying to gather the pieces of a scattered puzzle in an attempt to understand a man who could not be understood during his own lifetime.
The film is filled with the many people in his life -- including wives, producers, peers, even a short heart-breaking visit with his son, who recounts a letter written and left behind for him while he was a baby -- the documentary is a wonderful overview of Harry Nilsson's life and career with a very noticeable undercurrent of sadness throughout.
The film has been critically hailed and appreciated not only by the people who had their lives touched by Nilsson, but also by fans who were touched by the brilliance of Nilsson’s music.
Nilsson was a man who lived by strong ideals, even if those ideals killed him. Harry Nilsson died in 1994 of heart failure at the age of 52, likely exacerbated by his heavy use of alcohol and drugs.
For a short period, SnagFilms and Hulu are streaming the
film in its entirety. The film is currently
in DVD release, but if you don't have it yet, now
is a great chance to stream it - it's time well spent.