The Los Angeles premiere — finally! — of John Scheinfeld‘s Who is Harry Nilsson (and Why Is Everybody Talking About Him)? will be a one-shot thing at the American Cinematheque’s Aero theatre on Wednesday, 8.23 at 7:30 pm. A truly touching saga of a relentlessly self-destructive genius, Nilsson is still apparently looking for a distribution arrangement of some kind. (A call to Scheinfeld wasn’t returned.)
Nilsson was one of rock music’s most gifted songwriters and melody-makers…ever. The glory of his life was a period of eight years — roughly from ’66 to ’74 — when he wrote or sang “Cuddly Toy,” “Without You,” “Everybody’s Talkin’ At Me” (the famous Midnight Cowboy tune), “Maybe,” “One,” “Daybreak”, “Coconut,” “Jump Into the Fire” and “You’re breaking my heart, you’re tearing it apart, so fuck you.” His first 25 years were formative (he was born in 1941) and the last 20 were about self destruction — booze, drugs and who knows how many tens of thousands of cigarettes. His parents both died in their 50s so maybe he believed it was in the cards, but Nilsson’s heart finally gave out in January 1994, just before the big L.A. earthquake.
Obviously those eight years were blessed, shining, God-imbued. The parts of his character that would eventually lead to his death were present and pulsing, but the creative instincts ruled and he was truly king of a kingdom then. The Beatles, Randy Newman and Brian Wilson worshipped Nilsson, and so did everyone else in the music industry along with the millions of fans. But as Eric Idle says of Nilsson, “He liked to party, and he got that….and in the end, it got him.” In the life story of almost any genius, the third act usually sucks.