Browse content similar to Harry Nilsson: The Missing Beatle. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
This programme contains some strong language.
25 years ago I had the good fortune of playing a character in a film called Midnight Cowboy.
I was rehearsing this speech here yesterday
and I came in here today and just found out that the wonderful,
lovely, talented man who sang "Everybody's Talkin'"
in that movie, Harry Nilsson, died today.
And it would seem weird not to have an appropriate moment for him.
He was a great artist.
# Everybody's talkin' at me
# I don't hear a word they're sayin'
# Only the echoes of my mind... #
Most of the time when I mention him people go, "Who?"
When you say, "Harry Nilsson, " everybody says, "No, Harry Nilsson?"
Either they get it right away, or they have no idea.
# Can't live... If living is without you
# I can't live... #
He was the closest thing to an American version of the Beatles.
# I can't live
# If living is without you... #
Beautiful, beautiful voice.
And you'd have your headphones on and that voice would come through.
You almost couldn't play, cos it was so beautiful. Seriously beautiful.
To me he was always like a fallen angel, so there was this weird combination of
something heavenly and beatific about him, and then just dirt... and darkness.
# One is the loneliest number
# That you'll ever do... #
Harry would turn up at your door,
at four o'clock in the morning, and you kinda knew that the next three days of your life
were going to be an adventure.
I defer, Harry. Man, I don't know how far you want me to go with this!
He spent most of his life in pursuit of a good time,
and he caught it, and, uh, it caught him in the end.
# The lime and the coconut You take them both together
# Put the lime and the coconut and you'll feel better... #
So who was Harry Nilsson, and why is everyone talking about him?
Well, he was one of the most gifted and certainly the most wayward singer-songwriter of his generation.
From the moment they first heard him sing, the Beatles declared him
their soulmate, and their favourite American performer.
But the man with the bewitching voice was also his own worst enemy.
It was John Lennon who teamed up with Nilsson in Los Angeles in 1973,
ostensibly to collaborate on a new album.
But the pair of them promptly embarked on a notorious round of binge-drinking and drug-taking
culminating in the now-infamous denouement at the Troubadour nightclub in West Hollywood.
Tonight, the film-maker John Scheinfeld paints a vivid portrait
for Imagine of a man known to many as "the missing Beatle".
Our story begins here in Brooklyn, in Harry's troubled childhood home.
'I was born Harry Edward Nilsson III on Father's Day, 1941.'
# Well, in 1941 a happy father had a son
# And by 1944 the father walked right out the door
# And in '45 the mom and son were still alive
# But who could tell in '46 if the two were to survive? #
It seems to me that it's pretty clear that Harry
was profoundly disturbed by the fact that he was abandoned by his father.
To not have had all the conversations,
with a father, that one would want,
creates quite a longing heart.
And he had that.
Harry, I think, really fought for legitimacy,
in many ways, fought hard for it.
'My mother and I lived in an upstairs apartment with six rooms.
'We lived with my grandmother, my grandfather, two uncles, and my sister, when she was born.
'That's the way we lived.
'Crowded, but busy enough not to get bored.
'I think my mother was always like, she wasn't
'a stage mother or anything, but I think she, herself, wanted to be in show business at one time.
'I think that rubbed off on me and, uh, when I was a little child
'they used to put me on the piano and have me sing songs to the adults, you know.
'I used to lie in bed when I was about 10 or 11, in the solitude of the small, dark room in Brooklyn.
'If I wasn't counting to a million or to infinity, I would put
'a pillow over my head and put on a show for an invisible audience.
' "And now presenting, me, doing my impression of the great Al Jolson."
'Then I would mime Al Jolson, # Mammy, how I love you, now I love you... #
' "Let me ask you, Harry Nilsson, can you do James Cagney?"
-' "You dirty rat." '
-I know it was difficult for him.
I mean, his mom was an alcoholic.
She ultimately got sober and...very fascinating woman.
When you met her you could see where Harry came from,
cos she was like a bigger version of Harry in a lot of ways, that same kind of outwardness and interest.
She did pretty much whatever she had to do to survive.
She took whatever job she had to, she lived where she had to.
She even had to write some checks
that, uh, didn't always find their way to the bank and get paid.
But at one point they needed the rent money and, uh, he held up a liquor store.
I don't know if you know that story or not?
For 17, and, "Give me 17dollars," you know.
# The years went passing quickly
# But not fast enough for him
# So he closed his eyes till '55
# Then he opened them up again
# Then when he looked around he saw a clown
# And the clown seemed very gay
# And he said, "I'd like to join that circus clown and run away... #
'It was 1957.
'It was June, a hot June.
'I lost my job as a caddy because of a fight - pushing and
'shoving, nothing bad, but enough for the Caddy Master to fire me.
'When I went home that night, I told my aunt and uncle what had happened.
'And during dinner, my uncle said, "Skeeter, I don't know how to say
' "this gracefully, but I don't think we can afford you."
'I didn't hesitate.
'I simply said, "You won't have to worry about me any more."
'I left the house feeling like Holden Caulfield - half sad, half scared, half itching to get on the road
'and start an adventure across country, which would last me a lifetime.
'I was 15.'
# Well, he followed every railroad track and every highway sign
# And he had a girl in each new town
# And the towns he left behind
# And the open road Was the only road he knew
# But the colour of his dream Was slowly turning into blue... #
'I just turned 18 and I was a dropout.
'I worked at the Paramount Theatre in Los Angeles for three years, as assistant manager.
'Anyway, the cashiers were going to work for banks and I figured since I was their boss,
'and I could reconcile books, so I went and made an application.
'I wasn't actually a banker.
'I used to run a computer centre where 132 people were working
'on what we laughingly called the swing shift, you know.
'But I supervised the handling of about 200 million a night in cheques.
'I'd get off work around one o'clock in the morning and, uh, go to the bar...
'They're open until two in Los Angeles.
'And drink very quickly. I'd write songs all night.
'In the daytime I'd hustle the songs.
'I used to do demos, and did jingles,
'and hung around with people who were in the business.
'You meet one, he introduces you to a friend who knows a songwriter, and then knows a producer...
'And then the ultimate test is when you say, "Can I play you this?" '
The Monkees were recording an album called Headquarters.
And, uh, it was the first album that we had been allowed
to choose all our own material and record everything ourselves.
I don't remember what happened behind the scenes, but this
kid showed up, named Harry Nilsson, with a song called Cuddly Toy.
# You're not the only cuddly toy
# That was every enjoyed by any boy
# You're not the only choo-choo train
# That was left out in the rain The day after Santa came...
# You're not the only cherry delight
# That was left in the night And gave up without a fight
# You're not the only cuddly toy
That was ever enjoyed by any boy. #
When Davy Jones said he would, uh, record Cuddly Toy,
the music publisher that was there, Lester Sill was the guy's name,
he says, we walked outside in the parking lot and Lester said, "You can quit the bank."
Ladies and gentlemen, in the center ring, presenting Nilsson
and his Shandimanium Shadow Po!
It was difficult to find the right niche.
It wasn't until he went over to RCA and got with Rick Jarrard.
I think that Rick Jarrard really played a very important part in his success.
I felt that Harry had incredible potential,
that Harry could be a monster artist.
And frankly, I was probably the only one that really believed that, because he was so different.
# Years ago I knew a man
# He was my mother's biggest fan
# We used to walk beside the sea And he'd tell me how life would be
# When I grew up to be a man... #
I think we were at least up to eight-track
by then, if not 16-track, and he could overdub himself.
And he was so good at that.
Sang wonderful harmony lines off the top of his head.
His voice blended great with himself
and it just helped open up a whole new area for us to explore.
A particular record was released, with a lot of these over-dubs,
and a critic in reviewing the album said,
"It was a wonderful album and I love the music, but Nilsson should have credited the background singers.
"They were so great." Not realizing the background singers were Nilsson!
I remember at the time saying, "Harry, be careful crossing the street.
"Be careful just walking around, cos this is going to be a big career and we need you around."
# Get out those disco bonnets
# Here comes the plane with the Beatles on it
# Look at John, Paul, George and Ringo
# One of them's taken but three are single
# Two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar
# All for music... #
I was still working at the bank. I hated the Beatles, because I thought, they're beating me to the punch.
And then it was that moment when you said, you're either with 'em or agin 'em.
I decided to go for the latter and I said "Yeah, they really are that good."
We'd be arguing about The Beatles and he'd say, "The Beatles are the only band.
"There's only one band.
"That's the Beatles. No-one else matters."
See, I just assumed that people would discover you.
That they, they would spot in you the talent that I knew I had.
So one day, I was early, this was five in the morning,
I got a phone call and there's this voice, long distance,
"Hello? Hello." "Who is it?"
"This is John." "John who?"
"It's John Lennon." "Is this really John?"
And he says, "Yeah, I just wanted to say, you're fantastic, man,"
I been listening to you all weekend, it's great, great, you're just fantastic."
Uh, the following Monday, I got a phone call from Paul, "How are you?
"Just calling to say you're fantastic, you know? You're great."
"I really love what you did on all that stuff, you know,
"Derek played it for us, and I hope to see you soon."
Clunk. The next Monday morning I got up, combed my hair,
five o'clock in the morning waiting for a call from Ringo. There was no call.
But he ended up being our best man at our wedding, so that's OK.
I would like to spend a few minutes and talk about song construction,
which is one of the most important parts of songwriting.
For any aspiring songwriters in the audience, I have a few comments to make.
First of all, uh, in construction,
I might say that you have to get to know your song.
Take it apart, put it back together again,
keep it clean cos someday in combat it might save your life.
And that's the... Yes. LAUGHTER
# Listen to the wailing of the willow
# Listen to me crying on my pillow
# Crying for I know my love has gone from me... #
I thought this was going to be really easy,
cos I just walked out of the bank, and into
the recording business, and suddenly I was getting phone calls from Otto Preminger and John Lennon.
And it was just, "Well, that all there is to it?
"Nothing to it. Fantastic, I think I'll stay."
He gained a lot of confidence from that first album,
a lot of confidence.
I think finally realised what he could do,
and what he could be, as an artist, and still remaining honest
and true to himself.
There was always a whimsical quality to Harry,
but the thing that I loved most is the sweetness.
It was a sweetness and joy and sense of the world and nature,
like when he writes about his desk.
You know, he brings things to life. It had that sense
of whatever he touched or wrote about suddenly sparkled.
# Now my old desk never needs a rest
# And I've never once heard it cry
# I've never seen it tease
# It's always there to please me from nine to five
# Such a comfort to know
# It's dependable and slow
# But it's always there
# Well, it's the one friend I've got
# A giant of our times
# My good old desk
# Ooh, wah-wah, wah-wah Wah-wah-wah-wah... #
I just made that up.
Good Old Desk was G-O-D.
That was Harry's way of talking about God.
He had a lot of conflicts about all of that business
and so he wrote a song called Good Old Desk.
And that's the way his mind worked. And I loved that.
I thought that was just so original.
MUSIC: INTRO TO "One"
I was dialling a telephone, I got a busy signal and it was going "beep, beep, beep..."
# One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do... #
I just let it stay busy and just wrote it on the phone,
while I was listening to this busy signal.
# It's the loneliest number since the number one... #
He just came on the scene, you know, blasted onto the scene
and he just started influencing people.
I'm sure he influenced The Beatles as much as they influenced him.
Well, everybody's records influence all the minds, you know, at once.
Everything influences everything. Nilsson's my favourite group.
# Dreams are nothing more than wishes And a wish is just a dream... #
The Beatles endorsed Harry. They called him their favourite group.
Harry was their favourite group.
I think he was quite pleased about that.
They, you know, pronounced him to the world and said,
"Listen to this man" and we did.
That's one of the first times I've ever seen him,
kind of, patting himself on the back, and tooting his own horn.
He said, "You know, they, they think I'm like the fifth Beatle.".
I got a phone call, and it was from Derek Taylor.
And, uh, Derek said,
"Harry, the lads, the boys, would like you
"to come over and join them at a session they're recording at Abbey Road."
I thought, "My Jesus. This is about as good as it gets."
That first night, in London, I spent at John Lennon's house.
He gives me a hug and he smiled and he put me at ease instantly.
So, for some reason I thought I could say anything in front of this man and it would be OK.
That night we spent the entire night with a little help
from our friends, talking, just sitting and talking,
all night, till dawn, till seven or eight o'clock in the morning.
And John and I are on, and on, and on
about marriage, life, death, divorce, women,
what's it all about? What are we doing?
I think that Harry had an incredible respect for John.
He was like a fan, you know.
And John loved him too, so...
it was a good kind of combination, I think.
He said that he and John were a lot alike,
that they'd had similar childhoods.
And, um, I wasn't surprised by that.
Cos it was clear that John had a lot of anger.
He didn't hide that. Harry hid it, but John didn't.
So, I thought that was very interesting.
Harry, after he went over to England, and was with The Beatles,
or with John - I really don't know which - he changed.
He changed and became somebody else that I no longer knew.
# The willow weeps And having wept can weep no more
# But still it cries for me It cries in sympathy
# It knows that you are gone
# Don't leave me, baby... #
Out of the blue, I got a telegram that said,
"I'm finding another producer."
And, basically, that was the end of Harry's and my relationship.
And that's a pretty stunning statement to make,
and I hesitated to say it, but facts are facts and that's what happened.
I never saw Harry again after that telegram, never spoke to him, never saw him.
Not out of malice from my point,
we just never ran into each other or anything.
I think if I did I would have said, "What was that all about?"
# Everybody's talkin' at me
# I don't hear a word they're sayin'
# Only the echoes of my mind... #
It was impossible not to be aware of Harry after Midnight Cowboy,
because that song went everywhere.
Oh, yeah, yeah. I was a big Nilsson fan. Ever since Midnight Cowboy.
I mean, how could... His most famous song and he didn't write it.
I love the irony of that and he would have appreciated that.
# I'm goin' where the sun keeps shining
# Through the pourin' rain... #
He was a brilliant interpreter.
So he could take that Fred Neil song and make it his own.
Everybody's Talkin' was not written for Midnight Cowboy.
It was Harry's single, and it had been out before the film.
I was approached by Jerry Hellman and John Schlesinger,
and asked if I'd be interested in writing a title song for Midnight Cowboy.
They showed me four reels of uncut material, and I thought, "What?
"This could be the best movie ever made! This is incredible!" I said, "You bet, you bet."
He wrote I Guess The Lord Must Be In New York City.
They also went to Bob Dylan, asked him to write a song.
I understand Dylan wrote Lay, Lady, Lay.
They also went to Joni Mitchell and asked her to write a song.
All of them submitted songs to the producers.
They listened to all the songs and after hearing all this...
They stuck with Everybody's Talkin', which they had been using as a temporary track
until they found a song for it. They just got so used to it
that they didn't want to drop it, and they left it in. Thank you very much.
Midnight Cowboy won the Oscar for the Best Picture of the year.
At the same time,
Harry won the Grammy for the Best Contemporary Vocal Performance.
# Everybody's talkin' at me
# Can't hear a word they're sayin'
# Only the echoes of my mind
# I won't let you leave my love behind
# No, I won't let you leave
# Ohhh, ahhh
# I won't let you leave... #
-'Hi, is this Harry?'
-'Hi, um, I was going to ask you something.'
Well, why didn't you?
-When are you going to have a concert?
-Oh, I don't do concerts That's for other people that want to.
-'Oh...you're not going to have a concert ever?'
Many, many people are curious why Harry never performed live,
didn't make touring a part of his career.
Didn't go on the road and all of those issues.
And there are many, many, many answers,
which are interesting and valid.
Harry was the most insecure person I've ever known.
He just didn't have any self-esteem.
He was quite shy. And I don't think he believed
that anyone would particularly want to see him on stage.
He was terrified.
And I... I don't remember exactly why,
but he was terrified to do a live performance.
If the way to become a rock star was to make an album,
and then go and promote the album, and then go out on tour,
Harry figured, "I'm going to do it another way.
"I'm going to find a way to do it. You don't have to go on tour."
Part of it was about just proving that you didn't have to do it.
There are very few guys that have had the success that he had
without doing that, and he almost pulled it off.
Well, he did pull it off. We're sitting here doing this documentary.
# Well, isn't it nice the parents would say
# Well, isn't it nice you've got someone
# Someone to idolise
# He must look twice his size
# I think it's great you're going through a phase... #
Harry was offered a BBC special, to be produced by Stanley Dorfman,
who was doing the In Concert series. And in concert means IN CONCERT!
That means there would be an audience, but Harry didn't do audiences.
And I said he could do anything he wanted.
this is BBC, it's not like American television.
You literally can have the freedom of the studio.
Once he realised he could come and play, have more of less control of what he wanted to do,
he said, "Yeah, why not?"
# Laa, la, la, la
# Oh, ra, ra-ra-ra-rah
# Ra, da, da, da Rah-da-da-dah
# Da, da-doh, da Da, doh-doh, da-dum... #
We went into a studio
and one afternoon we made up a show with Harry at the piano.
He'd do a song and say, "Well, what should we do now?"
Then he said, "Well, let's do three Harrys."
# Come on, baby Let the good times roll
# Come on, baby Let me thrill your soul
# Yeah, come on baby Let the good times roll
# Roll all night long
# Come on, baby Yes, this is real
# Come on, baby Show me how you feel
# Yeah, come on, baby Let the good times roll
# Roll all night long. #
It was extremely creative from Harry's point of view.
He was having fun and that's the only way he'd do television.
# Roll on, roll on, roll on roll on. #
Um, let's see. I think I'll tell stories about marriage.
# Life isn't easy when two are divided
# When one has decided to bring down the curtain
# And one thing's for certain
# There's nothing to keep them together. #
Most people don't know it, but in 1964, Harry got married for the first time.
The marriage didn't last long, and there were no children.
Her name was Sandy and I said, "What was that like?"
He said, "I just did that to get out of the war."
Obviously, you know, I mean, she was a nice girl.
I don't know what happened, but that's how he would meet.
"I just married her to get out of the war."
So, I guess that was another painful thing.
He just had a way of doing that.
If it was painful or he didn't want to talk about it,
he'd have one-liners that would dismiss it, subject closed.
# Love when it started was easy to measure
# Each day was a pleasure
# Each night an adventure
# Each morning was something that had to be shared together
# Love when it's growing is full of surprises
# Its temperature rises from higher to higher
# That turns into fire that has to be shared together. #
Harry got married for a second time New Years Eve of 1969,
in Vegas, when he married Diane.
Harry and Diane did have a child, a child named Zak.
Zachary Nine, N-I-N-E, Nilsson.
# Little fella, you're so tired you can hardly lift your head
# But you wanna hear a story before you go to bed
# So if you'll be quiet and listen patiently
# I'll sing you a song that my mother sang to me. #
My dad wrote this thing on a piece of paper,
for when I was a baby.
It was just a note to me, even though I couldn't read, or you know,
wasn't old enough to understand it or anything.
He wrote this note which basically told me how much he loved me,
and reading it now, uh, it just makes me realise that he really did.
"Dear Zak, I stood over you
"and watched you sleep for 30 minutes this morning.
"Someday you'll know how I feel as I write these words.
"You moved your toes and feet proportionally to the noise I made.
"You were on top of your blanket, an orange blanket with yellow daisies.
"Your pacifier was an inch from your mouth.
"It had obviously been released with sleep.
"I love you, Big Daddy Schmilsson."
So, you know, to write something like that...
..obviously there's something there.
I don't think Harry was ready to be a father.
I think he liked the idea,
but the reality of parenting was just too much for him.
He didn't, he didn't have the time, or the capacity to do that.
And he just mostly was absent.
Part of him wanted to be a parent,
part of him wanted to be a partner and married,
but most of him didn't want to be.
He wanted to be out carousing with his buddies
drinking tequila every night.
He didn't want to be in a relationship.
There's the 1941 thing, almost mirrored his own life.
I'm pretty sure that's not how he intended it to be, but it did.
You know, "In 1941, a happy father had a son,
in 1944, his father walked right out the door."
That's almost exactly what happened, except in the '70s.
He called me one morning and said,
"I got to come and talk to you."
So, he came over to my house in Laurel Canyon,
and asked me if I'd like to produce him,
and I said, "I would love to, under one condition,
"that he had to trust me and let me call the shots,"
which he agreed to.
One more, put it away.
-Put it away.
-Let's nail this mother to the wall.
Richard's a great producer, really talented guy.
And again, a tough guy in his own way.
But you needed a tough guy to deal with Harry.
He could, Harry could run over people,
and a lot of people he did run over.
And so he needed a counterweight and Richard was that.
Harry, don't smoke those.
Oh, come on, Mom! I stayed home yesterday.
When you walked into the studio,
Richard was in charge and it was wonderful.
There's like several good takes.
And it's the kind of thing where, if there's a great second verse,
it can be used as the first verse of, uh, you know?
He had the brightness to handpick musicians
and then allow them to feel at least they were free,
but you were being
wonderfully, gently manoeuvred by Richard, you see.
And then there was Harry who also, you know, knew exactly what he wanted.
I felt that Harry could be my Beatles,
and he, in turn, I suppose felt that I could be his George Martin,
which, I think we did a pretty good job of accomplishing
on the Nilsson Schmilsson album.
That was the goal,
to make as close to a Beatles quality album as possible.
# Brother bought a coconut
# He bought it for a dime
# His sister had another one
# She paid it for the lime
# She put the lime in the coconut
# She drank 'em both up
# She put the lime in the coconut... #
He played it for me the first time on guitar
and he, he just sang it, it was like straight through,
no changes at all.
# Put the lime in the coconut
# You drink 'em both up
# Put the lime in the coconut
# You drink 'em both up
# Put a lime in the coconut
# And drink 'em both together
# Put the lime in the coconut
# Then you feel better. #
I thought to myself,
"This song really has the potential to be like a little animated cartoon
"There's like at least three different characters in the song I can think of."
I said, "Why don't you use different voices? Think of the doctor like this,
"'Now let me get this straight, you put the lime in the coconut.'"
# Now let me get this straight
# Put the lime in the coconut
# You drank 'em both up. #
He responded to it immediately
and then you get this marvellous theatrical performance
that has made that song a classic.
# Ain't there nothing I can take
# To relieve this belly ache?
# I said, doctor! Ain't there nothing I can take?
# I said, doctor!
# Ain't there nothing I can take? I said, doctor! #
About halfway through the album we had a difference of opinion
that didn't, sort of, settle itself easily.
So, like two proper gentlemen,
we decided to have a meeting over high tea at the Dorchester Hotel
to discuss what we were going to do.
I said, "Harry, you do remember that when you came to me
"and asked me to produce you, I asked you
"my only condition was that I would have control, creative control."
He looks me dead in the face and said,
"Well, I lied."
And then, with that, we both looked at our watch
and realised that we were late for the session
that he was supposed to do his vocal on Without You.
Without another word, we jumped into a taxi, ran down to the studio,
he went right out and sang the vocal that you hear on the record.
# I can't live
# If living is without you
# I can't live... #
We weren't thinking, "Grammy, here we come." But we thought it'd be nice.
And while we were in Japan the nominations had come out
and Album of the Year, Record of the Year,
Best Male Vocal Performance, Best Engineered Record.
I mean, whatever category it could have been nominated, it was nominated.
He was thrilled.
All of his dreams had come true.
You know, he wanted to have a huge success.
He had it.
After the Nilsson Schmilsson album I think he was, arguably,
the finest white male singer on the planet.
Nilsson Schmilsson is a masterpiece,
and he was pretty crazy,
but Richard had some control over the situation and that album came out beautifully.
It was really post Nilsson Schmilsson
that the troubles set in,
he didn't want Richard Perry in there.
He didn't want anybody telling him what to do.
He was going through a bad period in life,
and rather than using that to, you know, in a way inspire him,
or try to be creative with your pain,
he just let it start the downward spiral that ultimately destroyed him.
# Down to the bottom
# To the bottom of a hole
# I'm goin' down
# Goin' down. #
I don't think Harry handled success well.
I think that the more successful he became, the more he drank.
He didn't really feel that he deserved the applaud
and the accreditation he was getting
and became an alcoholic really,
just as a sort of a retreat, as a sort of hideaway from that.
It was frustrating because I... I didn't have enough of a power
in the relationship to say, "Stop!"
You know, but I wish I had.
I don't think Harry expected to live very long.
Both his parents died in their 50s.
So, you know, that somehow becomes a factor in how people look at life.
It was one of those things where he just went like 500mph
until he stopped, you know?
Whereas, most people just cruise and speed up and slow down and speed up...
and then you kind of peter off, and eventually you park.
But he was just like... Boom!
# I'm goin' down... #
We were best pals.
You know, we hung out together all the time. We travelled together.
We had a blast. We partied together.
I mean, there wasn't anything we didn't do together.
And worked together.
And I was looking at a lifetime of hits.
You know, I mean, you know, with the different things that he could do with his voice.
I mean, just when you... I mean there was no limitation
as to what, you know, we were capable of.
I mean, Nilsson Schmilsson was like, the warm up.
But the second one was Son of Schmilsson,
and I think the cracks had already started to appear by that time.
He had just separated and was going through a divorce from his first wife, Diane.
And it hit him really hard.
He nurtured it like a serpent to his breast.
He hated it.
I'm sure he took it as... if he was a good Catholic boy which I think he essentially was,
took it as a failure,
that he ended, uh, in a divorce.
And it shows in his material, the songs that he would sing.
# You're breakin' my heart You're tearin' it apart
# So fuck you... #
Having a hit single was and still is the greatest promotional vehicle to selling an album.
And when you're more than capable of churning out material
that had vast commercial potential, and at the same time was loaded
with artistic integrity, what does he come up with as the strongest single possibility?
"You're breaking my heart, you're tearing it apart."
I won't give you the punch line. You know the song.
# But fuck you
# You're breakin' my heart
-# You're tearin' it apart Ooh ooh.
Everybody knows the word. It's hypocrisy at its greatest.
Uh, and it's such a great way to send it up, you know?
-You're breaking my heart, so
-you, you know.
And what do you say? "You're breaking my heart, darn it?"
That's what he offered as the best, you know, I mean,
that was his love song to his ex-wife.
# There's no-one to blame So fuck you! #
He would show up to the studio with a half bottle of cognac.
The first half had already been consumed that afternoon.
He would no longer allow my input into the songs.
I mean, he would just like come up with a song,
and I'd say, "Well, can we talk about this?"
"No. That's the song. That's the vocal."
And that's why you've got an album that still has
some lovely moments in it, but I mean, there's no real
depth or stature to it anywhere near what the Schmilsson album was.
and I was expecting it to be the next level.
And so, you know, what's missing here?
You know, why is this such a sad ending to what could be a tremendous story?
And it's because, in my way of interpreting it,
Harry, at that point in life, developed a death wish.
And, um...he was successful.
It took him 20 years, but he carried it out.
I was associated then with drinking and carousing.
Because Keith Moon's a friend and Ringo's a friend and we have good times.
People assume you're raising hell if you're having a good time,
but I promise you we don't raise hell, but we do have a good time.
Harry didn't stop at alcohol, you know.
There were dealers all over the city heading for Harry, I think,
helping him to spend his advances.
And, you know, Harry was like, he was going the full bore,
the full like rock n' roll life.
# You can shake me up
# Or I can bring you down
# We can make each other happy
# Oh, we can make each other happy
# We can make each other happy
# We can make each other happy Whoa
Harry would come around and trouble would follow very shortly.
Oh, dear, um, well,
I got that call many times.
I got the call, "What are you doing?"
That was... the call was a very bad thing.
I always knew that when Harry called I had to like,
OK, what am I doing? OK, I'm ready to take the Harry trip,
you know, get on the Harry ride, you know,
because it's like a ride where you had no idea where it's gonna go.
It's not on tracks.
Some of those Harry tales
I'll have to be like shock therapy to remember them, you know.
"Oh, remember that?"
No, I mean, they're probably out there.
They're probably lodged somewhere in the cortex, but it'll take...
Probably years from now I'll go, "Did I really?"
Yeah. "A weed whacker?"
-# Oh, Lord!
-What is it?
-I'm full of it!
# We'll I've had my share of bad times
# I've been shooting 'em up Drinking 'em down
# Takin' them pills Fooling around
# All my life... #
John was one of a kind. I mean, there was just no-one like him.
He was tough as nails.
He was just fearless and just said what he felt.
He was always ahead, he was always a couple of steps ahead of you.
I was just hanging around with Harry Nilsson and people in LA,
and getting into trouble and every time we go out I end up in the paper.
I don't know when that happened. It just sort of happened that
"Raising Hell With Harry" became the catchphrase of the month.
If he wants to go out to have a drink, it's party time.
He'll start it.
You'll get in trouble and he'll walk away scott free, but he started it.
We're making our big comeback and at the Troubadour
here in Hollywood and - major opening, I mean,
the stars were out to see the Smothers Brothers.
And I was counting on this as a big comeback
the Troubadour, all the people were invited,
the Smothers Brothers had been assassinated from television,
and here they are, they applauded like crazy, we walked on.
And we start working and there's Harry.
Harry comes in with John Lennon.
And he told John Lennon, he said,
"You know, Tommy's not very good, you know, heckling helps him."
So these guys came in coked up and really cognac-ing.
Every single moment there was a silence,
there would be the most disgusting,
I mean really the worst heckling in the world.
The Smothers Brothers were, of course, astounded and blindsided and all of that.
And Harry and John were going to help the show along,
and become part of the show.
That's what their idea was, four or five sheets to the wind.
-I got drunk and shouted, you know.
It was the first night I had drank Brandy Alexanders,
which is brandy and milk, folks.
I was with Harry Nilsson who didn't quite get as much coverage as me,
the bum. And he really encouraged me.
I usually have somebody there who says, "OK Lennon shut-up."
And I take it. But I didn't have anyone around me to say shut-up
-and I just went on and on.
-Harry's going, "Let's say it some more."
I turned and looked at Harry and said, "Please stop."
"No, no the audience loves it." I said, "No they don't."
I was really pissed at them, totally pissed at them.
Well, Dick and I have a very tight act with great spaces in
for timing, and every one of them was wrecked.
The next thing you know, the manager came over
and grabbed John by the collar.
All of a sudden, John went back to his little Teddy Boy days
and says, "Wait a minute you don't pull me." And the next thing the table went flying.
Fists were flying and people were stumbling around, and people were, "Shut up!"
-and "Fuck you," and this constant thing.
-They got thrown out.
Finally, they were thrown out and it was just a disaster.
When it's Errol Flynn, you know, all them showbiz writers say,
"Those were the days when we had Sinatra
"and Errol Flynn socking it to the people," you know, the real men.
I do it and I'm a bum. So it was a mistake, but hell, you know, I'm human, you know.
'Hi ya, pussycat.
'You say you opened up a bicycle wash and the first six customers drowned.
'And they pick you up in the Wax Museum for trying to score
'with Marie Antoinette.
'Is that what's got you down, pussycat?
'Well, rise up!
'Get yourself Harry Nilsson's new album, Pussycats,
'produced by John Lennon.
'Nilsson's latest! Pussycats! On RCA records and tapes.
'Meow and purr.'
Some tracks are beautiful, some tracks are a bit weird,
but Harry Nilsson and John Lennon together is a pretty weird combination.
To have John was like giving Harry the best present he could have.
That almost made up for the fact that his father left him.
And, you know, there may be some of you out there, saying,
"Yeah, Webb's being the amateur psychiatrist now.
"But I think that that almost made up for it,
because Harry really wanted to be one of the Beatles.
Well, the relationship with John was...
like, if you see the album, Pussycats,
have you ever seen the cover? You know, they were like in each other's face.
This was like, it was like a duel.
They were a friendship made in hell, as far as I'm concerned.
John had his troubles. Harry had his troubles.
And they got together and really, that was,
that was when Harry totally blew his voice.
# Many rivers to cross
# But I just can't seem to find
# My way over. #
He and John Lennon were egging each other on
as to who could scream the loudest
and scream the longest and put the most ragged,
actually self-destructive vocals on tape, as possible.
It was kind of this one-upmanship, friendly kind of thing,
but like... # I can do anything you can do No you can't
# Yes, I can. No you can't. Aaaaah! #
I believe it was purposeful.
but I believe that he was...
I can't believe that I'm getting into all this, first of all.
I really, I think he was, for some very bizarre reason, trying to self-destruct.
# Well I guess I'll have to try... #
He told me, one time, that there was blood on the microphone.
Harry told me. He said, "There was blood on the microphone."
I drove him to the hospital and he had the throat thing,
and the polyps and all that stuff.
And he called me up and he says, "Get me out of here.
"Bring me a bottle of brandy and a pack of cigarettes into the hospital."
"And I said, "Not the cigarettes.
"But I brought a bottle of brandy and he walked out in the green robe.
He just couldn't be bothered, you know.
I never sensed any kind of, "It's not really happening," denial.
It was just, "Oh, fuck it, give me a cigarette."
That was his kind of attitude about everything.
That was the saddest thing that ever happened to me in my life,
was when I realised that he...
that he was in that much trouble vocally,
and that he didn't know how to tell me,
and that he didn't want anyone to know.
And it's just hard for me to talk about it.
I just can't talk about it.
# Hey, baby
# Do you come here often?
# What's your sign? #
A girlfriend and I were working for the summer.
We were students at Rumpelmayer's Ice Cream Parlour.
And one evening, it was rather a quiet evening and both of us
were sort of leaning up against the wall, and in walked Harry.
Sunday night, half drunk, flask of brandy in one pocket,
a copy of US News in the other.
And as I walked to my hotel I noticed Rumpelmayer's ice cream parlour.
And there was Una.
Basically the first thing Harry ever said to me was,
"You've the most beautiful eyes I've ever seen.
"Will you marry me?"
Obviously, no-one had ever said anything like that to me before, but it was very special.
And, uh, he said, "No, no really," he said,
"What can I do to prove my intent?"
And we said, "Well, we like flowers and we like melons."
Now you might think that's a very odd thing to say,
but perhaps I'd never really...
Well, I'd never eaten a honeydew melon.
Right. Went to my hotel. I showered, sobered, changed.
The melons were easy, Smiler's Delicatessen.
But the flowers, that's another question.
11pm on a Sunday night, August 12th, 1973. Flowers at 11pm?
Hey, what about the docks? Right!
So we actually found a florist
and he was preparing for a funeral the next morning.
At the end of the evening, when my friend and I were leaving, the manager came over
and he said, "There's a man waiting for, for you outside the kitchen."
And we were very excited and we went outside and there was Harry,
leaning nonchalantly against a long limousine and on the pavement
beside him he had baskets of um, uh, flowers and melons and soft toys.
They were totally knocked out.
They hugged me and they hugged me.
It was the sweetest hug I'd ever had.
# And I feel like it's going to get a whole lot better
# Better than the night before the night I met her
# Feel like it's going to get a whole lot better
# Better than the night before the night I met her. #
The day of the wedding it was like hell day hangover.
The limo showed up.
Ringo gave me a toot for luck,
the limo driver gave me a gram for luck, and even the father,
the priest, a priest of the church of God-knows-what,
shared another gram.
Now I was shaking so much I could barely stand.
So I said, "To hell with it, you only marry thrice."
The wedding ceremony.
We were married in... It was really a suite at the Marriott Hotel.
The wedding was organised very, very quickly.
Van Dyke Parks brought a priest, somebody else brought flowers
and somebody else hired an accordionist.
Ringo Starr was our best man.
And he was so funny.
He went to Tiffany's and took a tray of rings
because he didn't know our sizes
and he sort of held this tray of rings out for us to choose.
In two tries he found the right sizes.
Then it was my turn to place the beautiful golden circles
on the love of my life.
Ringo said, "Oh, look, he's shaking."
And he helped me steady my hands, with Una, and slip on the ring.
It was perfect.
In 1974 Harry renegotiated his record deal with RCA records
and at that time got what I understand to be one of
the biggest advances in the history of the record business.
PS, he did it with the help of John Lennon.
It was John and I with Harry, and we marched into the president
of RCA at that time.
And Harry says, "Do you know. look who's in your office?
"It's John Lennon in this piece of shit record company's office.
"John Lennon is here!"
And, and John says, "Do you know who's stand...
"This is Harry Nilsson, the greatest rock'n'roll singer!
"And you're fucking him over!"
There's John giving a speech saying,
"You're going to lose one of the greatest voices of all time.
You've got to re-sign this man. You got to give him a record deal.
John was just going right for it. He didn't care.
He believed in Harry that much.
The contracts that had sat there unsigned by them,
for over a year, he signed and sent them and Harry got his deal.
One, two, three, four.
Harry would go into a session with a sheet of paper and 15 musicians.
And just one sheet of paper that he has.
And we'd start. To us, I'm sure that he had it worked out in his brain,
but when it got to us, it was ideas.
One, two, three four.
Chris, could I have some Scotch, some water, some matches,
and some heroin, please?
There would be a lot of people around and it would be full on drug culture.
Harry, where's the shit, man?
And there would be a sort of a half-hearted attempt at making
a record going on, and a lot of confusion.
The line between, you know,
day and night and work and play.
It just disappeared entirely.
It, of course it was fun,
we were all in the bag and laughing and carrying on,
but it certainly was a silly way to make records.
OK, all right.
That's certainly worth risking. Let's go ahead.
We just ran out of tape anyway. Beautiful.
It was a very difficult time for him.
RCA was unhappy, um, obviously.
And he was unhappy.
You know, he was blaming them,
that they didn't know how to deal with his product.
And they were blaming him about the albums they were making.
And it got really uncomfortable
and they offered him money to buy him out.
I remember the day that Harry came over and said, yeah, he was laughing.
He was saying, "RCA Victor just gave me three million dollars.
"I'm going to retire. I'm buy an apartment building.
"I'm doing this and I'm doing that."
And he was bragging about it and pretending to be happy about it,
but the truth was, he was distraught because they had paid him off.
They had paid him off.
They wanted to get out from under the deal.
John Lennon was killed last night.
The former Beatle, 40 years old, was shot to death
as he and his wife, Yoko Ono,
were walking through the great arched entry way to The Dakota,
the landmark apartment building where they lived in New York.
I was with Harry on the night that John was shot.
And, he was in the studio.
It was that Monday night, cos we were all watching the football game,
and all of a sudden the flash came on the screen that said
John Lennon had been shot.
And we all freaked.
And it was like, "What?!"
You know, and everything just stopped for a minute
and people just looked at each other and shook their heads.
And I went in the bathroom and just put a wet towel on my face
and just said, "Jesus Christ, not him."
It devastated him,
because I don't think that Harry felt that they'd had their last conversation.
Well, it was so severe that we didn't talk about it,
# Cos nothing lasts forever
# But I will always love you. #
You know the old cliche, and most cliches are true.
Behind every great man is a great woman.
He was totally in love with Una, and it was very touching,
I know he was married twice before and I don't,
I don't even know their names. I know nothing about that.
It seemed like when he found her that was it.
# Lean on me, lean on me
# You're the wind and I'm the sea
# Oh, lean on me... #
I found, uh, some sort of poem he wrote her, in which he said,
there have been, of all the great loves that have existed in history,
and he listed off a bunch of couples, maybe, um,
Romeo and Juliet and he said, Yoko and John, Harry and Una.
And Una had such a calm aura about her, she just...
Whatever he was doing crashing, bang or anything, she just was there.
It's nice when somebody finds the ballast in their life and I think Harry found it with Una.
She was the anchor, yeah. Good ole Mom.
And the other weird part about Harry, as outrageous as he was, he loved his children.
You know, and all these kids.
And he was very much about that.
When any of the children would walk into the room, he was just, he would light up.
They were climbing all over him. They were on his back, they were on his head...
They were, uh...adored, cherished,
treasured, pampered, uh...
Given every luxury imaginable
and every latitude, in terms of their behaviour.
I mean, he was absolutely one of the most doting, loving dads I've ever seen.
He was really hands-on, being careful, being caring and,
um, always talking about Una and his children.
# There's nothing left to say
# I'll pack up my memories Then I'll walk away... #
A lot of things went domino at the end there. A very bad, uh...
series of circumstances, including the threat of bankruptcy
and lawsuits that might come from it. Once again, back where he began.
In the early '90s, his business manager, who was his accountant,
who he had trusted implicitly,
and who had control over all of his money,
embezzled virtually all of his money.
His financial world, which he was so proud of, for his children
and for his family, all fell apart.
And, um, that was a cruel trick.
And, um, and that's what broke my heart for him, you know.
That shouldn't have happened, shouldn't have happened to anybody,
shouldn't have happened to him.
He got very caught up in trying to sell the house, trying to get money.
He was selling off his library of music.
It was a point that really made me sad, because he had all these CDs
that he was going around to ad agencies
trying to sell his songs for commercials to get some money.
It was, um...
an incredible blow to him.
And I don't think he ever recovered.
A man wants to be a success, he wants to be a good provider
and the things that he had worked for, uh, were gone.
So it was really, really hard.
The last thing he recorded that was ever released was, uh...
I Love New York in June, How About You? for Fisher King.
# I like New York in June How about you...? #
It was back in 1991, I had gotten a call from Harry
saying he was going to London to do The Fisher King.
And, uh, I asked him if I could go along with him.
I don't think he was expecting that, but, uh, he said, "Yes."
His voice had gone by then, I mean,
but it was still quite wonderful cos he could always work it.
It was his great instrument.
And, uh, even his whistle was gone by then, but he still whistled in the thing.
HE WHISTLES SONG
That turned out to be not only the first, but the last time
that we'd spend a significant amount of time together, just the two of us.
I remember on the last night before I had to leave
we agreed to stay up all night, in the hotel room, talking about whatever, and we did.
Around 4am he got too tired and he had to go to sleep,
so I left after that, but that's a good memory for me.
# I like it, how about you?
# Try, try, try...
# You're a winner if you Try, try, try...
# Give it all you have... #
I never saw a nobler human being than Harry Nilsson
in the final couple of years of his life.
He was as happy and as brave and as confident
as any man I've ever seen.
As ill as he was, he pulled his family out of bankruptcy.
He pulled himself together.
He faced what he was facing with as much good humour as you could possibly imagine.
This was 1993, when my dad had a heart attack.
He'd felt these chest pains, tried to ignore it like it was nothing.
Then he goes to the doctor and the doctor says, "You've had this major heart attack.
"What are you doing not calling an ambulance?"
After that first heart attack I called him and he said,
"I've had hangovers that were worse."
And it was a massive heart attack.
He'd use a lot of it as a lesson.
"Look, kids, this is what happens if you're a rock'n'roller all your life.
And he blamed a lot of the health, he would express it to me, anyway,
that, that fast living is not the key to longevity
He just sort of told me, that's the odd thing about it.
And he just said, "Doug, you know, they told me I got a year."
And I went, "What?!"
He said, "Yeah." Just like that.
And that was that side of him I was talking about before.
That what was painful, he wasn't going to let it out that way.
I knew he was in bad shape.
I knew he was trying to get better.
I knew that he had to be connected to machines every now and then, you know?
An oxygen tank. I knew it wasn't good.
You know, his hair was getting grey and it was just this awful image.
And so I think I really hid from him for the last few months.
So I don't have strong memories of it.
Except just, like...
Just fear, and watching him sort of deteriorate, which I couldn't handle, you know?
After a while, they communicated to him that it doesn't look good.
So, my dad was able to use that opportunity to tell all of us anything that was on his mind.
And we were able to tell my dad anything that was on our minds,
on the days leading up towards the end.
# Take a look around
# See what you have found
# It's so easy If you try, try, try... #
The last night of Harry's life, we'd had a very busy day
and we went to bed and we were watching a movie, Enchanted April.
I wasn't able to stay awake to the end of the movie and I said,
"Oh, I'm sorry, Harry, I'm going to fall asleep."
And he said, "I want you to know I love you sooooo much."
Making the "so" as long as he could.
And that's the last thing he ever said to me.
# It's the perfect way
# To end a perfect day... #
I just remember thinking, "Earthquake?!"
Like, what's going on?
Who designed this series of events?
I was at a friend's house in Topanga Canyon and it threw me half the way across the room.
And it was like Harry saying, "Hey!"
"I'm not going out like that."
Throughout the day, including the service, there were aftershocks.
And quite severe aftershocks.
So, we're sitting there, and I thought, "Oh, that's really kind of fitting."
Cos here's Harry, you know, even now he's gone, still shaking stuff up.
Because we're just sitting there...
and the casket would shake.
You know, really surreal.
There was a huge shake during the funeral.
And I said, "It's Harry, just got to heaven and found the bar's closed."
When we went to the actual gravesite, we're all standing around.
And George Harrison is there, looking quite sad.
And he looks at me and goes,
"You know my favourite Harry song?"
And I went, "It's tough to pick." He goes, "Fuck You."
And I went, "What?" Thinking that he was like...
And he goes, "No, Fuck You." Come on, let's sing it for Harry.
And around the grave, six of us went...
# You're breaking my heart
# You're tearing it apart
# So fuck you! # Looking at the casket.
And when we did that, it was such a bittersweet sorrow.
But there was not a man or a woman around the casket
that didn't have that smile on their face, that you said to me,
"Whenever I say Harry Nilsson, people go,
And that smile, at that time,
was all around.
# He's a pretty nifty guy
# Always looks you in the eye
# Everybody passing by will sigh for Harry
# I've known him for a little while
# He always has a friendly smile
# He doesn't give a damn For what's in style, this Harry...
# Ooh, about that man called Harry
# Want to marry, with Harry
# Harry, Harry, Harry Harry, Harry. #
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]