Having written that song when he was barely 30, I guess he got his wish. You likely either adore Nilsson or never heard of him. When asked at a Beatles press conference who their favorite American group was, John Lennon immediately answered, “Nilsson!” The two subsequently became close friends and notorious drinking buddies.
I think I discovered him when he made an album in 1970 of songs by Randy Newman, a favorite of mine. (I interviewed Newman at the University of New Mexico a couple of years later when he toured with Ry Cooder, alternating solo sets. He started off by warning me that I might want to reconsider, because “I’m a pretty boring interview. I’m no rock star. I’m just a regular guy in his 30s who lives in the suburbs in LA with his wife and kids and mows his own lawn.” Turns out he was right. I had trouble coaxing any of the wonderfully twisted personae of his songs out of his own mouth. I was particularly eager to find something out about his completely unexpected speed blues vocal on “Gone Dead Train,” which opens the amazing “Performance” soundtrack, but he had nothing. No idea about the sessions or any of the other artists. “I just recorded my track separately. Never even met [producer] Jack Nitzsche. Can’t tell you a thing. Sorry.”)
Nilsson had an amazing voice, with a range of three and a half octaves. His lyric perspective ranged from the banal to the childish (loved “The Point”) to the extreme, often quite touching and sentimental. (When I heard his “You’re Breaking My Heart” for the first time, on the radio in LA, I literally almost went off the road. Never heard THAT on the radio before!) His commercial success was limited, mostly to just a handful of songs, but he was very respected among musicians.
He never toured and rarely performed live. After his close friend John Lennon’s assassination in 1980, Nilsson withdrew from music. His extremely dissolute lifestyle in his younger days probably contributed to his death at 52 from a heart attack, at his home in Agoura Hills.
He was a fascinating artist and the best insight into his life comes from Santa Monica’s own award-winning writer-producer-director and UCLA music prof, David Leaf. His 2006 doc “Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?” is a delight. I will probably mention Leaf again soon because he has an upcoming “gig” at McCabe’s.
YELLOW SUBMARINE (50th anniversary, new 4K restoration), midnight Fri, Nuart Theater, West LA, $12.
6th annual LAUREL CANYON LOVE STREET FESTIVAL with Love co-founder JOHNNY ECHOLS, Doors JOHN DENSMORE and ROBBY KRIEGER, LILI HAYDN, WILSON PHILLIPS and MAMA MICHELLE, Monkey MICKEY DOLENZ, CHRIS STILLS and many more (well, doesn’t this sound like fun?! how did I miss the first five? — celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Doors’”Love Street” album and the music wonderland that Laurel Canyon was in the ‘60s and ‘70s when so many creative musicians congregated and lived there and Zappa had his famous log cabin and treehouse and the GTOs, this is a fundraiser to stop development in the canyon, free but $25 donation suggested, with pet adoptions, pizza, wine, coffee, arts and crafts, yoga, bounce house, organic Canyon lemonade, bacon-wrapped hot dogs, meditation, baked goods from Wonderland moms and supporters — groovey, man) Sun 8 a.m.-8 p.m., 2100 Laurel Canyon Blvd, LA, no cover but donation asked.
X, MIKE WATT (great pairing, the iconic LA quartet X are always a rip-it-up show not to be mIssed, and the indefatigable San Pedro rocker Watt, founder of the Minutemen, Dos and Firehose and slamming bass for the Stooges for a decade, just keeps rolling, but you will have to drive a ways for this one), Sat 7 p.m., the Canyon, Santa Clarita, $24-$48.
(Anytime you see half a dozen bands listed at the tiny country music hangout you can bet you’ll hear some good stuff so gamble a free admission and just go), Sun 5 p.m., the Cinema Bar, Culver City, no cover.
MASON SUMMIT, others (if you’ve caught the considerable vocal/songwriting talents of local performer Mason Summit at any of the monthly Library Girl shows at the Ruskin Theatre here and you don’t want to wait a month, trip on over to Silverlake tonight), Mon 8 p.m., Silverlake Lounge, no cover.
ROGER MCGUINN and CHRIS HILLMAN, plus MARTY STUART & HIS FABULOUS SUPERLATIVES (a small flock of Byrds with originals McGuinn and Hillman, this is nonetheless a rare sighting with great promise, Stuart is worth seeing all on his lonesome), Tues 8 p.m., the Theatre at Ace Hotel, downtown LA, $49.50-$95.
BAND NAMES OF THE WEEK: Thirty Seconds to Mars, Walk the Moon, Forest of Tongue, Hollow Legs, Car Seat Headrest, X, Trippie Redd, Ski Mask the Slump God, Courteous Tone, the Psychedelic Furs, Pedestrian Deposit, Leftover Crack, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Furnace Girl, Mango Napalm, Paddy’s Pig, My Bloody Valentine, the Bonedaddys, Amps for Christ, Go Ask Alice.
LYRIC OF THE WEEK:
“I’d rather be dead — I’d rather be dead, I’d rather be dead than wet my bed, I’d rather be dead — I’d rather be dead, I said dead than wet my bed.
Oh, I’d rather be gone — than carry on, I’d rather go away — than feel this way.
Oh, I’d rather be there–where you haven’t got a care, and you’re better off dead — though it doesn’t seem fair.
(Ladies) I’d rather keep my health — and dress myself, but you’re better off dead than sitting on a shelf.
[Men] I’ll tie my tie ’till the day I die but if I have to be fed then I’d rather be dead.
And when he takes my hand on the very last day, I will understand because it’s better that way.
Oh! It’s nice to be alive–when the dream comes true, you’ll be better off dead — it could happen to you.
Oh! I’d rather be dead — I’d rather be dead, I’d rather be dead than wet my bed.
I’d rather be dead — I’d rather be dead, I’d rather be dead than wet than wet my bed.” — Harry Nilsson (from “Son of Schmilsson,” 1972)
Charles Andrews has listened to a lot of music of all kinds, including more than 2,000 live shows. He has lived in Santa Monica for 32 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at email@example.com