In rock and roll, dreams can come true and sometimes the dream becomes a nightmare which overtakes the dreamer.
Harry Nilsson was a singer-songwriter, but rarely performed in public. His first success was selling songs to the TV Monkees while working as a computer programmer at a bank. Born in Brooklyn, he fled to Los Angeles to escape poverty. His first album released in 1967 was critically received and then more success and then more.
In 1971, “Nilsson Schmilsson” was a huge album after writing and performing a hit song for the Academy award winning film Midnight Cowboy. John Lennon was asked, who was his favorite band and he answered, “Harry Nilsson.” How do you deal with that kind of success all at once? How do people in the music industry always handle the pressure…drugs and alcohol.
The pressure to produce new work, the pressure to exceed your last success. The pressure of decerning good work from bad when heaped with praise by all. Overwhelmed by success it didn’t help that Nilsson rise coincided with John Lennon’s separation from Yoko Ono. They became known as the Hollywood Vampires in a series of alcohol fueled incidents. Three years ago, you were a computer programmer and now John Lennon is your drinking buddy.
How could that level of unbridled success continue?
The follow up album “Son of Schmilsson,” was everything “Nilsson Schmilsson” wasn’t. It was a still commercial success going gold. But it was the high point and was a struggle to produce. It wasn’t Harry’s fault, too much, too soon in an era of buffet drugs and endless alcohol. Glitz, glamour, reporters and flashbulbs. A&R men, Radio station executives and obligatory interviews. Lawyers and business managers and business meetings. All the things nearly always fatal to an artist.
We lost Harry in 1994 to a heart attack, a lost genius along the rock and roll highway.