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Nilsson: The Life of a Singer-Songwriter Hardcover – July 18, 2013
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Award-winning British jazz critic Shipton calls Harry Nilsson “a songwriter’s songwriter.” Unlike most musicians, Nilsson never regularly toured and rarely performed in concert. Many of his songs were autobiographical, his way of exorcising perhaps the most painful episodes from his life, including his father’s abandoning the family when Nilsson was a boy and the gruesome death of his beloved cat. Shipton’s lovingly detailed biography of an often enigmatic figure chronicles the poverty of Nilsson’s childhood, his fledgling career as a singer-songwriter in Los Angeles, his bouts with fame, and his self-destructive behavior. His celebrity friendships are also explored, none more so than his complicated relationship with John Lennon. Shipton describes in detail the notorious incident that took place at the famous West Hollywood club, the Troubadour, in 1974, in which both men caused a drunken commotion. The murder of Lennon in 1980 had a profound impact on Nilsson; the notoriously private singer even campaigned for gun-control legislation. Nilsson fans will appreciate this long-awaited biography of an often neglected and underrated musician. --June Sawyers
"Shipton... balances Nilsson's tragic story with exacting analysis of his talents and similarly detailed accounts of bacchanalian exploits with ex-Beatles and other bons vivants." --Rolling Stone
"An amazing tale." --Boston Globe
"Nilsson fans will appreciate this long awaited biography of an often neglected and underrated musician." --lBooklist
"An in-depth and informative book."
-Below the Fold
"Readers of this engrossing new biography will come away with a tremendous knowledge of and respect for the man and his music. And a great sense of loss, as this delightful fellow departed far too soon. " --Pop-Culture Classics
"The definitive work on the man who put the lime in the coconut."
"Nilsson: The life of a singer-songwriter, is a fitting epitaph that keeps an unmatched legacy alive. Nilsson's eclectic, eccentric, funny-as-hell, wistful, whimsical, childlike brilliance will be listened to by people 100 years from now. And Shipton's biography does its best to explain it all."
"Shipton, well noted as a researcher in jazz, has produced a very well-researched biography. Certainly more historical than analytical, the book is a fine read and an important addition to the literature because as emerging songwriters begin to explore songs written during a key period of songwriting, they will have no choice but to gravitate toward Nilsson." -T.R. Harrison, Jacksonville University, CHOICE
"Alyn Shipton's biography of singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson is a thorough, loving depiction of one of the era's most endearing and enigmatic characters."--Pacific Rim Review of Books
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Top Customer Reviews
A great story, expertly told with extensive supporting notes and bibliography.
For me, what takes this book strongly into the 5 star realm is the detailed accounts revealing how the music was made.
Best case, you own the 17 CD RCA Albums collections (I don't) , worst case you hear the music on youtube & your personal collection (I did)
As I read the stories describing how the various albums came together, and a detail was mentioned about a specific track, vocal, technique, or instrument. I put the book down, and listened to the track on my phone via youtube or itunes. Songs that I have heard many times before surprised me with new life as I listened with new intent.
Most notably, this technique of keeping the music at my fingertips paid off when the book lays praise on Nilsson's voice. Cue up the song in question and realize, wow, he really was as good as all the recent press keeps saying he is/was. ( Examples "Perfect Day" or "All I think About Is You" )
An emotional read, recommended for anyone with the slightest interest in music, or biographies. Essential read for even the most casual fan of Harry Nilsson.
Nilsson was blessed with a keen mind, and there he was at the forefront of the computer revolution. He worked his way to the top at a bank where he specialized in computer systems, even though he didn't even have a high school diploma. Was even known to wash the windows at his job. And for quite a while, Harry hung onto this very position even though his songwriting career was taking off. His character's kind of nebulous and hard to pin down though, making it rather difficult for any biographer. Harry Nilsson lived below the radar, and the author emphasizes that he never played before a live audience. That's an overstatement because he did play short set(s) before a small crowd of people, but surely he never went on any kind of tour. And that's the way he wanted it, and that restriction kept a certain pressure at bay. Harry controlled his career, not the music industry. The surprise here is all the songs that I was very familiar with from the 1970s that were indeed Harry Nilsson's. Here's a tasty sample: "Everybody's Talking" (from film "Midnight Cowboy"), "The Lime in the Coconut," "Without You" and "Jump into the Fire" (utilized to great affect in Scorcese's "Goodfellas").
The story loses some momentum half way through, and then, as one would expect, things pick way up when Nilsson connects with the Beatles. Notoriously, Nilsson clicked immediately with John Lennon and also enjoyed a long friendship with Ringo Starr as well. Nilsson and Lennon's exploits in California are legendary, and most would agree that was an out of control part of Lennon's life. Drinking, drugging, smoking and most likely fornicating. You get the picture. Additionally, Harry bought a flat in London where he lived on and off for several years. He would lend out his place to his famous friends when he wasn't in town. Both Mama Cass and Keith Moon in fact died in that very apartment. In this same regard, Nilsson died way too young also, having suffered a major heart attack at 53. This happened a mere six months after losing his life savings via money mismanagement by a trusted associate.
Definitely a well written book that shines a light on a writer/performer who is somewhat forgotten, but whose songbook certainly deserves a revival.
Full disclosure: was granted advance reader's copy via netgalley.com
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of his recordings is here, if that's what you are looking for.Read more