- Hardcover: 368 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (July 18, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0199756570
- ISBN-13: 978-0199756575
- Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 1.3 x 6.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 73 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #242,911 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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.
Mr. Shipton's book has a couple of really strong points:
First, he had access to the Nilsson family and the Nilsson Estate, and in particular to the unfinished autobiography Nilsson was composing, both in form of recorded tapes (the "oral" autobiography) and written drafts (the "draft" autobiography)
So there's quite a deal of fresh input. By the way, the quoted parts of Nilsson's draft autobiography are extremely well written and full of humour... too bad he didn't have the chance to complete it himself...
Second, Mr. Shipton is a musician himself - unlike so many "music critics" who couldn't tell a major chord from a minor one if their lives depended on it - and therefore his primary focus is always the music (the songwriting and recording process, the production choices) rather than the personal/sordid/gossipy bits. Which are there, of course, it's "hell raiser" Nilsson we're talking about after all. But the spotlight is always on the artist and on his music first.
To be perfectly fair, it must also be said that Shipton draws, I mean, A LOT, from director John Scheinfeld & LSL Productions' documentary film "Who is Harry Nilsson? (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him)". This film is truly a must-see for any Nilsson fan, a 5-star treasure trove of interviews and archive material, currently available as a Region-free DVD which adds about 90' of bonus material, making it about 3 hours of material. I really advice any Nilsson fan to give it a look.
Shipton's book is also (very slightly) marred by a few minor omissions (Nilsson's 1968 BBC session for "Saturday Club with Brian Matthew" goes totally indiscussed, only passingly mentioned in a quote from Nilsson's then wife: and yet it's the rarest of the events, being one of the the very few occasions Nilsson performed [and recorded] live in public); and there is the odd disputable assertion ("In 1967 the Monkees were the closest thing America had to the Beatles" - well I don't know really... what about the Beach Boys?) and a bit of shaky judgement here and there (I honestly don't believe 1976's "...That's the Way It Is" to be better than the previous two records... and when discussing "Duit on Mon Dei", the author completely forgets "Puget Sound", the little gem of the album and the closest things to Nilsson's early stuff; and utterly fails to aknowledge the incredible duet with Gloria Jones on "What's Your Sign").
But all considered, a very fine book.
The only thing that really puzzles me is the cover picture. I've seen dozens of portraits of Nilsson, some of them funny, others witty, or moving, or all these things combined and then some... but the publishers decided to go with the most dull, insignificant, nondescript picture of Nilsson I've ever seen... Do these people know anything about marketing and advertising?
Don't they know that a good cover alone could consistently improve sales figures?...
Most recent customer reviews
of his recordings is here, if that's what you are looking for.Read more