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Nilsson: The Life of a Singer-Songwriter Paperback – 29 Oct 2015
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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." -Houston Press
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." -Goldmine Magazine
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
About the Author
Alyn Shipton is the author of many books on music including A New History of Jazz, Groovin' High: the Life of Dizzy Gillespie, and Hi-De-Ho: The Life of Cab Calloway. His biography of Harry Nilsson won both an ASCAP Deems Taylor Award and an ASRC Award for the best pop biography of 2013. He is the presenter of Jazz Record Requests on BBC Radio 3, and has also written on jazz for several newspapers including the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph and the Times. He is an accomplished double bassist and currently co-leads the Buck Clayton Legacy Band.
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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...
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?...
In the days of instant fame & commercial / financial success leading to equally rapid obscurity, some will disbelieve the early days years of struggles, to succeed.
Sometimes, there is an excess of detail, but the book is well researched & a good source material, for anyone `discovering` one of the most unique singers & songwriters, of C20th. Definitely, worth listening to the early days material; however, you have to understand the humour as well as the lyrics, or you`ll miss some of the unique flavour of his songs & production techniques, and why things just happened, as they did.
Almost everything in his life was an extreme. So much talent, so much lost.
However, it`s a recommended read; then listen to the songs.
4star, because I found it a bit overdetailed, at times. Not a major fault; some will love the detail.
Still a fan, after all these years.
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