Top positive review
12 people found this helpful
Fine biography - don't judge this book by its cover...
on 14 November 2013
Harry Nilsson deserved a good biography, and Mr. Alyn Shipton has done a fine job of it.
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?...