Thanks to the kindness of Colin Richardson, his April 10, 1978, interview with Harry Nilsson is reproduced below. Please visit Richardson's blog at https://colinrichardsonjazz.typepad.com/blog/ to learn about his fascinating career as a freelance music journalist and the amazing artists that he has met and interviewed.
HARRY: Well, we are talking.
COLIN: ... and it seems to be a natural for you ...
HARRY: It seems to be...
COLIN: ...and, good to have a man in the camp.
HARRY: Yeah, but on the other hand, it's like, Warner Brothers represents 60% of all records sold in the United States, and there are twelve hundred record companies in America, and there are six thousand, two hundred singles released every year. It's a big company, and they control 60% of the music. And, plus, they just signed Paul Simon, so it's like a very big bite for them to take, because I'm cold. I haven't had a hit in years. And they have to take me on and I've got to deal with that and get a hit there.
COLIN: You say you haven't had a hit for years, but your success has only kind of been a watershed in a way. Knnillssonn was, for my money not your best album necessarily, because there were some very good things on your earlier albums, which, you know, you've changed and you've moved on.
HARRY: Son of Schmilsson was fine...
COLIN: Yeah, right but, I mean, Knnillssonn was a fine album...
HARRY: Thank you.
COLIN: ...and there's no reason why that shouldn't be an on-and-up situation.
HARRY: Well, I agree with you on one hand. I liked it. Like, the... "Who Done It?" was good, I thought. A real mystery song, you know?
COLIN: Right. Well, it happens to get played a lot in my house, but we're biased. But it doesn't matter which criteria you judge it by, it doesn't fall down. And there's something wrong with a situation that releases a record and then lets it fade away, which is what it seems to be doing.
HARRY: Well, that's why I'm not there anymore.
COLIN: Right, and maybe it's because it's at the tail end of a situation that it didn't get the ...
HARRY: I think so.
COLIN: ... push that it deserved.
HARRY: I mean, it may not have been that commercial, but it was good. And part of it was the record company and, I guess, part of it's me. But, I mean, what do you do? You do your best. That's the first time I'd ever written all the songs on an album ever - except for The Point!. But there were only seven songs on that one.
COLIN: Well, yes. I always put The Point! off away on one side, as a special project....
HARRY: Yeah, special project...
COLIN: Yeah... definitely. The Point!, since we're talking about ... since we've come across that one. Was that a concept ... the idea came to you, as a concept for a movie? Or was it a play? Or ....
HARRY: Well, I was on acid at the time. I was walking through Laurel Canyon. In fact, it was the first time I took acid. The first time you take acid, God, you look around and ... Gee, look at all the flowers, look at all the plants. I was stuck in this room and there were plants and every one of them, each one of them comes to a point! I looked around and said, "Jeez, everything does" ... the wall there ... and stuff. Ahh ... "the point." What a pun. Like, ahh ... "good point." So, I started thinking about it. I wrote a twenty-two page treatment for it.
COLIN: This was after you'd come down.
HARRY: Oh, yeah. About two weeks later, as a matter of fact. So, I wrote the treatment and I tried to sell it to ABC which, at the time, was the least successful of the three networks in America. So, I figured, you know, walk in and... but, they had one special part, they had one good show, which was The Movie of the Week, which they invented. So, I thought, how about the first, feature-length, animated cartoon for television? It's never been done before.
So, I approached Hanna-Barbera. Well, first of all, it's $875,000 just for the animation. Not to mention any other costs. Not to mention the music, or this, the voice-overs, the talent. And the budget for The Movie of the Week at the time was $500,000. So, we can't do it. Then I had a meeting with this guy named Marty Starger, who was head of ABC, in programming. He was in charge of Movie of the Week. And he canceled out. Then we had another meeting set and he canceled that out. And the third meeting, the secretary called and said, Listen, I'm really sorry. Mr. Starger has been called to New York for an emergency meeting tomorrow morning, and so he won't be able to meet with you tomorrow. I said, Listen... my time's valuable, too. And I felt really, like nobody loves me. I felt, this is terrible.
So, I called the airlines that night. I said, "My name's Marty Starger, I'd like to confirm my flight." Just to check him out, you know? They said, after two calls, they said, "TWA. Yes. You're confirmed, Mr. Starger, at 10:45, TWA", so and so. I said, "Thank you very much." Then I picked up the phone again and called and said, "My name is Harry Nilsson and I'd like to book a seat next to my friend Marty Starger." They said, "Okay." I said, "I'll be there."
This is like seven o'clock at night and there's no chance of getting any bread or anything. All I had was a credit card and a dollar. I showed up at the airport and I get on the plane. Do the ticket thing there, sitting on the aisle seat. He's in the window seat, right? But he hasn't shown up yet. So, I'm saying, boy, so when do I break the news to him? Should I just sit here and order a drink and say, "By the way, I'm Harry Nilsson." Or do I just say, "Excuse me, I'm here because ..." Should I wait till the movie starts? All of a sudden, they close the doors on the airplane, and I said, "Hey, wait a minute, there's someone not here yet." I have no luggage. I'm here for a business meeting on this plane. I have a round trip ticket to New York and my friend's not here, "Let me off." They said, "Sorry, we can't do that." And I said, "Just open the door and let me off!" She said, "We can't do that." I said, "Don't tell me, tell him!" pointing to the captain. She went in, she panicked and told the captain, and he looked around and checked his headsets and spoke into the microphone and the next thing you know, they were both... by this time we taxied out onto the tarmac. So, it's like, a big deal. All of a sudden, they stop the plane and they taxi it around, pull up to the ramp door, where there are two men waiting at the bottom of it to talk seriously with me about why I...
COLIN: At a time when strange things are happening....
HARRY: Yeah, that's right. And I had long hair at the time, so it's like, they're saying, "What were you doing on the plane?" And, I said, I had a business meeting with this guy. I said, "Check the passenger manifest, his name is Starger." I mean, what, am I making this up? I had no luggage. You don't have to worry about bombs. So, finally they let me go. But now I'm standing at the airport, so I call the Beverly Hills Hotel, where he was staying, and they said, "Mr. Starger has checked out." And I said, "What?" What am I, in a nightmare? So, all right, is there anyone else there from ABC? They said, "Well, there's a Mr. Johnson." So, I said, "May I speak with him? Mr. Johnson? Listen, I'm a friend of... I mean, my name is Harry Nilsson, I was gonna meet Marty Starger at the airline this morning, but I'm at the airport now and he's not here. Do you happen to know...?" He says, "Well, that's my fault. He had breakfast with me this morning, which delayed his flight an hour. Now he's on American Airlines and it leaves at 11:15," or whatever. So, I said, "Okay. Thank you."
Now it's on the other side of the airport, so I've got to Dustin Hoffman it, uh ... The Graduate, over to the other side of the airport. Because I couldn't get a cab around. And, by the way, I'd bought a pack of cigarettes, that was 50 cents, I've got, let's see, 75, I've got a quarter left, you know? So, I get to the other side of the airport. I'm sweating, I look like a madman, I'm greasy, and I exchange my ticket and they put that little pasty on it telling me it's okay to fly, and so on. And I go up to the boarding area, but I don't know what he looks like. So, I figure, what am I gonna do now, go on the airplane and say, "Paging Mr. Starger?" So, it's just, I don't know, what am I doing here? So, it costs 15 cents to call from the airport. So, I put a quarter in the machine, and I call my lawyer. I say, "What does he look like?" He says, "Well, he's about average height, medium build, 43 and he carries a briefcase." And I'm looking around and there are 47 guys who look just like that, you know? I thought, "Oh shit, this is hopeless." Why did I do it?
Just then, I recognized, I saw somebody, a guy named Barry Diller, who later became president of Paramount Pictures. And I recognized him, he was the aide at that time to Marty Starger. So, I said, "I think I found our man, See ya later." Boom.
So, I walked over to him, greasy, sweaty. "Hi Barry. Hello. Hi. Hi, Marty Starger? Listen, my name's Harry Nilsson. You've canceled out of three meetings, you're a hard guy to get to know. But...."
I told him what I did. I called the airlines, told them I was you, booked a seat next to you on the other plane, they towed the plane away, brought it back, I got off the plane, called the hotel, spoke to this guy Johnson, he told me you were here, I ran across the airport, because I don't have any money, I've got a return trip ticket to New York and back, I have no luggage. All I want to do is get this idea across to you called The Point! Give me up to the movie and I'll tell you the story and after that I'll go and I'll sit someplace else if you don't like it. If you like it...
He said, "Well, give me the script." I said, "Fine. Just give me up to the movie." He said, "I never heard a story like that in my life". So, we shook hands and he smiled. So, we sat on the plane and we talked for five and a half hours until we got to New York. And then at the end of the conversation something happened, we ended up going...
He had a limo pick him up and he had to watch "The Tom Jones Show" on TV in the car. Meanwhile, he was sold on the idea, but he didn't say so. He said, "You will hear from me within two weeks." Two weeks later, we made the deal. It was $500,000 to make the first, and only, feature-length cartoon for television.
So, then I had another idea. I said, "Wouldn't it be better if Dustin Hoffman was in it? Since I worked with Dustin in Midnight Cowboy, I thought, "Well. What the hell?" So, I called him and said, "I'll come to New York to have a meeting with you. I want to show you something. Maybe you'd be interested in doing it." At the time he was getting like a million dollars a movie. All we could offer him was $20,000, and a small piece of the action. So, he looked at the drawings. Meanwhile, I'd hired Fred Wolf, who was an Academy Award-winning animator. He ended up sitting at the beach with a bottle of brandy and a mirror and a pen and a pad, doing 86,000 drawings by hand. Anyway, I showed Dustin and his manager the cells and they went for it and they said, "Yeah." So, the next thing you know, Dustin Hoffman.
So, I went to ABC and I said, "We just got Dustin Hoffman. But we're $20,000 over budget." They said, "We can't give you the 20 grand." I said, "You're joking!" I said, "It's Dustin Hoffman," and he had just finished whatever it was. And I said, "Jesus Christ, I mean, Dustin Hoffman, you can sell that for years, for crissakes, just 20 grand." They had to go to the Board of Directors/ They got the 20 grand. We got the money. We finished it on time. Under budget and made it. Since then it's gone on and now it's a play and now it's going to New York, we hope. And that's the story of that.
COLIN: Obviously, it's still very present with you, something that you're still very much involved with.
HARRY: Well, it was the first time I got involved with writing something ... ideal, and it's been bastardized over the years. But you can't keep total control over anything. They're doing a remake of Pal Joey, '78.
COLIN: I know, I saw that... yeah.
HARRY: I was listening on the radio...
COLIN: It's called milking. When you milk something...
HARRY: We were talking about the problems they encountered trying to change the dialog to be faithful to the script, and the show even. It's not an easy gig, and Broadway's a tough nut to crack. Anyway, that's what we're going through the last year or so. Just fucking around with Broadway and writing a few miscellaneous songs, in case, you know...
COLIN: With nothing specific in mind?
HARRY: Just built a house. Get in with the wife, baby, car, you know?
COLIN: You seem to be a bit of an Anglophile.
COLIN: Oh yeah? You won't find much of a flat left...
HARRY: Keith. I used to give the flat away to anyone who needed it. Anyone who was in town, if I wasn't there. Yeah, use the flat, no charge, just use it. But people abused it. So, I ended up going in. It took a month to straighten it out again, before we could get back in the living end. But the one guy who didn't fuck it up was Keith Moon, who respected it because I was a friend, and he needed a friend at the time and I was his pal. [...] Mama Cass died in that flat. In my bed.
COLIN: Is that right?
COLIN: I thought she died in a hospital.
HARRY: No, she died in my bed. They had to get her down in this very small elevator, you know, guys with wrenches and all. And a guy who, she had a boyfriend, gigolo type guy, and I was unaware of it. After she died, this guy didn't even have the courtesy to leave. He stayed there for three more months and sort of wrecked the joint. Meanwhile, Keith was perfect with the place. I mean, Keith is known to be a madman but, I'm telling you straight, he's a gentleman and a good man. Fine man. And he's got a heart bigger than this room. He took care of it because he respected it and understood. He took care. That's why I'm leasing it to Keith Moon now. In addition to that, when he was going through a divorce or girlfriend, we became roommates for a while. We lived in that flat together. We were like The Odd Couple, you know? And we used to make ... meals.
Picture Keith and I making a meal. It was like, you know, this brown and green stuff thrown together, coming out gray. And we'd go, "Oh, it's delicious." "More salt?" "Ahh, lovely, lovely."
And there was a time we used to drink a lot. I've curbed my drinking, and he goes in bouts with it. He fights the bottle, then he's cool, fights it, then... But, uh... one day, we were talking and he said, "Listen, let's not drink today." He says, "Right, then. All right?" "Right!" "All right then, let's not drink today. Right!" So, what'll we do? "Let's go to a movie." "Right, let's go to a movie."
We went nearby, 10 or 15 pounds on us, and we went to Leicester Square. We saw Electra Glide in Blue. We said, "Man that was great. Let's go see another movie." We're still sober and it's still early. "What do you say? Let's kill an hour." So, we went to another movie. I forget the name of it.
And we're on our way to our third movie, when ... we are walking down the street and feeling very proud of ourselves for being sober and doing things that people do. Going to the movies/ So, just then some madman comes flying off the street. There was a skinny guy walking around, and this guy wanted to kill this black guy. And he was just in his car, he aimed it at him, jumped over the curb, and aimed it at him, trying to kill him.
COLIN: In the West end of London?!
HARRY: Leicester Square. In fact, at the time, well .... Well, it doesn't matter where. The point is, the guy came up trying to kill this black guy, and Keith and me happened to be standing next to the black guy. And we saw this car coming at us, with these Charlie Manson eyes behind the wheel. KILL. He jumps over the curb and Keith and I jump for our lives and the guy's smashed into the window. A place like Selfridges. And we went, "What the fuck was that?" Here we are being sober, sane, going to a movie/ "Let's go get a drink!"
By this time, we've got only a few pounds. So we ran to the closest bar, which was next to a police station on Saville Row. It was a bar next to the police station. We'd feel safe there, you know? So, we went in, and we had a couple of drinks. We ran out of money, so they recognize Keith and said "Let me buy you boys a drink." Right! Just what we needed. We had, like, four brandies just to quick, calm our nerves. And then we ran out of bread, so now it's 11 o'clock and we're closing the bar.
I said, "Well, let's go to The Inn on the Park because they know me there and we can drink after hours. And he says, "Good idea! And we can charge it". So, he says, "Right!"
We go to The Inn on the Park, which is just around the corner from my flat. We're sitting there and we're drinking and Keith's getting up to about one bottle of brandy, and after that he goes a little crazy. He'd had one and nearly a quarter. And all of a sudden and, it just so happened they were opening a disco upstairs at the hotel, the mezzanine. And they said,
Ahh ... Keith Moon, Harry Nilsson. Musicians ... great! Come into our disco." Sit them right next to the speakers, please.
So, this is exactly what we didn't want. They sit us next to the speakers and they're blaring out, getting louder and louder and the guy's playing the worst shit in the world and we're listening to it and trying to talk about what just happened to us. We're getting drunk and all of a sudden Keith goes, "I've had it! I've had it!"
So anyway, Keith says, "I've had it! This is it! That's enough! That's enough of this madness!" He picks up a bottle on the table and throws it at the disc jockey. Misses his head by an inch. Smashes against the wall and the bottom half of the bottle fell on the record player, which went "rrreeeccchhh...." And the whole room comes to a sudden halt. All these people. Then, all of a sudden, six bouncers come over and waiters and everything, and they start grabbing Keith. And I said, "It's all a misunderstanding. It was an accident. It slipped out of his hand."
The next thing, I look up, now they're grabbing him by the arms and legs and he's fighting with them. He's strong. They pick him up/ I said, "You can't do that!" And next thing, I'm on the floor and the table's turned over and I grab a hold of a waiter's leg, and I'm holding on to the guy's leg and I'm saying, "Don't ... get back, my friend." Just then, I look up and the last thing I see is Keith Moon being carried up, out of the room, over the heads of six waiters, like a cockroach on his ass with legs going everywhere. Screaming at the top of his lungs, "Charge this to Neil Sedaka!"
Anyway, he took care of the flat. And now he's in it again. And I'm not going back because I have a fear of flying.
You have a sunburn. You've been out here in California.
COLIN: I have this sort of English tan, which is ...
HARRY: What is that? [Harry points to Colin's arm.]
COLIN: It's a tattoo of a panther, yeah. It's a bit old now. It was done by a guy who was about 90 years old and going blind.
HARRY: Oh God. What a chancer!
COLIN: Well, I was 17 and did it for a bet. That was 200 years ago.
HARRY: That's right.
COLIN: Yeah, I used to be a seaman, for about three years when I was about 16. Ended up in Auckland, New Zealand. That's where that happened. And yes, and I do have a sunburn. But you got to remember in England, the sun is something...
COLIN: ...if you sort of look away for too long, you've had your summer. But when I get to L.A., I like to get out there and ... it's amazing . .. It caught me quite unexpectedly. I didn't expect it to hit me so hard. It's not sore though. So, I can survive.
HARRY: Well, when Weltman came here, he got burned. But he goes brown. He sits out there, his shirt off and sitting there going, "Game on! More sun, more sun." I'm in the shade yelling, "More daughter, more daughter!" I can't stand the sun. I hate it!
COLIN: Well, you're fair and I'm fair-ish. Yeah... [Weltmann's] one of those guys. If he stayed here long enough, he'd be black.
HARRY: He goes very dark. He was a house guest of ours.
COLIN: Yeah? I didn't know that. I mean, it was purely fortuitous, I didn't know when I spoke to Steve, that he was as close to you as...
HARRY: He's the only guy who gave a shit. He's such a caring man. Pays attention to detail. His ideas. He's inventive. He was, like, the only guy there I could talk with and he was so good to me and he was so encouraging about that Knnillssonn album. He hung around the studio, and he did things. He sends flowers to my wife, and just never stopped being generous and kind. Never stopped. I've always had a great rapport and a great respect for him. In fact, I tried to get him to come to America when we were cleaning up the Knnillssonn album, but RCA, at the time, didn't want an Englishman coming to America. And I said, "Why not?" And they said, "Well, he doesn't know America." It just so happens that we were in a big meeting with the new president of the company, who's from Mexico, and I said to the guy who said that, I said, "Do you realize you're saying he doesn't know anything about America, which disqualifies him. And you're saying that in front of a man who's from Mexico, who hired you. So, what do you have to say for your boss, and what does it say for you?" When it came to that, I mean, that's one of the reasons why I'm not there anymore. It's just, Steve would have done a wonderful job for me and ... well ... be that as it may.
I don't want to quit or lose it, you know? I want to have a hit, before I quit. So, I'm going to do five more albums, I've decided. So, I'll sign with either Warners or A&M or Columbia or somebody, and I'll do the albums, and I think I'll have a better time of it there. It took me a year to decide that, because I just laid off. Like John Lennon, who'd just laid off for three years and had done nothing. I was trying to do that, too. But I got the itch again. I want to go back and get a hit and leave. I'd like to have five or something. But I want to do five more albums then quit. In the meantime, doing the Broadway thing is like a side bet. Just so I'm active and doing something, otherwise you go crazy.
COLIN: Well, sure. But you're pacing it?
HARRY: Pacing ... well, I certainly know what I'm doing, I think. You never know what you're going to do next. But you make a plan. You try to live up to it and get a rough idea of what you're going to do tomorrow morning.
Colin's photographer, Armando Gallo joins the conversation.
HARRY: I had a wonderful afternoon in Italy one day.
ARMANDO: You did? A long time ago?
HARRY: No, about a year and a half ago. My wife and I were driving ...
After a break in the recording, the interview resumes.
COLIN: You've never, ever actually performed live, at all.
HARRY: Not professionally.
COLIN: Any particular reason?
HARRY: Well, no, there is a strategy... Well, first of all. I worked at a computer center for seven years. For a bank. And, when I left the computer center, I had a contract with RCA. Herb Alpert, The Monkees, Blood, Sweat & Tears and Jeff Beck just cut songs of mine. So, all of a sudden, in like a week, I get a phone call from John Lennon, and a phone call from Otto Preminger asking me to do a movie. Everything was looking very good. I did all these things, and I was very busy, active. And someone said a few months later, someone said, "why don't you do... uh .. what are you doing personal appearance-wise?" And I said, "Nothing." They said, "You don't do personal appearances?" And, at that moment I said, "No, I don't!" He says, "Well, why not?" And I said, "Well, I just don't want to do them." So, it became like a ... a ... how do you put it?
COLIN: Modus operandi?
HARRY: Yeah. It was like, ah ... a style.
HARRY: Someone who hasn't done it. I sort of played with the idea for a while and then it became like a strategy move for dealing with record companies. When I finally made ... I never signed for money in the early days. And then when I finally ended up signing with RCA, for, like, millions of dollars, their thinking was, "God, if he sold this many records without ever doing a personal appearance, what would happen if he did?" So that's why they invested so much money. In the meantime, I sort of grew into the idea that, hey, I don't do personal appearances. And the next thing you know, I didn't want to do them. So, consequently, I don't do them. So, now I'm starting to worry.
COLIN: Catch-22 in reverse.
HARRY: Yeah... yeah, right.
COLIN: That's interesting. Would you now, perhaps as an indulgence even?
HARRY: You mean ...
COLIN: ... play on your own terms with the right musicians?
COLIN: Latin, yeah.
HARRY: Latin and French. But they wouldn't let us use God's Greatest Hits as a title. You know, they thought it was pretentious. And I said, "What are you talking about? I didn't write it, He did."
It was a big argument, and they wouldn't let us use it anyway. So, I thought, you know, fuck 'em. I'll do a ... I know! We had this great band, the best band in the land. There was Jim Keltner and Ringo and Klaus Voormann, Danny 'Kootch,' Dr. John and Van Dyke Parks. The most amazing musicians in the world, all in this band, Cookin'! Bobby Keys, and Trevor Lawrence was one of the guys - saxophone. So, I mean, this is a hot band. We did three or four albums together and we were cooking. We used to sit there, and time was not an issue. We just ... cooked and drank and just making out and had laughs and had a good time which a lot of people put us down for later, but still ... About five years, maybe they'll like it. So, I thought, I have a great idea. I'll call Grauman's Chinese Theater where they put the handprints. I'll rent the theater for a night, and we'll do "One Night Only - God's Greatest Hits, Featuring Live On Stage - The Original Cast." I called and they wouldn't rent me the theater, and I said, "Why not? You have shows on the sign." And they said, "Well, we're not in the business of renting a theater. We're in the business of showing movies." I said, "This is better than a movie. 'God's Greatest Hits on Stage.'"
They said, "No!" I said, "Well, if you're not going to go for that, who can I speak to? The guy said, "Me!" And I said, "Well, I guess this is the end of the conversation then. So that was canceled. Then I talked to a dude at the Pantages, and I never followed up on that phone call. As it turns out now, the Pantages Theater is showing Man Of La Mancha with Richard Kiley. They turned it into a theater. So, we were a few years ahead. But it was a good idea, and I would have done that one. And occasionally... once George Harrison and Ringo and I talked about forming a band called Band-Aid. Ha! Aside from the sweaters made up with band aids on them... across the heart....
COLIN: Ahead of the "punk" thing!
HARRY: Yeah. So, it was like, we talked about it. Every time we would meet each other at Tramps or someplace, and were drunk, we'd talk about it. But it never came to pass. It was a good idea at the time. It would sort of be a traveling Bangladesh for a couple of months with money going to charity. Just have a good time. Get off on it. Have a laugh. Make some music.
COLIN: It's a shame it didn't come to fruition.
COLIN: Well, you've got seven years to go.
HARRY: That's right. Ahh, you're good at math.
COLIN: Well, I was working on that one. I knew you were going to say Noel Coward. I'm very good at ESP.
Going back briefly over the European thing ... was it, sort of, a preference to being in Europe that brought about the making of those albums?
HARRY: No, not the first time. Let me backtrack a bit. In '67 and '68, when I left the bank and went into the music business, John Lennon called. [Harry imitates Lennon] "Hey man, you're fookin' fantastic." I said, "So, are you." So, it's seven in the morning and he's calling from England, you know? Derek Taylor was playing him my first album. And the next Monday, Paul called and said, [imitating Paul] "You're fantastic! " I said, "You're not bad yourself." So, the next morning I get up at six o'clock, comb my hair and wait for Ringo to call.
I said, "What is all this?" This is easy, man. All of a sudden, The Beatles are calling me. Otto Preminger to do a movie with. Anyway, then I get a call from Derek saying, "Would you like to come over? The boys are doing an album. The lads are doing an album, and you're invited to come over and hang out, watch the album." Which is a big thrill and I felt very honored, and I went.
And, I went to the airport and was met by a beautiful girl, who was a dear friend to [...] Chris. Chris O'Dell, you might know her. She owns a company called [unintelligible].
Anyway, she met me at the airport in Ringo's car and I thought, "Jesus, this is amazing." I get on in. One week, I'm at the bank, next thing I'm in London. By the way, the story to that is ... Otto Preminger - I was working for him that week of the phone call, and I said, "Listen, listen, do you mind if I take a week off?" It's very early in the production, with a year to go. There's not much music to do. "Do you mind if I take a week off?" He says, "What for?" I said, "Well, I've been invited by The Beatles to come to London." I think it was The White Album or the one before that ... after Sgt. Pepper.
Anyway, he says, "They're such good friends of yours?" I said, "No, no, no. It's just that. I haven't met them, but I'd like to go. He says, "They like you that much, they're good friends of yours. If they're such good friends of yours, why don't you ask them to do a song in our movie?" I said, "Well, I can't do that. I don't even know them. Besides, they're The Beatles." I said, "Besides, are you making this a business trip? Then you pay for it!"
And he said, "You think I would not pay for it?" He picked up a phone and says, "Get this Mr. Schmilsson here a ticket, second class, to London. Round trip, on me."
So, that's how I got to go. And I stayed at John's house over the weekend, and that was my first time in London. This goes to Europe, right? So, I had a wonderful time there. In fact, there was a carton of Lark, which I smoke, when they're available, in the back of the car, and I said, "These guys are amazing!"
COLIN: They'd researched it....
HARRY: They put a carton of Larks in the back of Ringo's limousine and had a beautiful blond girl meet me at the airport. This is incredible! I went to Apple and they had... It wasn't even Apple then, I think it was just, ah ... maybe it was Apple. Yeah, just started. And I'm saying, "Jesus Christ, they put the cigarettes." It turns out he smoked Lark and that's his carton of cigarettes!
So, anyway, I went back to America and went back to London once and RCA said we want you to take a tour of Europe. I did that, and I came back again, and after that, I met Richard Perry. I was a big fan of Richard's, you know, because he did that Tiny Tim album. And he was just starting off. So, we fell in love and said, "Let's do an album." He says "Uh... uh, Harry, uh, I think we should, uh ... try this in London." I said, "I don't know, I'm a little afraid of that. I don't know anybody over there." And he says, "Well, look, there's Bobby Keys and Jim Price and this guy, and Peter Frampton's a hot guitar player, and I said, "Richard was always on top it, right?" So, he said, "I think we should try it there." And I said, "I'm with you."
So I went to London, scared to death, took a little mescaline, went in the studio and cut "Without You." First night we arrived. piano and voice, only we did it one step higher. I mean it's a very high song anyway, and it was like, we did it in D, you know [Nilsson imitates trying to hit the high note ... unsuccessfully]. So, we had success with that album, so we did the next album in London. And then, they had a success with that album. Then we, then I think... let's see... the next one was the Derek Taylor album with Gordon Jenkins, A Little Touch Of, uh ...
COLIN: ...Schmilsson In The Night.
HARRY: Yeah... from Henry The IV.
HARRY: You know that?
HARRY: Good for you.
COLIN: I read the sleeve notes.
HARRY: It was there in the sleeve notes?
COLIN: Of course not. I was just kidding! Just getting you at it!
HARRY: Well. It could have been.
COLIN: Have you tried reading the sleeve notes?
HARRY: I read the sleeve notes on Aerial Ballet, "Slanted parking lot patterns and the the cars of many colors and children whining 'Why' and 'Where' and 'When' and the frozen-food-faced ladies in wobble-pink Capri's were roller-curling their basket-way to the fat and hungry Riviera trunks. While we, store-sullen men, sat silently in our various vinyl-shining seats waiting for something to come suddenly to snap the sad and slumberous Saturday Safeway stupor?"
COLIN: And you've got total recall.
HARRY: Not really. I remember the liner notes on, uh ... Schmilsson In The Night, something about... well, he said a very nice thing - "the greatest contemporary vocalist in the world." And he said something about, "it's not easy to write liner notes." Just give them an hour on an airplane and he'll write them. Liner notes are usually written in airports, you know? Anyway. So, RCA asked me to do a tour of Europe, and I went to Europe. Did that.
We did the three albums and I felt very lucky there. Very at home. It's such a small town compared to America, you know? Although, there are 55,000 people, Americans, living in London. It's like... America now, in Los Angeles, there are probably 100,000 Englishmen. And now the Arabs are in London. It used to be the ugly Americans in London, now it's the ugly Englishmen in America and now there's Arabs everywhere, you know?
COLIN: Come back... all is forgiven! We prefer the ugly Americans.
HARRY: I'm happy to hear that. I always felt close to them. So, I bought a flat. I lived there six years, off and on. Six months a year. And that's how that happened.
COLIN: Planning to come back?
HARRY: I'm afraid of flying, to tell you the truth.
COLIN: Take the boat... lovely.
HARRY: I've done it, the QE2.
COLIN: I'm speaking as if I've done it.
HARRY: I took two trips, where I took a few weeks off. Wonderful, you know? I also took the Concorde from Washington to Paris to London. One of those. But the thing about the Europe trip was, we had good luck. We had good fortune with the albums we made in London.
COLIN: Probably felt good there [...]
HARRY: Aw, I still feel that way. I'd love to ... like, the next album, I don't know where we're going to do it. If I ever do it, I mean. I'd like to do it here. But in London? There's so many Englishmen here you could almost do it. If I could bring Robin Cable, the finest engineer in the world.
COLIN: And Mike McNaught.
HARRY: ... and Mike McNaught. I love him. But, on the other hand, maybe something new, maybe something different. Because [Knnillssonn] was like a violins and percussion album. Strings and percussion was all it was. We didn't have enough percussion, too much strings. But it worked. It was very cleverly written. I mean... he did very... here's a guy that's never done an album. He was a rehearsal pianist, an audition pianist.
COLIN: I remember him from those days, actually.
HARRY: We'll check this. I met him when we were doing The Point! [the stage play in London]. He came in to play the audition for an actor who was auditioning for a part in The Point! The actor got the part, by the way, and Mike McNaught was the guy playing the piano for him with prepared material. And meanwhile, there was another guy who was the MD [Music Director], he got sick of alcohol, you know? He had alcohol poisoning.
COLIN: Taken suddenly drunk?
HARRY: No, no... very sick.
HARRY: And, he was in the hospital, so he had to quit. So I said, "What'll we do?" We were in a lurch, and I then said, "What about the guy who auditioned for that other guy? He was hot!" And they said, "Well, we'll find out who it is," and it was Mike McNaught. We brought him back and I said, "Listen, would you like the gig as MD for the show." He said, "You're joking." Because, at the time, he was telling me this later, he says, he'd just sold his piano.
COLIN: Oh, so it was kind of rock-bottom for him?
HARRY: So, like, all of a sudden it was, "hey, you know, Harry Nilsson, The Point! and this." And he went, "Yeah," and he took over, man. Boom! Very strong. Took over. He was trying to teach these English actors how to sing like an American. He started to do that. Which is not easy, by the way. It's not My Fair Lady. But he did it so well, and I said, "You know, God, I really love you, I mean, you're great. You've got the touch and the feel" and so on. "Would you be interested in doing an album?" And he went, "You bet." I said, "Okay, I'll make the standard deal, give you exactly what Richard Perry got. You do the arrangements, you get ten thousand dollars, or pounds, I forget which. And a percentage." And he just went ....
COLIN: Bowled him over.
HARRY: I said, "No, I'm serious." He says, "Well, I'll do my best." I said, "That's all I want. But make it like ... where there's strings and percussion, like a flirty "Who Done It?" And he did, yeah. It's got a nice ... a little stringy, but uh ... anyway. He did it and I was very happy with it. But to use him again now would be a difficult choice, because there are so many other things to do instead of backtracking, you know? It'd be like doing another album with Randy Newman, or John or something, or Gordon Jenkins. It's, like, hard to go back, backtracking, doing another thing.
COLIN: Are you still in touch with the lads, as they call them.
HARRY: Oh, with Ringo. Ringo and I are very close...
COLIN: Ringo's coming into town this week.
HARRY: Thursday, yeah.
[Harry and Colin have a short discussion about the possibility of an interview with Ringo and Harry.]
HARRY: He's very good about it. In fact, well the last time we saw each other was not under favorable conditions. I was drunk and he wasn't drunk, and it's like, it's okay if he's drunk, everybody else can be drunk. But, if he's sober, it's no good to be drunk. It's one of those.
HARRY: There was a gap. We hadn't been in close contact, since he left for Europe, which was like, a couple months ago, so it'd be awkward for me to ....
HARRY: But we're close. He was the Best Man at my wedding. Got this ring, went into ...
COLIN: Really? We're you married in England, by the way?
HARRY: We were married at the airport in Los Angeles.
HARRY: In the pilot's lounge.
COLIN: Don't say it was by a sky pilot.
ARMANDO: He's coming to do a movie, right? Ringo?
COLIN: A TV special, I thought.
HARRY: He's finished it, yeah.
ARMANDO: I think he's doing a movie.
HARRY: Most likely. Yeah, well, there's always an offer and he's always considering them and he's one of the best friends I've ever had in my life. We're close. Goddam, I don't know where he is half the time. He's in Monte Carlo, he's in Paris, he's trying to avoid taxes, he's living part of the time in London, part of the time in America.
ARMANDO: Rock 'n' roll gypsies.
HARRY: "Rock 'n' Roll Gypsies." [Singing] "And the rock and roll gypsies, were riding tonight." You know that song? Amazing. That's an obscure song.
COLIN: He's a walking encyclopedia.
ARMANDO: I'm a writer, too, so, I'm not really ...
HARRY: That doesn't mean you have to have any knowledge.
ARMANDO: You need to, in a way, if you have to write about people, you know. You need to know as much as you can.
HARRY: Yeah. But it doesn't mean you have to know the names of songs.
ARMANDO: No, in fact, [...] the name of this song. It's just that I remembered it, the title, "Rock 'N' Roll Gypsy."
HARRY: Yeah! There's a guy and a girl did it. I forget their names. Maybe here nor there. But anyway. Where were we?
COLIN: I think we're covered. Which is nice. I've got all I want, so just rap on.
The group talks about their drinks.
HARRY: This is the first Bloody Mary I've had. All I've been doing is drinking wine and it's like, I'm enjoying it. And, you know, you stay sober longer, you know.
COLIN: Yes. You know we're not exactly drinking heavily.
HARRY: In fact, after this I'm going to ... [taps the table] last week I was at ... The Bel Air Hotel'. Which, by the way, is like .... There are two hotels that I like to stay at. This is one. That's the other one.
COLIN: That's in Beverly Hills?
HARRY: It's in Bel Air which is Beverly Hills, hills, hills, hills. But in this hill there are gates, and you go behind the gates and there's one hotel, tucked very neatly into the mountains. And there's 68 rooms. That's it. And it's beautiful. It's beautiful. I mean, everything's right. Before 1943, it used to be a horse stable. They had a horse rink and, uh... this is unimportant.
COLIN: Well, I've got to... I mean, Steve asked me to look in on you.
HARRY: I said I would see him, too. Give him my very best and tell him I'll be by.
COLIN: You're just up the same road, aren't you?
HARRY: Yeah. Temporarily.
COLIN: And you're moving when?
HARRY: God only knows.
COLIN: Right. Great name for a song.
HARRY: Hmmm. We'll get the, uh, The Sand Dune Boys.
COLIN: Ah well, no, no. The Surfing Seven.
HARRY: That's it. The Magnificent Surfers. The Return Of The Magnificent Surfers. They made some good records, though, goddamn them.
COLIN: They still will, I expect.
HARRY: I don't know
COLIN: No? I think they're going to turn around and surprise everybody.
HARRY: Well, the Bee Gees did.
COLIN: Yes, they sure did.
HARRY: So, I mean, never count out The Beach Boys. They're hot, you know. The thing is, I like the Rutles.
COLIN: It's been shown here, yeah?
HARRY: They were trying to get me a tape, a cassette, of the music. And, I saw the TV show, most of it, Derek showed me the first half in his office. I listened to the cassette in the car. Play it, rewind it, play it again, rewind it and it's the most refreshing music I've heard in ten years. It was ... man! There's a button, by the way, which Warners Brothers is giving out called ... well, it says ... "I think it's the trousers."
COLIN: There was a lovely quote. I think it was in Billboard, from one of those L.A. jottings type things. They did a whole sort of satire in about five lines, of the later Beatle thing, but transposed to Rutles. It was perfect. Very clever. I think a lot of Eric Idle.
HARRY: I do, too.
COLIN: I've known him for a number of years. Not close or anything. I used to be the agent for the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.
HARRY: Oh, really? With, what was his name? Legs Larry Smith.
COLIN: Yeah... Neil Innes was, of course, the musical one.
HARRY: Also, was Graham Bond in that at one time?
HARRY: The guy that was killed by a train?
COLIN: No. That's Graham Bond, but he was never a Bonzo.
HARRY: I think I met them at the same time, actually. What a guy he was.
COLIN: Oh yeah. Nutty. I mean, he was into everything 'black.'
HARRY: Scary. Scared the shit out of me.
COLIN: There's a few stories about how he came to be, you know, run over by a train.
HARRY: I heard he walked into ...
COLIN: Or did they re-route the train to run over him?
HARRY: Now that's an idea.
COLIN: I knew Graham... back to the '60s, in the early days of rhythm and blues, when he was just starting out. When Dick Heckstall-Smith was on saxophone and Jon Hiseman was on drums. And he was pretty strange then. I could never get close to him.
HARRY: I met, well, Keith and I went out to meet Ringo on the Isle of Wight when we were doing ... that David Putnam ... uh ... what was it called ... about the '50s, that movie about the '50s with Ringo in it, and the guy became a star after that, David Essex.
ARMANDO: Don't Look Back.
HARRY: It was Don't Look Back. Was that it?
COLIN: No. Wasn't that Donald Sutherland?
HARRY: No. Don't Look Back was Bob Dylan.
COLIN: We're really batting zero here. We all know the one you mean.
HARRY: OK, so that movie. So, Keith and I paid him a surprise visit. We took a hovercraft over and we dressed up like '50's rockers, hair all slicked up and greased and jackets and we went to the make-up department and got all the crap, you know, and costumes to surprise him and that's where we met Graham Bond. He was there with ... uh ... Fury, Billy Fury.
COLIN: Yeah? God knows what those two had in common.
HARRY: Yeah. They were all there on the bandstand, and we had this big lunch, and Graham Bond got weirder and weirder and weirder and into the occult and black and yeaaahhhhh and wink wink, nod nod, nudge nudge and hubba hubba. And ... what are you talking about? And then, as a favor to Keith, Keith was doing an album on his own, no, it was a soundtrack for a movie or something, and he asked if I'd help him sing in the background, and I said sure, you know. And it turns out Graham Bond was there and I walk in and ewwwwwww. And he went "Arrrrrrr" and looked at me and "Rrrrrrrr." Scared the shit out of me. I couldn't even play cowbell. This is a couple of months before he died.
COLIN: Not even if he held it together.
HARRY: A cow couldn't play cowbell on that.
COLIN: Yeah, at the death, if you'll excuse the pun, he was doing about 20 bottles of cough medicine a day.
HARRY: What, Collis Browne?
HARRY: That bad? God bless Collis Browne.
COLIN: It's been banned now.
HARRY: Is that right? Bastards. Yeah, well, for the morphine ...
COLIN: Yeah, well, they were cooking it up.
HARRY: Such great stuff. I mean, you can drink a lot of benylin expectorant if you get a little low.
COLIN: Right. An awful lot though. God.
COLIN: What a wonderful interview this has been.
HARRY: I like it. And you can quote me.
COLIN: I don't need to, it's on tape.
HARRY: That' s right. And it's still going now.
COLIN: Yeah, it's still going round.
HARRY: [Leans into the microphone] Well, then I wrote ....
COLIN: [Adopting a "professional interviewer" tone] Tell me. Is it true what they say about Dustin Hoffman?
HARRY: I don't know. The last time I saw him he was drunk.
COLIN: Yeah? There's a new film coming out which I gather is ...
HARRY: Straight Time?
COLIN: Right. I mean, I haven't heard anything about it at all, but there's something about the title and the photograph with him in it that tells me that he should be about a homosexual.
HARRY: You know, funny that you should mention that. We we're at a place called On The Rox, a little club in Hollywood. It's like the in place. Last time I saw him, when he was drunk, and he was going ... making faggot remarks, you know, and just then this wonderful homosexual comes over to him and said, "Well, darling, what would you like to do?" And I said, "Well, I have to leave now." So, I walked away and that was the last time I saw him, you know. Well, I must say, in all fairness, he was loaded. And, it had nothing to do with anything, but. .. he was just, you know? But the guy coming over at that time was perfect. Filter in, man. You know, it sounds like we're listening to a tape recorder playing music.
COLIN: Yes, I know. It's coming through. There are about two different tapes playing from two different areas. It's definitely a bit bizarre.
ARMANDO: Do you know an Italian guy called, a singer, songwriter called ... [unintelligible]?
HARRY: I've heard of him. I don't know.
ARMANDO: He's on RCA. I was just wondering if you had ever ...
COLIN: He was just on an English album, wasn't he?
ARMANDO: An America album ...
HARRY: Yes, they brought him over here and they spent a fortune. Yeah, I think ... did Claudio Fabi do the ...?
ARMANDO: You know Claudio Fabi?
HARRY: Yes, did he do the production on that?
ARMANDO: No, he didn't...
HARRY: Oh, he didn't.
ARMANDO: Claudio has been working on that band, an Italian band called PFM.
HARRY: Yes, right. In fact, he was here a few months ago and we played part of the tapes. He's a very nice guy.
The recording is stopped and restarted.
COLIN: So, you're on your own.
HARRY: Yeah. That's right ... and "Without Me" and all those "Without" songs. I sang it in Spanish and in Italian. Claudio Fabi was my coach. He taught me phonetics and he's very strict. In the old days he was very tight.
ARMANDO: They call him Maestro.
HARRY: Yeah, that's right. Because he plays. Anyway ... [Harry sings a few lines of "Without Her" in Italian.] That's all I recall.
ARMANDO: It was number one in Italy. Yeah. It was number one. I remember.
HARRY: Was it big? His version, I mean, my version in Italian?
ARMANDO: They usually get a foreign artist to do a cover version which will sell again and again.
HARRY: I know, at one time, the English version, I think, was number one or two in Italy. That's why they wanted us to do an Italian version. And, I understand it was on the charts, I didn't know how big it was but, I was told it was a hit.
ARMANDO: It was very big, it stayed on the charts a long time there.
HARRY: That was a long-lasting record. In fact, that record was like number one for eight weeks. It was a long time. The only time it'd been done was like eight years ago by The Beatles. It was, like, one of the most,longest record. It was the first time a record was number one in England and America at the same time, in eight years, that's what it was.
Anyway ... advice to the young ... stay young... but grow up and stay young. [He coughs.] That's not a cold, that's a smoker's cough. What else can you do?
Well, you know, if you know there are, as we mentioned before ... twice ... there are twelve hundred record companies in America. Twelve hundred. And there are six thousand, two hundred singles put out a year. Six thousand, two hundred singles. Now, those are singles, right? So, you multiple that by ten, for an album, right? So, there are sixty, seventy thousand records made a year. Songs. If you know that going in ... you don't want to be in. The odds are totally against you. There's no way you can make it. On the other hand, if you're young, and when I say young, I mean up to twenty ... um ... well, you first have to start about 15, but, I mean, if you're over 25, forget it. I wouldn't start then. I started at 27, but I wouldn't recommend that. But, I mean, if you're young, and you're really ... You see, what's odd about this conversation is that it'll come out in print, and these pauses will be ... well, all right ... I mean the pauses. I hope you get. Because the pauses will never come out in print.
COLIN: They will be ... "thought" ....
HARRY AND COLIN: [Together] They'll be "dot dot dot."
HARRY: Anyway, but to the very young I would say, if you know you got it, man, if you listen to the radio or you can hear that ... that shit, and you know you can do better than that, then take a chance and do it. And, if you think you can and you're full of shit, and in your heart you know it, then don't do it. But, if you really know that you're almost as good as the Everly Brothers or you're as good as this guy, or Little Richard is your idol ... and if you can get into Little Richard and The Everly Brothers, you can create The Beatles. And if you can get into the Beatles, you don't need the Stones. And if you get into the Stones, you don't need, uh ... pooh-pah, Las Vegas. So, anyway, if you're listening closely, I'd say do it. If you believe you have a shot, a chance. Knowing the odds. Knowing that there are twelve hundred record companies and six thousand, two hundred singles put out every year. Sixty, seventy thousand songs every year. Seventy thousand, and you want to have a hit?
COLIN: There's not going to be that much that comes through.
HARRY: It's incredible. And the irony is, I've had two major hits which I didn't write which is a pain in the ass. Because, I mean, I'm a ... look, there are four or five songwriters in the world. There's me, John Lennon, Randy Newman, Laura Nyro, Frank Zappa.
COLIN: He writes songs?
HARRY: He's funny. That's the thing. You see, people don't realize that humor is the essence.
COLIN: Right. Spontaneity.
HARRY: Spontaneity. Because it's an art. And it's an art that's, like, you can't study for it.
COLIN: You've either got it or you don't.
HARRY: It's one of those. It's primitive art. Picasso, although he was a great portrait artist in his younger days, he just finally went berserk and [...] and everything became art. But rock and roll, the hook to rock and roll was novelty. "Itching like a man on a fuzzy tree." You know, what the fuck is that? And Little Richard, "Tutti Frutti, oh Rudy," You know it's ...
COLIN: It's supposed to be, basically, er, sexual...
HARRY: Not just that, it's novelty.
COLIN: I suppose.
HARRY: Well, yeah, but that was, well, mostly Chuck Berry did that. "I know you wanted to mate and you know what I mean." It's not like it's implied at all. But the idea is, don't forget the novelty. That's what it's about. Music is for enjoyment. And, especially, popular music. It's like, it's the fun. You can be serious when you're older. But, when you're young, have fun with it. Make jokes. Be novel. Because that's the essence of rock and roll, is to be novel. Novelty music is what it really is all about. And it gets serious as you get older...
HARRY AND COLIN: [Together] But don't take it seriously.
HARRY: After "I Am The Walrus" how serious can you get? There are two great songs, one was called "Imagine" the other one was called "Imagination."There's another great song called "As Time Goes By." You know, "You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is still a sigh. The fundamental things apply, as time goes by." Hey, now we're talking.
COLIN: That is fine. That's back to the nitty gritty.
HARRY: Yeah, but that's not rock and roll, though. But there's an element in it that's serious enough to be like what rock and roll is today. The rock and roll today is nonsense. It's garbage. It's not rock and roll. It's imitation bullshit. It's just sounds. Sounds. See, a recording studio, the art, the state of the art is the technological in the recording studio, and that technique has taken over from the artist. Where it used to be Little Richard and Chuck Berry and The Everly Brothers and those guys just singing, laughing and having a good time. Now it's the studio that's doing it. So now, the art itself, is dead. And needs, like, some blood.
COLIN: Where do you fit ... er ... this needn't be.
COLIN: No, I was gonna say, where do you fit in the New Wave movement, which I know isn't really getting anywhere here.
HARRY: I'm sorry, the new what?
COLIN: The New Wave movement, the punk thing. Because that's hardly ....
HARRY: I think it's already over with. I mean, you all put a safety pin through your nose. I mean.
COLIN: It might escalate into something.
HARRY: Well, it's done that.
COLIN: And what will survive, maybe two bands? And they were on the bandwagon anyway.
COLIN: The Stranglers were good.
HARRY: It's just another way of saying hello. But I don't see that. I don't think that's the way it's going. No. I think what's going to happen is there'll be ... uh ... it may not be four boys, you know, like it was. We're so used to saying 'groups,' you know. In the old days we used to call them 'combos,' right? And before that it was 'bands.'
COLIN: I used to have a combo.
HARRY: And, also 'trio' was another one. 'Trio,' 'quartet,' you know, during the jazz period. But 'combo' was the word substituted.
COLIN: That's a very American word.
HARRY: Yes. But, "combo" is a hip word. Combo. Combo-nation. Put them together - it's a word. So now we call it "group." And "group" is a word that stayed in the lexicon for a long time. What group are you in? It's not, what do you do? It's like ....
COLIN: ... you a group?
HARRY: Hey man, you're a group? Exactly. But I think something else might happen. I don't know if it's going to be. There'll be another Elvis Presley, and there'll be another Bob Dylan. Although ... [unintelligible]
COLIN: They'll be different.
HARRY: But there'll be someone who'll do that. Okay? And there'll be a combo, you know, or they'll be a group. For a while I thought it was going to go calypso. I really hoped it would. Mighty Sparrow and all that.
COLIN: It's too happy.
HARRY: It's too good. Too good.
COLIN: Reggae, which is not a million miles apart.
HARRY: Well, that's what I'm talking about.
COLIN: Well, reggae and calypso are a wee bit different.
COLIN: Yeah, a wee bit.
HARRY: But, when you get into steel drums, that's where you draw the line.
COLIN: Well, there's no steel drums in reggae, as a rule. But there's now something evolving in England which is very interesting, which is second generation English, British reggae.
HARRY: But they know Lord ... what's his name? Buster.
COLIN: Well, not so much that, that's going back a generation.
HARRY: But they know him?
COLIN: Yeah, but they know of him. But, you know, that is.
HARRY: Prince Buster, I think his name was.
COLIN: Yes, Prince Buster, that's a generation ago.
HARRY: [Singing] "Madness, they call it madness, I call it sadness, that's the way I run."
COLIN: He had one hit. Did he not?
HARRY: Wasn't that it?
COLIN: I think it was. That's what I mean, he had one hit, then it was goodbye.
HARRY: But it's great. It's like, Sir Lancelot had one hit in the '50s in America. Who ever heard of Sir Lancelot? Lord Invader, and The Persuaders, Lord Invader, Lord this one, that one... and Sir Lancelot. Love it, man. It's the greatest music in the world. Nothing better.
COLIN: You've been to the West Indies, I assume?
HARRY: Well, no. I went to Bermuda.
COLIN: Oh, 'North' Indies. You should try it. "Lotus eating" land.
HARRY: Yeah, I'd like to. Van Dyke Parks, who is, you know, one of the most brilliant musicians in the world. He's a genius. Is an expert on that music. There's a radio station called K ... I always remember it as Kansas City Saint Nick ... KCSN.
COLIN: KSAN ... oh no ... that's ...
HARRY: That's another one. That's a soft music station. But, KCSN plays obscure music. And there's another station called KCRW and they play on Sunday afternoon at like ... Sunday morning at 10 o'clock they play an hour of calypso music. And Van Dyke Parks.
COLIN: Calypso, as opposed to ...
HARRY: Calypso. Well, they also. It's mostly calypso. They throw in some calypso. I mean some reggae just to, like, get it there and say, we'll, we're all happy then. But Van Dyke Parks religiously gets up, records that radio show every week and phones in dedications to people like myself and other friends. [Imitating a Jamaican DJ] "And now dis one goin' out on the airwaves to Harry Nilsson from his friend Van Dyke Parks," and they play a Bob Marley song. That's the hip side, or else they'll play Lord Invader. And he listens to it religiously, tapes it, and listens to it in his car everywhere he drives. And, in addition, after he listens to the tape, the radio show, he goes to church. He goes to mass, every Sunday. And he's just as big a freak as you or I. But he's like ... strong.
Nilsson accidentally bumps the tape recorder.
Sorry, tape. He's very, what's the word? He's a committed man. Not that he should be committed.
HARRY: He's a man of commitment. And he's dedicated. Right now, he's doing this new Jack Nicholson movie, Goin' South. He's doing the music for it. Scared to death. First movie. But he's brilliant. And, if you ever have the time to listen to Song Cycle, you'll know what I mean.
COLIN: I know of him because, coming up, and, funny enough, the link holds, because I used to be involved with an artist called G.T. Moore, who had a band called G. T. Moore & The Reggae Guitars. English band. And he knew Van Dyke Parks and that's just fallen into place. Because I couldn't figure out why, he'd just landed ... doesn't he live up in Topanga, or somewhere?
HARRY: Right now he's staying at a classic old hotel that actors and dancers hang out at. It's like falling down, but a classic, one of those 19 ...
COLIN: I stayed at the Marmont.
HARRY: It's like that, but it's bigger and it's dingier. The guy scratches his head and says, "Here's your key." He's staying there for a month until he moves into a house, but I mean ...
COLIN: I may try to get to him ...
HARRY: You should talk to him. Because he's so knowledgeable and so ... just fascinating to talk to.
ARMANDO: A mountain, isn't it?
HARRY: Hmmm. What does "cito" mean?
ARMANDO: Montecito. It's a little mountain.
COLIN: Yeah. It's the small derivative, isn't it?
HARRY: Of the big mountain. So, it's M-o-n-t-e-c-i-e-t-o, I think.
COLIN: And it's where?
HARRY: It's on Franklin, between Cahuenga and Highland.
COLIN: Oh, very close.
HARRY: Very close. It's very easy to find, one block past Hollywood Blvd., Franklin, turn left, that's it.
ARMANDO: I saw you once around that part, at the supermarket.
HARRY: The Hughes Market.
ARMANDO: Not the Hughes Market. Another little market which was on Cahuenga and Franklin.
HARRY: That's it, the Hughes. Isn't it the Hughes?
ARMANDO: That ... er ... island on Franklin.
HARRY: Ah ... Ah ... Cahuenga.
ARMANDO: Because I live nearby, and I was wondering if you were living around there?
HARRY: I was probably buying wine. And then heading back to RCA. You know, it's funny, making albums and being drunk. And, not to mention drugs and all that stuff. You get high and you go in and make an album, and each album has a different high to it. Like, um... Schmilsson in the Night was like a brandy album. Bottles of brandy.
COLIN: And why not? That's how it should be.
HARRY: Right. [Singing] "I'll be loving you, always." Whew! The test is to keep your whiskey tenor voice away from the brandy. So, another album's whiskey, and then there's another album, like, I think it was ... God's Greatest Hits, was a sake album.
HARRY: I brought cases and cases and cases of sake.
COLIN: You drank it cold?
HARRY: No. No. I had it thought out. There's a big coffee urn in the hallway in the lobby of the studio. So, in the coffee urn, this big giant coffee urn, I just took all these bottles of sake and put it in the hot coffee. Heated it up, came in, hot sake. The whole band got loaded on sake and that's the way the album came out.
COLIN: Too much! Because I'm a sake freak. I love it. It's a beautiful high actually. It's good organic stuff.
HARRY: Certainly is. Well, I've had a hangover for the last ten years. I'm starting to feel like Robert Newton.
COLIN: Do the eye rolling bit. Show nothing but bloodshot.
HARRY: That's Keith Moon, isn't it? Arrrrr .. Jim boy, Jim boy. [Pausing to listen] Is that Johnny Mathis? Where is this music coming from? Is it in the hotel ... oh, it's there, isn't it? Now I see it.
COLIN: Down with stereo.
HARRY: [Leans into the microphone] Well, don't listen to music.
COLIN: No, it can only lead you astray...
HARRY: First of all, I might add, I don't have a record player. I don't have one.
HARRY: I haven't had one in over a year. I have a small cassette machine, like this one. And, if somebody really pushes me, I'll listen to a cassette. But it's got to be a friend whom I respect. But, to have a record player is such a temptation, because you want to go in and put on a record and turn it up. And if you're trying to live a normal life, which I'm trying to do, you can't do that. So, what I do is, I'll go to a friend's house and listen to their music, and they'll tell me what's going on. It's ... "Play that again. Turn it up." And you spend 18 hours doing that and you feel all right again.
HARRY: Exactly. Exactly. You need to get off every once and a while, that's the trip. But there's no higher feeling, I mean in my life, I've never had... well... I've had a couple of higher feelings. Once on amyl nitrate and once on acid in Hawaii, but other than that, generally, the highest feeling in life, for me, is sitting there and listening to a playback. You walk into a studio with nothing but your bare hands and all of a sudden, pieces of metal show up, and pieces of wood and animal skins attached to this and glass, and the next thing you walk out with a little box under your arm and it's a tape of music you've made. And you've made music, whatever that... it's intangible, but there it is in a box. You've managed to capture the invisible. Something that wasn't there, that you can't reach and you can't touch, is now on tape. And you walk out with it.
The highest moments are when you're loaded out of your brains and you're sitting in the studio and you know you got the take that you wanted for over 37 takes, you know, and you're listening to it back very carefully, you know, and you say, "Can you turn it up a few more db?" And, meanwhile, the board's cranked over and the needle's all the way over into the red, and you say, "Just a few more db. Okay, I'll tell you what, let's put it over on the small speakers." Play it on the small speakers, have a glass of sake, you know, then turn it up and you go "Wooooo" and, you know, that's when you smoke a joint and get a little loaded and just get higher and higher. And that, to me, is like the highest feeling in the world.
-  Nilsson recorded Flash Harry the next year. It was released, in the UK and a few other countries, but not the US, by Mercury.
-  Money
-  Steve Weltman - a mutual friend of Harry and Colin's
-  Actually, the line "a little touch of harry in the night" is from Henry V, Act 4, Prologue
-  "Rock and Roll Gypsies" by Ray Wylie Hubbard
-  The film, That'll Be the Day was inspired by Nilsson's "1941."
-  Roxy & Elsewhere
-  "The Mud Shark"