By Sue Schnelzer
"If only I could find a place where smiling strangers knew our faces; I would take you there. A place with constant melody, where you and I could wander free; I would take you there." When Harry wrote these lyrics to "I Will Take You There," for the film, Skidoo in 1968, it's possible that subconsciously he was describing one of his favorite countries in Europe. Harry visited the Netherlands that same year and made an impression on the Dutch entertainment industry that has lasted nearly three decades. Evidently, the feeling was mutual; in 1974, Harry recorded a promotional message for the Dutch underground radio station, Veronica, and during an interview with Berry Zand Scholten, Nilsson dubbed the Netherlands, "the music gateway to Europe."
Last year, Jack de Vries, (a sound engineer who works for the Netherlands Broadcasting Corporation [NOB]) sent me an email message asking for articles about Harry. Jack was looking for additional material to support the upcoming Nilsson! play in Amsterdam. I shared some Nilsson material with him, and thought it would be interesting to learn a little more about our fellow Nilsson fans in the Netherlands. So, I asked him to share his story with all of us. Without further ado, here is "Vervolgverhaal van Jack," (the continuing story of Jack).
Sue: Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?
Jack: My birthplace is Haarlem, where I was born May 26, 1948. Haarlem is about 20 kilometers to the west of Amsterdam. When I finished my school years in 1969, I moved to Hilversum, the media-city of the Netherlands. Here I started my career as an assistant sound engineer for public broadcasting. Wow... that was it! In that period radio was still something special! You met so many people, famous musicians, singers (unfortunately, not Harry), sports legends, politicians, etc. And not only in the studio, but also on location.
Over the years I became a sound engineer and then chief-sound engineer! But, leading people isn't for me, so most of my job is engineering and that means taking care of everything that has to be broadcast for the listeners of the different radio-stations (from pop to news). Which means also technical preparing, editing, recording and broadcasting and that on the most impossible times!
Sue: What are the roots of your musical interests?
Jack: It was in the '60s, I think from 1963, I became a big fan of the Beatles, I bought everything I could find about them, saw the movies, visited the concert in Blokker, etc. And ... I'm still a fan (and Harry knew why). Their influence made the limits in the music disappear. When I was started my job in Hilversum, my interest for the Beatles became on a low level. Maybe it was caused by the break up of the Beatles, but there also was so much happening; I came into contact with so many other music styles.
Sue: Tell me how you became a Nilsson fan …
Jack: It was in 1971. We saw the film, Midnight Cowboy in the cinema. I was very impressed by the film, and also with Dustin Hoffman and shortly after this, I bought the LP, Aerial Ballet only for the song "Everybody's Talkin'." The rest of the songs intrigued me; the beautiful voice, the different style of songs ... but I didn't look for more (I didn’t even know about his relationship with the Beatles!).
But over the years I bought more Harry LPs like Pandemonium Shadow Show, of course for that fabulous version of "You Can't Do That," the mighty biographical (I read about it later) song "1941," "She's Leaving Home"; Harry, for the "Puppy Song," that sensitive "Mother Nature's Son" (again, a Beatles relation!); The Point! after seeing the film on television; Nilsson Sings Newman, so beautiful simple, but so pure ... and Knnillssonn for the beautiful arrangements! Unfortunately, after that I lost track of him.
Sue: When did you experience a renewed interest in Harry and his music?
Jack: In 1987, my interest in the Beatles was growing again after I heard there was still a Dutch, but international Beatles magazine. So, I started collecting material about them; also books! And then I read about the relationship with Harry. And I thought: I have LP's from Harry, didn't I? And I became again more and more interested in Harry: what kind of person he was - I know his constellation is Gemini (it's also mine), his course of life, his relationship with John Lennon and Ringo Starr. I discovered his many-sided talent, his humor and his weaknesses, but ...He was a nice guy, he didn't suffer from a swelled head and he wrote beautiful songs!
Sue: Is Harry’s music still popular in your country? Do you ever get a chance to play his music on the air?
Jack: My job has the advantage of being able to communicate with a lot of people. You talk about music almost every day, because it's hard to get away from it in the daily programming of the radio. Of course Harry (and naturally Beatles!) is mentioned, especially when Harry is on the play list. Most people I work with know "Without You," "Everybody's Talkin'" (huh? Harry Nilsson?!? Midnight Cowboy! Oh yes, I've heard of it...). I'll try to influence them by saying, there is more. Little by little they know about my relation with Harry's music. Last Tuesday they asked me : "Hey Jack, you've Harry with you, because we're short on material" ... And of course, I always have a minidisc in my inside pocket! Sometimes the compilers have CD material with Harry covers as last month; Astrud Gilberto with the "Puppy Song," "The Wailing of the Willow," and "Don't Leave Me." It’s also nice to experience the influence of Harry's music on different Dutch musicians, from cabaret to soccer players! And of course the music theater play Nilsson! that happens in the Netherlands. You know what Harry said: The Netherlands is the music gate to Europe!
Harry said, “My own criteria for songs are public acceptance, longevity, the degree of challenge – in addition, of course, to the quality of the work itself.” I think Harry would have been proud to know that he still has many fans in the Netherlands, and hopefully, there are many new fans who were introduced to his music by Bill van Dijk and Jeroen van den Berg because of their efforts with the Nilsson! play. I’d like to thank Jack for taking the time to share his story with us and also for helping to keep Harry’s music reverberating on the radio airwaves in the Netherlands!