written by Fred Neil
I find the hardest thing to do when writing, especially about music, is catching myself when I am trying to be cool. It’s quite obvious to most people when someone is trying to be cool. I don’t think that people put it like that. It just generally comes off as just bad. This happens with music as well. I know I have been guilty of it with making music. I have done a lot of bad writing and made a lot of bad music.
When I started this blog, I thought I was going to be doing a new Indie CD each week. Rather than 365 songs, I was going to be doing 52 new CD’s in a year. I didn’t want to do any bad reviews. This was a pretty important part of the whole focus of the blog. No negativity. Only write about CD’s that I liked and effected me in some deep way.
The immediate problem I ran into was finding 52 entire CD’s that I liked enough to write something meaningful. I almost gave up on the entire idea when it occurred to me that it would be difficult to find 365 songs that I actually liked. It might even be difficult to find 52 songs that were meaningful enough to me to write something acceptable, but the idea of writing about 365 songs seemed like a really formidable challenge. So I was intrigued enough to actually get up every day and think about a song that I might write about before I went to sleep. In doing this, I ended up running into a bunch of new Indie music that I actually liked, which was a complete surprise. Because I really had been looking before but couldn’t come up with anything. So now that I was finding Indie music, I was giving up on writing about songs that meant something to me and looking for NEW songs that meant something to me.
So I have been thinking about Everbody’s Talkin for a couple days now, and I knew that I had to write about it. But I started thinking about my non-existent readers and how uncool I would look if I wrote about a Harry Nilsson song. Then I thought about how I would start this entry with this justification written above as the introduction and how that would come off as trying to still be cool. I also thought about the possible residual coolness that might be conferred to me around the cachet of being able to write about something with so much kitsch. My conclusion is that being honest is hard as shit sometimes.
And maybe in all this, I am talking about the song anyway. Maybe I am talking about the movie as well. I always got the sense that Midnight Cowboy was essentially about what happens when you think you’re missing something cool. “I should be in New York City. That’s where everything is happening.” The John Voight character gets there and everything goes wrong. Whatever tragedy he was escaping by trying to get where it was all happening is compounded by the tragedies of actually being there. He was trying to be cool. And the image of him standing there looking like a yokel when he thought he had it all together is basically the metaphorical image of me trying to be cool.
The song comes in at the end of the movie as Dustin Hoffman is dying and it picks up the narrative after everyone figures out that this attempt at coolness has been completely miserable. It’s about being home. The music is simple and after all of the darkness and complexity of a day in the life of Ratso is offset by this description of a place that exists in a dream. But it’s really there. You just have to stop trying to be so cool.
But then the really surprising part of this story is about Harry Nilsson himself. Somehow he was a good friend of John Lennon and Ringo Starr. The whole 70’s Lennon/Ono separation where Lennon went to Los Angeles for a couple years was spent with Harry Nilsson and Ringo Starr and resulted in this crazy ineffectual drunken Harry Nilsson album produced by John Lennon. Also, Harry Nilsson owned a London flat that was used by people that knew him as a crash pad, and that’s where both Mama Cass and Keith Moon died four years apart. Obviously distraught after Keith Moon died, he then sold the flat to Pete Townsend. I’ve always thought of Harry Nilsson as pretty uncool and certainly disconnected from any of my childhood rock gods. Shows what I know about being cool.
And for a final twist, I believe that Harry Nilsson had a little bit of the cool bug himself. It seems that his career would have gone a lot further had he stuck to a sound. But he really was just too cool to come up with a single sound and aesthetic. If he could have put 3 albums together that sounded similar, he would have had a following that would stay with him throughout his career. But he just kept jumping around. Just at the point he was ready to capitalize on the early his late 60’s and early 70’s pop successes, he did an album of show tunes that no one cared about. For all of his success and connections, he really was just too cool to build success upon success. He had to show everyone how versatile he was.
“Backing off of the Northeast wind. Sailing on the summer breeze.”
There’s something sort of ordinary about everything in this song. Sparse in every way. Few lyrics. Simple concept. There’s only bass, drums, guitar and violins. I don’t know what it is about Harry Nilsson’s performance, but it really captures this really homesick feeling for me. I know I have heard the original version by Fred Neil, but this is the popular version that has stuck in my head. And while the song wasn’t written for the movie, I won’t ever be able to separate the song from the scene of Ratso slowly dying in the back of the bus on the way to Florida.
“And skipping across the ocean like a stone…”