"When Harry went for the high note, it was like a trapeze artist," percussionist Ray Cooper says of singer Harry Nilsson. On top of possessing one of the great athletic vocal instruments of 20th-century Western pop music, Nilsson was also a singular songwriter capable of alternating twixt heartrending and shockingly irreverent, from bawling to balling. When he died in 1994, his friend George Harrison led a sing-along around Harry's grave of a classic by the deceased: "You're breakin' my heart/You're tearin' it apart/So fuck you." This pithy sentiment may not surprise in 2010, o ye of the jaded internet, but in 1972 the original recording caused wide-eyed jaw droppage. One learns all this and more by watching writer-producer-director John Scheinfeld's soulful documentary Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him)?
If one is judged by one's friends, among Harry's were Van Dyke Parks, Al Kooper, Jimmy Webb, Robin Williams, Terry Gilliam, and all four Beatles. That they were fans as well tells you how talented the man was. The film will screen tonight, after which Scheinfeld, co-producer David Leaf and special guests will discuss Nilsson with Grammy Foundation veep Scott Goldman.
Fri., Nov. 19, 7:30 p.m., 2010