By Lyn Leister
Fans of the late Harry Nilsson are buzzing about plans for an enormous party to celebrate what would be the singer-songwriter’s 75th birthday on June 15. Since it is well known – thanks to Nilsson – that “one is the loneliest number,” there should be no allusions that this party will be contained to just one location. Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Dallas, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Portland (Oregon) are just a few cities where plans are being made to honor Nilsson on his milestone birthday. In addition to singers and bands performing Nilsson songs, some venues are staging a bathrobe flash mob, and many will be serving Brandy Alexanders to toast the honoree. Bathrobe flash mobs? Brandy Alexanders? Certainly. Read on.
Nilsson passed away in 1994 at the relatively young age of 52, which might make one wonder what is it about him that warrants celebrating his birthday across multiple time zones and possibly in multiple countries 22 years after his death. Just ask a fan. Probably any one of thousands of Nilsson devotees would straighten their posture at the opportunity to justify a celebration of such magnitude, not only because of what Nilsson means to them, but because of what he contributed to music.
In addition to Everybody’s Talkin’ and the epically sentimental “Without You,” both of which earned Nilsson a Grammy, many people are familiar with the prescriptive silliness of Coconut, which continues to propagate concoctions that involve “putting a lime in a coconut and drinking them together.” However, Nilsson fans know that he offered so much more than these hit songs.
Over the course of his career, Nilsson had taken us on an odyssey of 18 albums offering songs which crisscross multiple musical genres including pop, rock, blues, country, story-telling, and lullabies. There are songs which are simple and uncontrived, ones which are dark and complex, and there are ones that evoke a sense of awe with sophisticated orchestration accompanying his seemingly limitless vocal range.
Take a look at a fan’s playlist of Nilsson selections and you’re likely to find a formulaic showcasing of songs to match any mood, situation or emotional need. For those who are unfamiliar with Nilsson, here is a suggested ‘starter set’ of cure-anything song titles:
- Overwhelmed? – Think About Your Troubles; Salmon Falls
- Longing for someone? – All I Think About Is You
- Need a reason to call in sick? – Here’s Why I Did Not Go To Work Today
- Environmental concerns? – Pretty Soon There’ll Be Nothing Left for Everybody
- Can’t sleep? – Little Cowboy; Lullaby in Ragtime
- Musically inspired? – How to Write a Song
- Melancholic? – Remember; and the entire album, A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night
- Partying like a vampire? – Daybreak; Daylight Has Caught Me;
- Into tattoos? – She Sits Down On Me
- Heartbroken over a fractured relationship? – Will She Miss Me; Wasting My Time
- Need bliss? – Perfect Day; The Moonbeam Song
- Rocking out with reckless abandon? – Jump Into the Fire
A bathrobe flash mob might seem like an odd way to celebrate Nilsson’s birthday, but if a dress code were established to join the birthday celebration then a bathrobe would be it. Any Harry-phile could explain why: the cover of the ‘Nilsson Schmilsson’ album depicts Nilsson comfortably attired in a bathrobe with a hash pipe in one hand. Fans have summarily adopted the wearing of their bathrobes as an emblematic expression of their adoring devotion (a hash pipe is apparently optional). For his birthday last year, members of the Harry Nilsson Facebook fan group collaborated to produce a video of group members wearing their bathrobes in a series of photographs, each one captioned with a special birthday wish. Even Actor-producer Curtis Armstrong, a long-time fan and advocate of inducting Nilsson into the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame submitted his bathrobed image and personal greeting.
While Nilsson fans tend to overlook his periodic train wrecks of self-destruction brought on by drug and alcohol abuse, they have fully embraced Nilsson’s drink of choice, the Brandy Alexander. Nilsson’s fondness for this high-octane cocktail became apparent during the “Lost Weekend” when Nilsson spent several months in 1974 with close friend, John Lennon in various states of public intoxication. Numerous installments of bad-boy hi-jinx garnered the duo a reputation, which was firmly cemented when they were tossed out of L.A.’s famed Troubadour for being too disruptive to the performers. The event was well publicized and ever since then, fans have adopted the Brandy Alexander to demonstrate their dedication to Nilsson, like a liquid badge of brazen allegiance. (Recipe follows)
- Main alcohol: Brandy
- Ingredients: 1 oz. cream, 1 oz. Cognac, 1 oz. Crème de cacao
- Preparation: Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Sprinkle with freshly ground nutmeg
- Serve: Straight up; without ice
Reasons to celebrate Nilsson’s 75th birthday are clear and compelling. He left us with a prismatic songbook that has something for everyone. His musical brand sways widely from whimsy and innocence to shameless irreverence to euphonious orchestrations enhancing his otherworldly voice, which we would only expect to hear upon arrival at Heaven’s door.