This year on August 11th the moon will be full and I’ll be singing “Ambush” at The Harry Nilsson Sing-A-Long at Molly Malone’s in Los Angeles.
Harry Nilsson was my first favorite artist. He would have been if I had any concept of the differentiation between artist, art and project when I was 4 years old listening to “The Point”. All I knew then was I wanted to listen to it over and over and over again. I must have seen a TV broadcast of the film because I have always associated it with Dustin Hoffman’s narration, which was only on the TV broadcast and was later replaced in subsequent versions by Ringo Starr. Considering the powerful consternation I experienced when watching “Yellow Submarine” and realized they hired actors instead of The Beatles for the Beatle dialogue, Ringo Starr (as a voice actor) has been responsible for a great deal of sonic cognitive dissonance in my life, as well as all that great drumming. Back in 1972 I had no concept of any of these individuals, just the music that emerged from the air when you dropped a needle on a spinning piece of plastic.
Todd Lawrence organizes the yearly Nilsson celebration with the help of some of the best musicians and songwriters in Los Angeles. I’ve been lucky to be invited to perform at a few of these, especially considering how Todd and I have gotten into it over politics on Facebook enough times, and so intensely, that he has blocked me and maybe I blocked him. I don’t remember. It’s a sign of our fractured times and the dangerous tools at our disposal that Todd and I basically agree in most areas except where it comes to political strategy insofar as how we critique the Democratic party. So basically, the thing that’s busted up a lot of friendships since 2016. The exceptional thing about Todd is, unlike so many people I know, he is a mensch who won’t let even an intense public disagreement stand in the way of the music. I think Harry would be proud to have a representative like Todd.
This latest Nilsson sing-a-long (after a 2 year Covid hiatus) will be the first since the passing of Zak Nilsson who succumbed to cancer on March 4. 2021 after waging a prolonged and humorous dance with his tumors, much of it online with the support of many of the folks who will be there on the 11th. This will be the first time for many of us to share our loss together. It will be bittersweet, like Harry’s music, and like Zak’s.
At the last sing-a-long at Molly Malone’s Zak performed his song “Bigger Man” which he premiered on The Radio8Ball Show when we did our tribute to Nilsson with Zak, his brother Kiefo, Chris Price, Morty Coyle, Curtis Armstrong, Jordan Zevon, Rick Torres, Marshall Thompson & Todd Lawrence.
The thing about Nilsson fans is, Harry, whose songs, like “1941” and “Good Old Desk” were informed by the loss of his father, have trained us to approach loss with irreverent respect. “You’re breaking my heart. You’re tearing it apart so fuck you”. Nilssonites of my generation got to know Nilsson the man, as the guy who lost his friend (John Lennon) to an assassin’s bullet and made opposing gun violence his activist mission for the rest of his life. After his death, we remember the way the film about him “Who Is Harry Nilssson And Why Is Everybody Talking About Him?”* made us consider Zak who, like Harry, didn’t get to spend time with his father when he was a young child due to Harry’s leaving to start a family with a different woman.
The repetition of these patterns is tragic and comedic. Harry knew this which is why his funniest songs (“Lime In The Coconut”, “Joy To the World”) are caked in tragedy and his most heartbreaking songs (“One”, “Mr Richland’s Favorite Song”) always feature some kind of wink to let us know that the songwriter knows their pain is a joke.
If you’re in LA I hope you’ll come out to Molly Malone’s on the 11th, and I hope my performance won’t let you down. This time I will not be using my Tom Waits voice.
* Does anyone else love the obscure 1970’s film the Nilsson documentary is referencing with its title?