A Little Touch of Schmilsson...
A Chat With John Scheinfeld:
Did Somebody Drop His Mouse? (click here for part one)
Harry was a big bunny with really sharp teeth.
-- Paul Williams in Who Is Harry Nilsson
You know, I grew up thinking that he [Nilsson] was British. In the documentary, somebody compares him to Paul McCartney. Or you could even say Ray Davies...
Randy Newman makes that connection.
That makes perfect sense, since he drew from some of the same influences-
I think of the musical hall as a British tradition-and I knew about the Beatles connection. It's embarrassing not to have known, but he did record there...
Well, he lived in England for awhile, and he had a place there for a
long time, and he recorded there for a number of years. You're probably
not the first person to say that, so you shouldn't feel badly.
Then you hear his [speaking] voice, and you realize: Not exactly. [laughs]
[Nilsson was born in Brooklyn.]
In your film-and I would imagine this was kind of a Holy Grail-you have
material from Did Somebody Drop His Mouse? Why was that film not completed?
I think in some ways it was a similar situation to Let It Be in the Beatles
universe, in that it was documenting something not to be celebrated, but it
was documenting the rift-the battle for control-between [producer] Richard
Perry and Harry. And I think they were never totally comfortable with the cameras being there, and it captures some things perhaps that they didn't want captured.
I can see that.
And it just sort of fell apart. There was a rough cut done in 1974 that Harry had done himself, and then he brought Richard in, and they did some voiceover for it, and Harry had a print of that rough cut at home, which we found in Una's garage [Harry's widow]. And then when we went into Sony's vault last year, we found an earlier cut that was only a black and white work print. Where the color is, who the heck knows...
You didn't use much of that.
We used a little bit of it. There's some black and white stuff in there. There are
35 reels of the uncut material in a salt mine in Pennsylvania, and we were able
to call up some of those reels, which we transferred, and some of that stuff is in
the film. One of the challenges of making this film is how do you make a movie about a guy who never performed live anywhere, so there's no concert film, and really only did a handful of television things-how do you do that? You'll have to
tell us whether we did it well enough... It was really-not smoke and mirrors, in the sense of something phony-but rather, how do you keep things moving and keep the storytelling going in an interesting way, and make the best use of everything we
had? So thank goodness we did have the Mouse footage, because that really filled in for the Perry years, which was, I think, the high point of his recording career.
And his interviews are great, but there's a difference between hearing his
stories and then seeing them working together. He has the benefit-which unfortunately Nilsson doesn't-of perspective. [Nilsson died in 1994.]
I mean, he's still obviously unhappy about certain things, but he can
articulate them. I imagine he would've been more bitter if you had talked
to him at the time [the early-1970s], and I wouldn't really blame him.
I think you're right. You certainly pick up on that with Perry, and you see
it with his first producer, Rick Jarrard. You can see the pain on his face.
And that comes as a surprise-I won't go into detail, because it could be a
spoiler for some people-but when he says what he says... What a bummer.
[Harry, God bless him, was a user and a mean drunk.]
It is, and you can just feel the pain.
It's sad that Harry never apologized-he could have.
Well, Harry wasn't one to do that. Harry was one of those guys-
someone explained this to me once-his attitude was: You're either
with me, or you're against me. And if you're against me, you're out.
Next: The Art of the Interview
Images from the All Music Guide.