Monday, March 8, 2010

Knocking on our back door

If anybody could write a song about New York City it was Harry Nilsson. He was born right there in Brooklyn in 1941. Frank Sinatra, he could SING about it, but he was born across the river in Hoboken. A Jersey boy.

Nilsson's song, which had to be written by someone who lived and breathed the air of NYC, is one that can really get stuck in your head if you spend any time walking these streets.

I guess the Lord must be in New York City...

Walking along West 72nd Street past the Dakota, where Nilsson's good friend John Lennon was shot to death. Crossing the street into Central Park, where memories and reminders of Lennon are everywhere: the Imagine tiles, and Strawberry Fields -- where the sanctity is so well preserved you can't bring a guitar here to strum it. Some people surely would. Following the path that leads to Tavern on the Green, only to remember that, sadly, it is now shuttered. Walking the streets of New York City, thirsty and thinking...

Because Nilsson wasn't into commercialism -- and certainly because his early commercial success allowed him to choose his musical path -- he veered off into directions that weren't easy to follow. Which is why he is probably remembered more for his early success than anything he did later. He did become a big anti-gun activist after Lennon's death, but how many people remember that?

No, it was this song rolling around in my head and a couple of others like "Everybody's Talkin'" and "Without You" that define Nilsson the artist, who died way too young in 1994 at age 52. He could've been a contender, and I guess maybe he was...

I say goodbye to all my sorrows
And by tomorrow I'll be on my way
I guess the lord must be in New York City

I'm so tired of getting nowhere
Seein' my prayers going unanswered
I guess the lord must be in New York City

Well here I am Lord
Knocking on your back door
Ain't it wonderful to be
Where I've always wanted to be
For the first time I'll be free
In New York City


  1. Next to Louis Armstrong, Harry may be America's greatest singer/songwriter. "Without You" was a Badfinger song Harry fancied and recorded. Harry drank and smoked far too much, and he died far too young. What many don't know is that Harry's vocal range was as expansive as he was tall. (A historical note of rock 'n' roll coincidence: Harry owned the apartment where both Mama Cass Elliot and Who drummer Keith Moon died.)

  2. Harry's soundtrack on "You've Got Mail" is the only reason I will sit and watch that movie with my wife.

  3. Nora Ephron, the producer and director of "You've Got Mail," has a thing for Harry when it comes to scoring her films; she's used many, many Harry NIlsson songs in her movies. Not sure why ... but his songs make the maudlin movies bearable.

  4. "Without HER" is pretty great also.

    Nothing against Nilsson, he was a huge talent, but if you have never heard Fred Neil's version of "Everybody's Talking," you should check it out.