This is it, this is the trouble with Harry. He was too bloody brilliant for his own good. You can’t immediately see it, but this is a great illustration of the duality between Harry Nilsson the serious artiste and Harry Nilsson the big silly self-sabotaging goofball. First of all, Harry had the voice of an angel and the ability to write songs like this one, which sounds like an old standard that somehow never made it onto the soundtrack of Casablanca. But this song is not from Casablanca; it’s from an album cheekily titled Son of Schmilsson, and later, the soundtrack of a Dracula movie directed by noted Hollywood visionary and film icon Ringo Starr. And therein lies the trouble with Harry: besides his notorious alcoholism, he was undone by his own inability to take himself seriously. If he could just keep writing and singing beauties like this, he would have had a career of solid gold. But he wanted to costar (co-Starr?) in Son of Dracula with Ringo, he wanted to record an old folks’ choir singing a novelty song about bed-wetting, he wanted to have a screaming contest with John Lennon that ruptured his vocal chords, and eventually, he wanted to retire from music entirely. Which, ok, that last part you can’t blame him for: he quit drinking, raised a lovely family, became involved in political activism and seemed pretty happy about it. But so many of his career choices were just so foot-shootingly misguided, you feel aggravated on his behalf, angry at him for being one of those people who sabotage their own best potential.
This should be everyone’s first glimpse of Roxy Music. Being the opening of their first album and of one of their first television performances, for many people, it was. It laid out the Roxy Music mission statement pretty clearly; weirdness as a glamorous pose. Eclecticism and eccentricity weren’t new to rock music, but they certainly needed sexing up. Roxy Music did that. Bryan Ferry in gold brocade, leaving chem-trails of sheer glamour. What a fantasy. That was about the most exciting thing an impressionable child could see, now as in 1972. If you were like me, you knew you had to ditch your life and go live in that world. Or at least invest in some baroque garments. Try queuing up Roxy Music videos when you’re dressing up for the night. You should feel inspired to march out into the underworld armed with nothing but bons mots and glitter.
It’s so bad out there in the world right now that it’s actually comforting to imagine a conspiracy where celebrities are lizard people homing back to their mother planet or secretly having their brains cryogenically frozen for future transplant. At least to conspiracy buffs, the world makes sense. Well, that’s something I could believe of Hugh Hefner, but not so much Walter Becker. Walter Becker is dead and he’s not having his consciousness uploaded to an external hard drive for safekeeping. There’s a special kind of sadness to losing guys like Becker, people who were decent schmucks who kept a low profile and created great things because they could, not because it would make them king of the world for a year or two. As you can see in the video below, Becker Fagen et al. were pretty much the most charisma-free collection of individuals to ever deliver an awkward and static performance on a television variety show. Those guys weren’t meant to be rock stars. They were musicians who sold music, not personality, and their virtuosity and perfectionism made their reputation. Steely Dan made some flawless records, a string of them, and they easily could have gone on doing that until the end of the world.
Unfortunately, I think this might be a sexual reference rather than the setup for a Redwall-style fantasy universe. But it’s Marc Bolan, so it may well be both. We know he loved his talking animals. And his sexual references. Not that it matters. The Slider remains a must-have among must-haves. You have to give yourself over to it and concede that Bolan can “rabbit fight all over you” any day. And there must be something deeply wrong with you if you can’t.
I have never seen the film Super Fly. I’m not sure what value 70’s Blaxploitation movies still have, except as relics of a more optimistic (and far more colorfully dressed) time in black culture. I’m not sure where the line lies between celebration and exploitation, and I’m not sure where movies like Super Fly would fall, in terms of social value. Their fashion value still lives on, obviously, though mostly in problematic and cynical ways. But if there’s one thing Blaxploitation movies gave the world, it’s some great music. In fact, Super Fly means more in the history of music than it does movies. Who cares about the movie when we have Curtis Mayfield’s famous soundtrack? Mayfield successfully navigated his career from innocuous Motown crooner to politically conscious singer and songwriter, and he helped open up the horizons of what funk and soul music could be about. The Super Fly soundtrack is his best known record and Pusherman is a signature classic. You could say, as people have said about the film as well, that it glamorizes the role of the drug dealer. But it’s not the voice of a man celebrating how bomb-ass fly he is; there are plenty of musicians who make bank glamorizing the hell out of the shitty former lives couldn’t run away from fast enough, but Mayfield is not one of them. It’s the tone of a man who knows his position in life and knows how the world sees him. “I’m that nigger in the alley” he sings, knowing that somebody has to be. He’s indispensable, a pillar of the community in his own fucked-up way. But no matter how much money he makes, no matter how fly his suits are or how souped up his car, he will always a scumbag loitering in an alleyway. Even if he went straight, even if he’d never started selling in the first place, he’d still be in the same spot, in the eyes of the world. Afros and pimp suits have cycled in and out of relevance, but the message of the song doesn’t resonate any less. Somebody has to be that man in the alley.
Since it’s been my long-held, unpopular opinion that Exile on Main St. is wildly overrated you wouldn’t expect me to be especially excited about a deluxe special extended edition. It reiterate, I don’t hate the record, but I do think it’s overlong and bloated, as double LPs are wont to be, and doesn’t quite rank as the masterpiece it’s generally accepted to be. It would have been, as double LPs are wont to, better off as two separate entities. I would be inclined to think it absolutely doesn’t need a bonus third disc. But the bonus third disc that the Stones released in 2010 is actually pretty exciting stuff. I suggest thinking of it as its own entity, not as a bunch of outtakes rejected from an already jam-packed album. It bears me out, though; Exile could have been great as two albums, and it would have been even greater as three.
“You made me forget myself/I thought I was someone else/Someone good…”
What a romantic reverie. What a perfect, perfect song. Everybody who wrote, produced and performed it is dead now. Rest in peace, Lou. Rest in peace, Bowie. Rest in peace, Mick Ronson. I’m glad to have spent some years with you.