While the fastest way to my heart tends to be a pair of dark brown eyes framed by long eyelashes and olive skin, I’ve fallen for my share of Nordic types. Henry Phillips, the protagonist of the at least somewhat autobiographical Punching the Clown, reminds me acutely of a former boyfriend; since I am not 20 years younger, I idly consider if I can somehow introduce him to the Eldest. (Of course, I stop myself as these things never work out…)
With his serene blue gaze and instantly calming voice, not to mention wicked acoustic axe skills, Phillips breaks as big as possible in a movie I only heard of because a fan sent it to the spouse. He plays a folk singer whose lyrics take extremely unexpected turns after the first verse, and the movie details a best/worst case LA scenario in one fell swoop: a meteoric rise to fame followed by a nosedive into madness. The end result is something uneven but lovely in many parts, with Phillips himself a consistent delight. Comedy would seem inhospitable territory for gentler souls, but one or two manage to keep their heads above the fray; Steven Wright seems like a good example, though of course he could be a complete jerk off stage (I hope not; I should probably ask Barry Crimmins). In any event, I hope Phillips gets to keep being Phillips. He’s awesome.
While Harry Nilsson looks like he should have blue eyes, his are incongruously brown, but, well, heck, he still seems pretty damn Nordic; look at that last name, for heck’s sake. He and Elton John were early idols to my young piano-playing self, but Harry was also a pretty hard crush (even as a clueless adolescent, I could tell there was something not very crushable about Elton). Until a few years ago, I knew not a lick of music theory and couldn’t tell a tonic from a 7th chord. I used to tape my Nilsson records onto cassettes, set up my crappy tape recorder on the piano, and painstakingly pick out the songs off Nilsson Schmilsson a note at a time. My favorite was “Down,” which closed out the A side of the record:
Well, ya gotta have soap to wash your sins away,
You gotta have hope, that’s the price you gotta pay.
You gotta give love, or your love will walk away,
You gotta stay loose, it’s the only way to stay.
Down, you gotta go, go around, you gotta go,
Goin’ down, d-d-down, d-d-down!
I’m sure I drove the ‘rents and my kid brother crazy with it, but all were pretty cool. And, by the way, the song’s a basic blues in D.
I was lucky enough to be friends with someone who’d worked with Nilsson directly, Felix Rice, who played The Rock Man in a London adaptation of The Point, featuring Davy Jones as Oblio and Mickey Dolenz as…I’m not sure. Felix had a beautiful voice, and apparently the great composer wrote the song, “Thursday (Here’s Why I Did Not Go to Work Today)” especially for him. If you can track down the rare soundtrack to the show, well, that’s my buddy.
Both Felix and Nilsson died relatively young, victims of their own excesses. But at least there’s a documentary about the latter, Who Is Harry Nilsson (and why is everybody talkin’ about him). While watching it is a bittersweet experience, it’s glorious to have the record. Once again, the spouse turned me on to it; gotta love Netflix. Hope you’ll watch and enjoy.