Paul Williams 1, Harry Nilsson 0++?

It’s called Paul Williams Still Alive. It’s by the director of Vegas Vacation. And apparently he’s done lots of commercials. Or so he says.

Do you remember Paul Williams? Because he was in like everything back in the 70’s and 80’s and so on. He wrote the best Carpenters songs. And the best Muppet Movie songs. And so much more. He was all over the Love Boat, and Merv, and Johnnie, and I don’t know where else. He played Miguelito Loveless Jr. in the Wild Wild West Revisited TV Movie which ended with a bang. And, of course, he played Virgil in Battle For The Planet of the Apes which started with an implied bang.

Honestly, despite the Planet of the Apes cred, Paul Williams is not my biggest hero. But he was the biggest hero of the director of this film. And the director and I seem to have a lot of other things in common. Although, for the record, I never directed a Vacation sequel. Yet.

So this guy, the director, tracks down his childhood hero, whom he thinks is dead. And he finds out that not only is he alive, but he actually survived. So he asks his hero, “Can I make a movie about you?” And Mr. Paul Williams is too nice a guy to tell him No. Now, occasionally as the movie progresses, he does get around to telling him “now leave” and maybe “I wouldn’t want my daughter to see this”.

Paul Williams should be my hero. He should be yours as well. He was one of those poor unfortunate people who suddenly got everything they wanted and more. And then things got really out of control. And even though he was really nice about it, to his credit, he still made some terrible mistakes. And instead of letting them all destroy him, he went past them, got over them, got back to being the nice person that he always was.

You should see this movie.

His story is like a happy version of Harry Nilsson’s.

Paul Williams Still Alive would make a great double feature with  Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?, but Paul’s movie should come second. Because it’s a happier ending, and because it’s really a deeper story about what is wrong and what is right and how you make up from past mistakes.

Nowhere in the movie do they mention Harry. I wonder why. He was an LA staple. They must have known each other.

So I spent 20 hours listening to the new Harry Nilsson The RCA Albums Collection. It’s like 17  CDs. And it just keeps getting cheaper. It’s all of his famous albums, plus out-takes. I was driving on interstates at the time. It made the miles go by really fast. My trip broke into two pieces, just after finishing Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night, which is the good voice years, and then the Pussy Cats and onward sessions. Which are the bad voice years.  I have never been so engulfed in Harry goodness.

The melodies are more varied in the early years, but the words are so much better later. And his voice only really sounded bad on Pussy Cats. Although some of the outtakes show him struggling to make the notes, which was a problem his friend Ringo often had.

Everything is equalized out very nicely. It doesn’t hurt to listen any more. Some of the outtakes are unnecessary, but then again if you’ve heard You’re Breakin’ My Heart, then you know how dirty Harry can be. Taken as a whole, his work is much more scatological for me now than they were when I was a teenager. Does that mean I’m wiser or just more experienced, or more cynical?

I actually caught a few jokes this time that I never caught before. The line “you’re so vain” from “Black Sails in the Sunset” (Sandman?) isn’t just a joke on Carly Simon, it’s also a joke on “vein”, which is what makes up the treasure map. Silly me for all these years!

Anyway, if your Harry collection isn’t complete but you want it to be, then buy this set. If you’ve already bought everything singly, then buy it anyway because it sounds good and comes in a relatively compact box with all the album art intact.

Paul Williams outlives Harry Nilsson. There’s a lesson there somewhere.

About Lyle Verbilion

I'm just wanderin' around lookin' at things. Wow.
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