Monday, November 29, 2010

Friday, November 26, 2010

Sarah Palin's Presidential Strategy

By Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog
25 November 10

Sarah Palin's Presidential Strategy, and the Economy She Depends On

Monday night, Sarah Palin watched from the audience as daughter Bristol danced on ABC. Twenty-three million other Americans joined her from their homes. Tuesday, the former vice-presidential candidate started a 13-state book tour for her new book, "America By Heart," which has a first printing of 1 million. Her reality show on TLC, "Sarah Palin's Alaska," is in its third week. Last Sunday she was the cover story in the New York Times magazine.

It's all part of The Palin Strategy for becoming president in 2012 - or 2016 or 2020.
Republican leaders don't believe it. "If she wanted the Republican nomination she'd be working on the inside," one influential Republican told me a few days ago. "She'd be building relationships with Republican Senators and representatives, governors, and state party officials. She'd be smoothing the feathers she ruffled by backing Tea Party candidates. She'd be huddled with GOP kingmakers." When I suggested she has a different strategy, the influential Republican smiled knowingly. "That's how it's done - how McCain, Bush, and everyone has done it. That's the only way to do it. But all she really wants is celebrity."

The Republican establishment doesn't get it. Celebrity is part of The Palin Strategy - as is avoiding the insider game. She doesn't want to do what Huckabee, Pawlenty, Gingrich, or Romney have to do. She has an outside game.

Palin's game plan is directly related to America' white working class, and the economy it faces - and the economy it's likely to continue to experience for years.
No prospective candidate so sharply embodies the anger of America's white working class as does Palin. And none is channeling that anger nearly as effectively.
White working class anger isn't new, of course, nor is the Republican Party's use of it. Apart from the South, where the anger came in response to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, the more widespread working-class anxiety began in the late 1970s when the median male wage that had been rising for three decades began to stagnate.

As I noted in "Aftershock," families responded by sending wives and mothers into the paid workforce, working longer hours, and then, finally, going deep into debt. These coping mechanisms allayed but did not remove the growing anxiety.
Over the years, Republicans have channeled the anxiety into anger, through overt appeals to a so-called "silent majority" that were overlooked by Democrats and liberals; through "tax revolts" by working and middle-class families that couldn't afford to pay more; and in subtle and not-so-subtle appeals to racist fears (Willie Horton).

But now that the Great Recession has eliminated the last coping mechanism - ending the easy borrowing, and ratcheting up unemployment - the working class's economic insecurities have soared. A recent Washington Post poll showed 53 percent of homeowners worried about meeting their mortgage payments. Home foreclosures have slowed largely because of bad paperwork on the part of banks, but the threat remains. Housing prices are still dropping.

The white working class has not benefitted from the recent rise in corporate profits and stock prices. To the contrary, both have been fueled by foreign sales of goods made abroad and by labor-saving technologies that have allowed American companies to do more with fewer workers here at home.

Joblessness among the white working class is far higher than the 9.6 percent average for the nation. While the unemployment rate among college grads (most of whom are professionals or managers) is around 5 percent, the average unemployment rate for people with only a high school degree or less (blue-collar, pink-collar, clerical) is almost 20 percent.
All of this is spawning a new and more virulent politics of anger in the nation's white working class, stoked by Republicans - anger against immigrants, blacks, gays, intellectuals, and international bankers (consider the latest Fox News salvos against George Soros).

According to the right-wing narrative, the calamity that's befallen the white working class is due to the global and intellectual elites who run the mainstream media, direct the government, dispense benefits to the undeserving, and dominate popular culture. (The story and targets are not substantially different from those that have fueled right-wing and fascist movements during times of economic stress for more than a century, here and abroad.)

Sarah Palin has special appeal because she wraps the story in an upbeat message. She avoids the bilious rants of Rush, Sean Hannity, and their ilk. But her cheerfulness isn't sunny; she doesn't promise Morning in America. She offers pure snark, and promises revenge. Over and over again she tells the same snide, sarcastic, inside joke, but in different words: "They think they can keep screwing us, but (wink, wink), we know something they don't. We're gonna take over and screw them."

The Palin Strategy is to circumvent the Republican establishment, filled as it is with career Republicans, business executives, and Wall Streeters. That's why her path to the Republican nomination isn't the usual insider game. It's a celebrity game - a snark-fest with the nation's entire white working class. Vote for Bristol and we'll show the media establishment how powerful we are! Buy my book and we'll show the know-it-all coastal elites a real book directed at real people! Tune into my cable show and we'll show the real America - far from the urban centers with immigrants and blacks and fancy city slickers!

As I believe will become clearer, the Palin Strategy will involve a political threat to the GOP establishment: Deny her the nomination she'll run as independent. This will split off much of the white working class and guarantee defeat of the Republican establishment candidate. It will also result in her defeat in 2012, but that's a small price to pay for gaining the credibility and power to demand the nomination in 2016, or threaten another third-party run in 2020.
Once nominated, her campaign for the general election will be purely populist. She'll seek to broaden her base to become the candidate of the people, taking on America's vested Establishment.

More than anything else, the Palin Strategy depends on the continuing fear and anger of America's white working class. She's betting that their economic prospects will not improve by 2012, or even by 2016 and beyond.
Sadly, this is likely to be the case. On Tuesday, the Fed issued a gloomy prognosis. Even if the U.S. economy began to grow at a rate more typical of recoveries than the current anemic 2 percent, unemployment won't drop to its pre-recession level for 5 to 7 years. A minority of the Fed thought this was too optimistic.

The disturbing truth is the bad economy is likely to continue for most Americans beyond 7 years - maybe for ten or more - because of a chronic lack of aggregate demand. Apart from inevitable inventory replacements and the necessary replacements by consumers of cars, appliances, and clothing that wear out, nothing will propel the U.S. economy forward. So much income and wealth have now concentrated at the top that the broad middle and working class no longer has the buying power to do so. The top will resume buying but their purchases won't be nearly enough.

Japan lost a decade of economic growth after its real estate bubble exploded. It seems entirely probable that the United States will suffer the same fate. Our economic structure - how we now allocate the gains of growth, the yawning gap between Wall Street and Main Street, the incentives operating on large corporations to pare American payrolls and expand abroad - almost dictates it.

We might change that structure, of course. But at this point that doesn't seem in the cards. The President seems unable or unwilling to provide the clear narrative that explains what's happened and what needs to be done, and Republicans are at this moment ascendant.
It all fits into Sarah Palin's strategy.


Robert Reich is Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written twelve books, including "The Work of Nations," "Locked in the Cabinet," "Supercapitalism" and his latest book, "AFTERSHOCK: The Next Economy and America's Future."

Someone had to do it

Many are called, few are chosen Dep't.
David Dix
teaches sex to a class of
Waukesha high school 10th girls

Among the varied jobs your raccoon news editor has held, this forgotten souvenir was sent here by a SRN reader and historian, with the comment:

So it was all about sex right from the start!"

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Put it this way


United States, January 1, 1795.
By George Washington, President of the United States
Re: a day of public thanksgiving and prayer
Hearty thanks to the Ruler of all nations

When we review the calamities which afflict so many other nations, and trouble the sources of individual quiet, security, and happiness, the present condition of the United States affords much matter of consolation and satisfaction.
Our exemption hitherto from the evils of foreign war, an increasing prospect of the continuance of that precious exemption, the great degree of internal tranquillity we have enjoyed, the recent confirmation of that tranquillity by the suppression of an insurrection which so wantonly threatened it; the happy course of our public affairs in general; the unexampled prosperity of all classes of our citizens; are circumstances which mark our situation with peculiar indications of the Divine beneficence toward us.
In such a state of things, it is in an especial manner our duty as a people, with devout reverence and affectionate gratitude, to acknowledge our many and great obligations to Almighty God, and to implore Him to continue and confirm the blessings we experience.
Deeply penetrated with this sentiment, I, George Washington, President of the United States, do recommend to all religious societies and denominations, and to all persons whomsoever in the United States, to set apart and observe Thursday, the 19th day of February next, as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, and on that day to meet together and render their sincere and hearty thanks to the great Ruler of nations, for the manifold and signal mercies which distinguish our lot as a nation, particularly for the constitutions of government which unite, and by their union establish, liberty with order, for the preservation of our peace, foreign and domestic, for the seasonable check which has been given to a spirit of disorder, in the suppression of the late insurrection, and generally, for the prosperous course of our affairs, public and private; and at the same time humbly and fervently to beseech the kind Author of these blessings graciously to prolong them to us; to imprint in our hearts a deep and solemn sense of our obligations for them; to teach us rightly to estimate their immense value; to preserve us from the wantonness of prosperity from jeopardizing the advantages we enjoy, by culpable or delusive projects; to dispose us to merit the continuance of His favors by not abusing them, by our gratitude for them, and by a correspondent conduct as citizens and as men to render this country more and more a safe and propitious asylum for the unfortunate of other countries; to extend among them true and useful knowledge; to diffuse and establish habits of sobriety, order, morality, and piety;

and, finally, to impart all the blessings we possess or ask for ourselves to the whole family of mankind, that so men may be happy and God glorified throughout the earth. Done, etc.


[1]Writings of Washington, xii., 132. Washington adopted Alexander Hamilton’s draft verbatim.

submitted to the SRN by Rev. John Helt

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Whistling Jack Smith delivers the goods:

From writer observer Norb Blei of Ellison Bay (Door Co.) WI comes this posting this morning.

Subscribe to Norb's website and relish it as the Raccoon News does.

Re whistling -

We are put in mind of Art Olson of Olson's Ace Hardware Store, Waukesha WI. His steady whistling as he dispenses his goods is a high point of a trip to his got everything hardware emporium.

There's a man in the world who is never turned down,
Wherever he chances to stray;
he gets the glad hand in the populous town,
or out where the farmers make hay;
he's greeted with pleasure on deserts of sand,
and deep in the aisles of the woods;
wherever he goes there's the welcoming hand—
he's The Man Who Delivers the Goods. (while whistling, we add)


So many of you contacted us after yesterday's SRN posting for the recipe on the church mice candies that we obtained it from the kindly cook, Kirsten Dobson:

Click on image to enlarge

Monday, November 22, 2010

Confectionary church mice

Consummately consumable
definitely non-'UGH' mice
were brought in by Kirsten Dobson.
A whole platter of them joined the many delectables at the annual Christmas Advent workshop held yesterday at the historic First Congregational United Church of Christ, 100 E Broadway, Waukesha WI.
These affairs, to which we've been many times, feature the creation of Christmas crafts following a potluck lunch in the Heritage Room. The food at these potlucks include numerous traditional casseroles, desserts and other delectable specialty fare.
This year, by our eyes, nothing drew more comments, smiles and applause than Kirsten Dobson's church mice, pictured here. She made them with candy kisses, maraschino cherries dipped in chocolate, and sliced almonds for the wee ears. The eyes and nose were applied with a toothpick.
All one had to do was pick it up by the tail and pop it in.
This was indeed a labor of love. It must have taken a lot of time to create so many of them. Our rodential thanks, Kristen!

We brought ours home for photographing before eating,
setting it deservedly on our best china.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Let me see those Christmas lights!

Rooster watches from the window sill as the lightbulbs are replaced today on the roofline of The Clarke, across from the Raccoon News hdqtrs. See red circle drawn around the repairman, below. We reciprocate tonight with our own light ('this little light of mine....'), a wax candle that joins the downtown merriment in our less extravagant way.

Reminder of our good book

Our old dictionary
in which we look up meanings

It stands at the ragged ready:

Today we made our daily reading of Garrison Keillor's Writers Almanac, and read his poem of the day, 11-20-10, titled 'Inheritance'.

by W. S. Merwin

At my elbow on the table

it lies open as it has done

for a good part of these thirty

years ever since my father died

and it passed into my hands

this Webster's New International

Dictionary of the English Language of 1922

on India paper which I was always forbidden to touch

for fear I would tear or somehow

damage its delicate pages

heavy in their binding

this color of wet sand

on which thin waves hover

when it was printed he was twenty-six

they had not been married four years

he was a country preacher

in a one-store town and I suppose

a man came to the door one day

peddling this new dictionary

on fine paper like the Bible

at an unrepeatable price

and it seemed it would represent

a distinction just to own it

confirming something about him

that he could not even name

now its cover is worn as though

it had been carried on journeys

across the mountains and deserts

of the earth but it has been here

beside me the whole time

what has frayed it like that

loosening it gnawing at it

all through these years

I know I must have used it

much more than he did but always

with care and indeed affection

turning the pages patiently

in search of meanings



Letter to SRN from Bob Heeschen of St. Paul. MN rec'd 11-20-10:

David, I had not seen any raccoons in the neighborhood for a long time, until yesterday morning. Around 4:00 AM I looked outside and saw four of them in the yard. My granddaughter had built a snowman in front and used a carrot and some graham crackers for facial features. The 'coons enjoyed this. After a few minutes, a car approached from the west and they all ran into the storm sewer at my corner. Ain't nature fun?

Bob Heeschen

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thank you, Waukesha!

An easy way to ferret out what bugs some Waukeshans is to read the SOUND OFF column in the local sneeze (Freeman newspaper).

But we who read the The Freeman regularly have not found a single objection to the habitation of our sub-population of sewer raccoons.

There have been endless letters in Sound Off pertaining to municipal leaf removal, disharmony of local government, proliferation of downtown tattoo parlors........leaf removal( did I already say that?)

AND ETC. Lots of serious stuff.

But so far, the sewer raccoons have been allowed to come and go in their furtive peace, the peace for which they have apparently chosen Waukesha. No one has complained about them. For that, subterranean gratitude issues from corner grates.

No matter if the raccoons creep up behind little children on Halloween Trick or Treat night and occasionally steal a bag of candy; no matter if they gather random bits of coveted tin foil, or broken glass or discarded pizza from our gutters........

Waukesha knows how to be friendly to all: the long, the short and the tall, the homeless, those who can squeeze into the sewers, the orangely-shod, everybody. Bless them all.....all are welcome.

Some may effuse about the leaves being raked directly into the street, but nobody, we venture, would harm a raccoon.

Unlike the community of Delafield where they are eaten annually at a coon feed. Cong. Sensenbrenner wouldn't miss one of those feeds, per The Sneeze!



Thursday, November 18, 2010


Looky here!

As we continue to unpack our goods - a long process - in the loft apartment at the Putney, we come across this episode from the now old Zepata poetry series:
Note: magnify as needed

Ah, them were the days!

Wizard hands

With these hands
I do thee wed.....

Last October we went to Pleasant Valley Maryland to join in the 60th anniversary celebration of John and Jean Means, Dee's parents.

This picture of them partaking of a wedding cake had the same bride and groom ornament on the top that stood on the original cake. Some things, and in their examples many things get saved.

Just one example beyond the cake-trimming is the barn that John Means made years ago from discarded bill boards. It stands proudly on their land as a symbol to the raccoon news of what the thrifty forebears of wife Denise can do. She learned the lesson well.

John was at that time a hanger of billboards for The National Advertising Company, ironically based in Waukesha Wisconsin. He asked if he could keep some of the signs he took down, which after a while gave him enough to build a barn for his place.

When you go to shake John Means' hand, be prepared to have your own hand enveloped by a powerful paw. The SRN editor has tried always to stay on his good side.......though he is a gentle man.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Waukesha Sewer Raccoon News protests:

Want to STOP wolf hunting from airplanes
that great white sportswoman,
Sarah 'Mama Grizzly' Palin, supports in Alaska?

Sign petition attached, please:

Read about Palin's latest wildlife infringement on her 'reality' TV show, also above link.

Raccoon News takes a reading:

The World as He Finds It
Published: November 14, 2010

On Wednesday David Axelrod, President Obama’s top political adviser, appeared to signal that the White House was ready to cave on tax cuts — to give in to Republican demands that tax cuts be extended for the wealthy as well as the middle class. “We have to deal with the world as we find it,” he declared.

The White House then tried to walk back what Mr. Axelrod had said. But it was a telling remark, in more ways than one.
The obvious point is the contrast between the administration’s current whipped-dog demeanor and Mr. Obama’s soaring rhetoric as a candidate. How did we get from “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for” to here?
But the bitter irony goes deeper than that: the main reason Mr. Obama finds himself in this situation is that two years ago he was not, in fact, prepared to deal with the world as he was going to find it. And it seems as if he still isn’t.
In retrospect, the roots of current Democratic despond go all the way back to the way Mr. Obama ran for president. Again and again, he defined America’s problem as one of process, not substance — we were in trouble not because we had been governed by people with the wrong ideas, but because partisan divisions and politics as usual had prevented men and women of good will from coming together to solve our problems. And he promised to transcend those partisan divisions.
This promise of transcendence may have been good general election politics, although even that is questionable: people forget how close the presidential race was at the beginning of September 2008, how worried Democrats were until Sarah Palin and Lehman Brothers pushed them over the hump. But the real question was whether Mr. Obama could change his tune when he ran into the partisan firestorm everyone who remembered the 1990s knew was coming. He could do uplift — but could he fight?
So far the answer has been no.
Right at the beginning of his administration, what Mr. Obama needed to do, above all, was fight for an economic plan commensurate with the scale of the crisis. Instead, he negotiated with himself before he ever got around to negotiating with Congress, proposing a plan that was clearly, grossly inadequate — then allowed that plan to be scaled back even further without protest. And the failure to act forcefully on the economy, more than anything else, accounts for the midterm “shellacking.”
Even given the economy’s troubles, however, the administration’s efforts to limit the political damage were amazingly weak. There were no catchy slogans, no clear statements of principle; the administration’s political messaging was not so much ineffective as invisible. How many voters even noticed the ever-changing campaign themes — does anyone remember the “Summer of Recovery” — that were rolled out as catastrophe loomed?
And things haven’t improved since the election. Consider Mr. Obama’s recent remarks on two fronts.
At the predictably unproductive G-20 summit meeting in South Korea, the president faced demands from China and Germany that the Federal Reserve stop its policy of “quantitative easing” — which is, given Republican obstructionism, one of the few tools available to promote U.S. economic recovery. What Mr. Obama should have said is that nations’ running huge trade surpluses — and in China’s case, doing so thanks to currency manipulation on a scale unprecedented in world history — have no business telling the United States that it can’t act to help its own economy.
But what he actually said was “From everything I can see, this decision was not one designed to have an impact on the currency, on the dollar.” Fighting words!
And then there’s the tax-cut issue. Mr. Obama could and should be hammering Republicans for trying to hold the middle class hostage to secure tax cuts for the wealthy. He could be pointing out that making the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy permanent is a huge budget issue — over the next 75 years it would cost as much as the entire Social Security shortfall. Instead, however, he is once again negotiating with himself, long before he actually gets to the table with the G.O.P.
Here’s the thing: Mr. Obama still has immense power, if he chooses to use it. At home, he has the veto pen, control of the Senate and the bully pulpit. He still has substantial executive authority to act on things like mortgage relief — there are billions of dollars not yet spent, not to mention the enormous leverage the government has via its ownership of Fannie and Freddie. Abroad, he still leads the world’s greatest economic power — and one area where he surely would get bipartisan support would be taking a tougher stand on China and other international bad actors.
But none of this will matter unless the president can find it within himself to use his power, to actually take a stand. And the signs aren’t good.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Veterans Day 2010

Dee smiles dreamily at her vision come true.....
ON 11-11-10, A DAY THAT CANNOT and must not BE FORGOTTEN......

Dee and I celebrated our 27th anniversary
by trekking across the street from our loft apartment (see top floor middle windows) to THE CLARKE for dinner.

This was our first time there, although we've been looking down on The Clarke since the middle of April. It is the prominent foreground visage outside our windows. My taste runs toward the more everyday Dave's beanery also across the street, behind The Clarke in juxtaposition only.

You can see Dave's - and the Alanon Center - out The Clarke windows from our table.

Flowers from the family in Plesant Valley MD decorate our living room before we go down to The Clarke.

The view looking down at The Clarke, the morning after. Veterans Day flags already taken down from the imitation gas street lights.
We reflect on how quickly the day came and went. Well, let the Christmas shopping season now begin in earnest, if it hasn't already.....
Next year's anniversary will be a numerologist's delight, when the Dix anniversary - AND Veterans Day - both fall on 11-11-11!
Lord willing, we will go back to The Clarke then
or maybe even sooner. because the dining experience was reasonable and superb! We both had the grilled salmon with an exotic flower soup. Fancier entree names obtained.
We had come down off our high horse in the Putney, at last.
The Clarke is a great lift to the downtown and a brave stake driven in the moutaintop of what the hiatoric district has become and will continue to become.
The Sewer Raccoon News gives The Clarke a 'Five Point' five star rating!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Election summary:

Times change
and with them
their demands

Three year old Jonathan

Music lover:


and then this
SRN thanks John Helt via Dave Moyers!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Limitation statute/care-free mien

IMAGINE the day, driving out in the countryside to do a real estate 'market study', pulling into the curved driveway up to the back door, spying this: (Magnify; date 7-19-99)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Harry Nilsson
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Harry Nilsson
Birth name
Harry Edward Nilsson III
Also known as
June 15, 1941(1941-06-15)Brooklyn, New York, United States
January 15, 1994(1994-01-15) (aged 52)Agoura Hills, California, United States
RockPopRock and roll
Piano, vocals, keyboards, guitar, harmonica
Years active
Tower RecordsRCA VictorMercury Records
Harry Edward Nilsson III (June 15, 1941 – January 15, 1994),[1] who sometimes went by the stage name Nilsson, was an American songwriter who achieved the peak of his commercial success as a singer in the mid 1970s. On all but his earliest recordings, he is credited as 'Nilsson' and is known for the hit singles "Without You", "I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City", "Everybody's Talkin'," "Coconut" and "Jump into the Fire". Nilsson's songs 'One' and 'Cuddly Toy' have been covered by artists including the Monkees, Three Dog Night and Aimee Mann. He was awarded Grammy Awards for two of his recordings.
1 Life and career
1.1 Early years
1.2 Musical beginnings
1.3 Signing with RCA Victor
1.4 Chart success
1.5 The maverick
1.6 London flat
1.7 Winding down
2 Death
3 Legacy
4 Awards and nominations
5 Discography
5.1 Compilations
5.2 Tribute albums
6 Filmography
6.1 In film and television
7 References
8 External links
[edit] Life and career
[edit] Early years
Nilsson was born in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, New York, in 1941. His paternal grandparents were Swedish circus performers and dancers, especially known for their "aerial ballet" (which is the title of one of Nilsson's albums). His father, Harry Edward Nilsson, Jr., abandoned the family three years later. An autobiographical reference to this is found in the opening to Nilsson's song "1941":
Well, in 1941, the happy father had a son
And in 1944, the father walked right out the door
Nilsson's "Daddy's Song", and "Cuddly Toy" recorded by The Monkees, also refer to this period.
Nilsson grew up with his mother Bette and his younger half-sister. His younger half-brother Drake was left with family or friends during their moves between California and New York, sometimes living with a succession of relatives and stepfathers. His Uncle John, a mechanic in San Bernardino, California, helped Nilsson improve his vocal and musical abilities.[2]
He had a half-brother and a half-sister through their mother. He also had three half-sisters and one half-brother through his father.[citation needed]
Due to the poor financial situation of his family, Nilsson worked from an early age, including a job at the Paramount Theatre in Los Angeles. When the Paramount closed, Nilsson applied for a job at a bank, falsely stating he was a high school graduate on his application (he only completed ninth grade).[2] He had an aptitude for computers, which were beginning to be employed by banks at the time. He performed so well that the bank retained him after discovering the lie about his education. He worked on bank computers at night, and in the daytime pursued his songwriting and singing career.[2]
[edit] Musical beginnings
As early as 1958, Nilsson was intrigued by emerging forms of popular music, especially rhythm and blues artists like Ray Charles. He had made early attempts at performing while he was working at the Paramount, forming a vocal duo with his friend Jerry Smith and singing close harmonies in the style of the Everly Brothers. The manager at a favorite hangout gave Nilsson a plastic ukulele, which he learned to play, and he later learned to play the guitar and piano. When Nilsson could not remember lyrics or parts of the melodies to popular songs, he created his own, which led to writing original songs.[citation needed]
Uncle John's singing lessons, along with Nilsson's natural talent, helped when he got a job singing demos for songwriter Scott Turner in 1960. Turner paid Nilsson five dollars for each track they recorded. (When Nilsson became famous, Turner decided to release these early recordings, and contacted Nilsson to work out a fair payment. Nilsson replied that he had already been paid — five dollars a track.).[citation needed]
In 1963, Nilsson began to have some early success as a songwriter, working with John Marascalco on a song for Little Richard. Upon hearing Nilsson sing, Little Richard reportedly remarked: "My! You sing good for a white boy!"[2] Marascalco also financed some independent singles by Nilsson. One, "Baa Baa Blacksheep", was released under the pseudonym "Bo Pete" to some small local airplay. Another recording, "Donna, I Understand", convinced Mercury Records to offer Nilsson a contract, and release recordings by him under the name "Johnny Niles."[2]
In 1964, Nilsson worked with Phil Spector, writing three songs with him. He also established a relationship with songwriter and publisher Perry Botkin, Jr., who began to find a market for Nilsson's songs. Botkin also gave Nilsson a key to his office, providing another place to write after hours.[citation needed]
Nilsson's recording contract was picked up by Tower Records, which in 1966 released the first singles actually credited to him by name, as well as the debut album Spotlight on Nilsson. None of Nilsson's Tower releases charted or gained much critical attention, although his songs were being recorded by Glen Campbell, Fred Astaire, The Shangri-Las, The Yardbirds, and others. Despite his growing success, Nilsson remained on the night shift at the bank.[citation needed]
[edit] Signing with RCA Victor
Nilsson signed with RCA Victor in 1966 and released an album the following year, Pandemonium Shadow Show, which was a critical (if not commercial) success. Music industry insiders were impressed both with the songwriting and with Nilsson's pure-toned, multi-octave vocals. One such insider was Beatles press officer Derek Taylor, who bought an entire box of copies of the album to share this new sound with others. With a major-label release, and continued songwriting success (most notably with The Monkees, who had a hit with Nilsson's "Cuddly Toy"[3] after meeting him through their producer Chip Douglas), Nilsson finally felt secure enough in the music business to quit his job with the bank. Monkees member Micky Dolenz maintained a close friendship until Nilsson's death in 1994.
Some of the albums from Derek Taylor's box eventually ended up with the Beatles themselves,[4] who quickly became Nilsson fans. This may have been helped by the track "You Can't Do That", in which Nilsson covered one Beatles song but added 22 others in the multi-tracked background vocals. When John Lennon and Paul McCartney held a press conference in 1968 to announce the formation of Apple Corps, John was asked to name his favorite American artist. He replied, "Nilsson". Paul was then asked to name his favorite American group. He replied, "Nilsson".[citation needed]
Aided by the Beatles' praise, "You Can't Do That" became a minor hit in the U.S., and a top 10 hit in Canada.[citation needed]
When RCA had asked if there was anything special he wanted as a signing premium, Nilsson asked for his own office at RCA, being used to working out of one. In the weeks after the Apple press conference, Nilsson's office phone began ringing constantly, with offers and requests for interviews and inquiries about his performing schedule. Nilsson usually answered the calls himself, surprising the callers, and answered questions candidly. (He recalled years later the flow of a typical conversation: "When did you play last?" "I didn't." "Where have you played before?" "I haven't." "When will you be playing next?" "I don't.") Nilsson acquired a manager, who steered him into a handful of TV guest appearances, and a brief run of stage performances in Europe set up by RCA. He disliked the experiences he had, though, and decided to stick to the recording studio. He later admitted this was a huge mistake on his part.[citation needed]
Once John Lennon called and praised Pandemonium Shadow Show, which he had listened to in a 36-hour marathon.[2] Paul McCartney called later, also expressing his admiration. Nilsson was disappointed that he did not receive a call from Ringo Starr or George Harrison,[2] but shortly after a message came, inviting him to London to meet the Beatles, watch them at work, and possibly sign with Apple Corps.
Pandemonium Shadow Show was followed in 1968 by Aerial Ballet, an album that included Nilsson's rendition of Fred Neil's song "Everybody's Talkin'". A minor U.S. hit at the time of release (and a top 40 hit in Canada), the song would become extremely popular a year later when it was featured in the film Midnight Cowboy, and it would earn Nilsson his first Grammy Award.[3] The song would also become Nilsson's first U.S. top 10 hit, reaching #6, and his first Canadian #1.
Aerial Ballet also contained Nilsson's version of his own composition, "One", which was later taken to the top 5 of the U.S. charts by Three Dog Night. Nilsson was also commissioned at this time to write and perform the theme song for the ABC television series The Courtship of Eddie's Father. The result, "Best Friend", was very popular, but Nilsson never released the song on record; an alternative version, "Girlfriend", did appear on the 1995 Personal Best anthology. Late in 1968, The Monkees' notorious experimental film Head premiered, featuring a memorable song-and-dance sequence with Davy Jones and Toni Basil performing Nilsson's composition "Daddy's Song." (This is followed by Frank Zappa's cameo as "The Critic," who dismisses the 1920s-style tune as "pretty white.")[citation needed]
With the success of Nilsson's RCA recordings, Tower re-issued or re-packaged many of their early Nilsson recordings in various formats. All of these re-issues failed to chart, including a 1969 single "Good Times".[citation needed]
[edit] Chart success
Nilsson's next album, Harry (1969), was his first to hit the charts, and also provided a Top 40 single with "I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City" (written as a contender for the theme to Midnight Cowboy), but used instead in the Sophia Loren movie La Mortadella (1971) (U.S. title: Lady Liberty). While the album still presented Nilsson as primarily a songwriter, his astute choice of cover material included, this time, a song by a then-little-known composer named Randy Newman, "Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear." Nilsson was so impressed with Newman's talent that he devoted his entire next album to Newman compositions, with Newman himself playing piano behind Nilsson's multi-tracked vocals.[2] The result, Nilsson Sings Newman (1970), was commercially disappointing but was named Record of the Year by Stereo Review magazine and provided momentum to Newman's career.[2]
Nilsson's next project was an animated film, The Point!, created with animation director Fred Wolf, and broadcast on ABC television on February 2, 1971, as an "ABC Movie of the Week". Nilsson's album of songs from The Point! was well received, and it spawned a hit single, "Me and My Arrow".[citation needed]
Later that year, Nilsson went to England with producer Richard Perry to record what became the most successful album of his career. Nilsson Schmilsson yielded three very stylistically different hit singles. The first was a cover of Badfinger's song "Without You" (by Pete Ham and Tom Evans), featuring a highly emotional arrangement and soaring vocals to match, a performance that was rewarded with Nilsson's second Grammy Award.[3]
The second single was "Coconut", a novelty calypso number featuring three characters (the narrator, the sister, and the doctor) all sung in different voices by Nilsson. The song is best remembered for its chorus lyric, "Put de lime in de coconut, and drink 'em both up." Also notable is that the entire song is played using one chord, C 7th. Coconut was featured in Episode 81 (October 25, 1973) of the Flip Wilson Show. The song has since been featured in many other films and commercials. It was also used in a comedy skit on The Muppet Show, which featured Kermit the Frog in a hospital bed. The song was also used during the end credits of Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs.[citation needed]
The third single, "Jump into the Fire", was raucous, screaming rock and roll, including a drum solo by Derek and the Dominos' Jim Gordon and a bass detuning by Herbie Flowers. The song was famously used during the "Sunday, May 11, 1980", sequence in the film Goodfellas.[citation needed]
Nilsson followed quickly with Son of Schmilsson (1972), released while its predecessor was still in the charts. Besides the problem of competing with himself, Nilsson's decision to give free rein to his bawdiness and bluntness on this release alienated some of his earlier, more conservative fan base. With lyrics like "I sang my balls off for you, baby", "Roll the world over / And give her a kiss and a feel", and the notorious "You're breaking my heart / You're tearing it apart / So fuck you", Nilsson had traveled far afield from his earlier work. Still, the album did well, and the single "Spaceman" was a Top 40 hit. However, the follow-up single "Remember (Christmas)" stalled at #53. A third single, the tongue-in-cheek C&W send up "Joy", was issued on RCA's country imprint Green and credited to Buck Earle, but it failed to chart.[citation needed]
[edit] The maverick
Nilsson's disregard for commercialism in favor of artistic satisfaction showed itself in his next release, A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night (1973). Performing a selection of pop standards by the likes of Irving Berlin, Kalmar and Ruby, Nilsson sang in front of the London Symphony Orchestra arranged and conducted by veteran Gordon Jenkins in sessions produced by Derek Taylor. While the sessions showcased a talented singer in one of his best performances, this musical endeavor did not do particularly well commercially. The session was filmed, and was broadcast as a television special by the BBC in the UK.[citation needed]
1973 found Nilsson back in California, and when John Lennon moved there during his separation from Yoko Ono, the two musicians rekindled their earlier friendship. Lennon was intent upon producing Nilsson's next album, much to Nilsson's delight. However, their time together in California became known much more for heavy drinking and drug use than it did for musical collaboration. In a widely publicized incident, they were ejected from the Troubadour nightclub in West Hollywood for drunken heckling of the Smothers Brothers.[5] Both men also caused property damage during binges, with Lennon trashing a bedroom in Lou Adler's house, and Nilsson throwing a bottle through a thirty-foot hotel window.
To make matters worse, Nilsson ruptured a vocal cord during the sessions for this album, but he hid the injury due to fear that Lennon would call a halt to the production. The resulting album was Pussy Cats. In an effort to clean up,[citation needed] Lennon, Nilsson and Ringo Starr first rented a house together, then Lennon and Nilsson left for New York.[citation needed]
After the relative failure of his latest two albums, RCA Records considered dropping Nilsson's contract. In a show of friendship, Lennon accompanied Nilsson to negotiations, and both intimated to RCA that Lennon and Starr might want to sign with them, once their Apple Records contracts with EMI expired in 1975, but would not be interested if Nilsson were no longer with the label.[2] RCA took the hint and re-signed Nilsson (adding a bonus clause, to apply to each new album completed), but neither Lennon nor Starr signed with RCA.
Nilsson's voice had mostly recovered by his next release, Duit on Mon Dei (1975), but neither it nor its follow-ups, Sandman and ...That's the Way It Is (both 1976) met with chart success. Finally, Nilsson recorded what he later considered to be his favorite album, 1977's Knnillssonn. With his voice strong again, and his songs exploring musical territory reminiscent of Harry or The Point!, Nilsson had every right to expect Knnillssonn to be a comeback album. RCA seemed to agree, and promised Nilsson a substantial marketing campaign for the album. However, the death of Elvis Presley caused RCA to ignore everything except meeting demand for Presley's back catalog, and the promised marketing push never happened. This, combined with RCA releasing a Nilsson Greatest Hits collection without consulting him, prompted Nilsson to leave the label.[citation needed]
[edit] London flat
Nilsson's 1970s London flat at 12 Curzon Street on the edge of Mayfair, was a two-bedroom apartment decorated by the design company that ex-Beatle Ringo Starr and Robin Cruikshank owned at that time. Nilsson cumulatively spent several years at the flat, which was located near Apple Records, the Playboy Club, Tramps disco and the homes of friends and business associates. Nilsson's work and interests took him to the U.S. for extended periods, and while he was away he loaned his place to numerous musician friends. During one of his absences, ex-Mamas and Papas singer Cass Elliot and a few members of her tour group stayed at the flat while she performed solo at the London Palladium, headlining with her Torch Songs and "Don't Call Me Mama Anymore." Following a strenuous performance with encores, Elliot returned to the flat to relax and sleep and was discovered in one of the bedrooms, dead of heart failure, on July 29, 1974.[2]
On September 7, 1978, The Who's drummer Keith Moon returned to the same room in the flat after a night out, and died from an overdose of Clomethiazole, a prescribed anti-alcohol drug.[2] Nilsson, distraught over another friend's death in his flat, and having little need for the property, sold it to Moon's bandmate Pete Townshend and consolidated his life in Los Angeles.
[edit] Winding down
Nilsson's musical work after leaving RCA Victor was sporadic. He wrote a musical, Zapata, with Perry Botkin, Jr., libretto by Allan Katz, which was produced and directed by longtime friend Bert Convy. The show was mounted at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut, but never had another production. He wrote all the songs for Robert Altman's movie-musical Popeye (1980),[2] the score of which met with unfavorable reviews. Nilsson's Popeye compositions included several songs that were representative of Nilsson's acclaimed "Point" era, such as "Everything is Food" and "Sweethaven". He recorded one more album, Flash Harry, co-produced by Bruce Robb and Steve Cropper, which was released in the UK but not in the U.S. However, Nilsson increasingly began referring to himself as a "retired musician".
Nilsson was profoundly affected by the murder of his close friend John Lennon on December 8, 1980. He joined the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and overcame his preference for privacy to make appearances for gun control fundraising.[citation needed]
After a long hiatus from the studio, Nilsson started recording sporadically once again in the mid to late 1980s. Most of these recordings were commissioned songs for movies or television shows. One notable exception was his work on a Yoko Ono Lennon tribute album, Every Man Has A Woman (1984) (Polydor); another was a cover of "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" recorded for Hal Willner's 1988 tribute album Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music from Vintage Disney Films. Nilsson donated his performance royalties from the song to the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.[citation needed]
In 1991, the Disney CD For Our Children, a compilation of children's music performed by celebrities to benefit the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, included Nilsson's original composition "Blanket for a Sail," recorded at the Shandaliza Recording Studio in Los Angeles.[citation needed]
In 1985 Nilsson set up a production company, Hawkeye, to oversee the various film, TV and multimedia projects he was involved in. He appointed his friend, satirist and screenwriter Terry Southern as one of the principals, and they collaborated on a number of screenplays including Obits (a Citizen Kane-style story about a journalist investigating an obituary notice) and The Telephone, a one-hander about an unhinged unemployed actor.[citation needed]
The Telephone was virtually the only Hawkeye project that made it to the screen. It had been written with Robin Williams in mind but he turned it down; comedian-actress Whoopi Goldberg then signed on, with Southern's friend Rip Torn directing, but the project was troubled. Torn battled with Goldberg, who interfered in the production and constantly digressed from the script during shooting, and Torn was forced to plead with her to perform takes that stuck to the screenplay. Torn, Southern and Nilsson put together their own version of the film, which screened at the Sundance Film Festival in early 1988, but it was overtaken by the "official" version from the studio, and this version premiered to poor reviews in late January 1988. The project reportedly had some later success when adapted as a theatre piece in Germany.[6]
In 1990 Hawkeye collapsed and Nilsson found himself in a dire financial situation after it was discovered that his financial adviser Cindy Sims had betrayed his trust and embezzled all the funds he had earned as a recording artist. The Nilssons were left with $300 in the bank and a mountain of debt, while Sims served less than two years for her crimes and was released from prison in 1994 without making restitution.[7]
After the death of John Lennon, he began to appear at Beatlefest conventions to raise money for gun control and he would get on stage with the Beatlefest house band "Liverpool" to either sing some of his own songs or "Give Peace a Chance." Nilsson made his last concert appearance September 1, 1992, when he joined Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band on stage at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada to sing "Without You" with Todd Rundgren handling the high notes. Afterwards, an emotional Ringo Starr embraced Nilsson on stage.[citation needed]
[edit] Death
Nilsson suffered a massive heart attack in 1993. After surviving that, he began pressing his old label, RCA, to release a boxed-set retrospective of his career, and resumed recording, attempting to complete one final album. He finished the vocal tracks for the album on January 15, 1994, with producer Mark Hudson who still holds the tapes of that session, and then died that night of heart failure in Agoura Hills, California. The following year, the 2-CD anthology he worked on with RCA, Personal Best, was released.[citation needed]
[edit] Legacy
In May 2005, WPS1 art radio played "A Tribute To Harry Nilsson" with curator Sherrie Fell, and brother and sister hosts Bernadette and Harry O'Reilly and Nilsson was the subject of a 2006 documentary, Who is Harry Nilsson? (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him) produced by David Leaf and John Schienfeld. The film was screened in 2006 at the Seattle International Film Festival and the Santa Barbara Film Festival. In August 2006, the film received its Los Angeles premiere when it was screened at the 7th Annual Mods & Rockers Film Festival followed by a panel discussion about Nilsson featuring the filmmakers and two friends of Nilsson, producer Richard Perry and attorney/executive producer Lee Blackman. At the time the movie was not released.[citation needed]
However, the filmmakers re-edited the movie with found rare footage of Nilsson, further interviews, and family photographs. It was finally released September 17, 2010 at selected theaters in the United States. A DVD, which includes additional footage not in the theatrical release, was released on October 26, 2010. [2]
As of July 2010[update], Nilsson's final album, tentatively titled 'Papa's Got a Brown New Robe' (produced by Mark Hudson) has not been released, though several demos from the album are available on promotional CDs and online.[citation needed]
The musical Everyday Rapture features three songs by Nilsson.
Nilsson was survived by his third wife, Una (née O'Keeffe), and their six children, and one son from an earlier marriage. Before this, he was married to Sandy Maganiello (1964–1966) and Diane Clatworthy (1969–1974): both marriages ended in divorce. His wife discussed both John Lennon and Nilsson in the film The U.S. vs. John Lennon.[citation needed]
[edit] Awards and nominations
Nilsson won two Grammy Awards. He received several more Grammy nominations for the album Nilsson Schmilsson.[8]
The New York Post rated Nilsson's cover of Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talking" #51 on their list of the 100 Best Cover Songs of All Time.[9]
[edit] Discography