Monday, September 26, 2016
Harry Nilsson sings Randy Newman's "Living Without You"
The presidential debate is about to begin. I am nervous, to say the least. To calm myself I am listening to one one of the three singers whose voice is instantly soothing to me: Harry Nilsson. (Al Green and Sam Cooke are the other two.)
It was oddly perfect in 1970 that Nilsson, with his sweet, angelic voice able to hop octaves in a single bound, did an album of Randy Newman covers. Newman's voice has been called many things, none of them angelic. (I quite like it, but my spouse and many of my friends disagree.) Whereas Newman would sing his songs with a kind of drooling leer, Nilsson mined their emotional depths. On Nilsson Sings Newman he sticks mostly with Newman's human songs, rather than his caustic political commentary.
Newman can write so well about the mundane feelings of inadequacy and despair that so many have on a daily basis. His best in this regard has got to be "Living Without You." It's the story of depression and losing the will to live after being abandoned by a lover, but it does a great job of evoking the feelings of depression generally. The spare piano (played by Newman) is pretty yet mournful beneath Nilsson's lament of resignation. He describes the morning newspaper hitting the door and the subway rumbling by, and the pain a depressive feels when they realize that their sleep is over and they will have to actually go out and face the day. The second verse is even more evocative: "Everyone's got something/ They're trying to get some more/ They got something to get up for/ But I ain't about to."Nilsson adds a little oomph to that line, the character finally getting out of his daze only to adamantly refuse to wake up.
Let's just say that I have definitely been there before. On this song that state of sad lethargy almost sounds beatific.