Harry Dean Stanton, in the 2012 documentary, Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction:
“[singing] Everybody’s talkin at me…
–This is a heroin song, by the way. It was written by Fred Neil. It was inspired by Luke Askew, an actor.”
Luke Askew was a blues singer and actor who appeared in Cool Hand Luke (1967) and Easy Rider (1969), among many other credits.
Bill Paxton in an interview with AVClub.com:
“Luke was with Fred Neil one time, and they were stumbling around, they’d both shot up and were on heroin, and Fred Neil said to Luke, ‘Man, how do you feel?’ And Luke looked at him and said, ‘You know, everybody’s talkin’ at me, and I can’t hear a word they’re sayin’.”
Everybody’s Talkin’, the theme song from John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy (1969), is performed by Harry Nilsson in the film. But the song was first written by Fred Neil and recorded by him in 1966. Nilsson covered the song in 1968 and the director chose it over Nilsson’s proposed theme: I Guess the Lord Must Be In New York City. Nilsson’s cover of Everybody’s Talkin’ made him rich and famous. Fred Neil wasn’t interested in fame and retired from music in 1971.
Neil’s original version is better suited to the song: slow, sad, dreamy, and lonely:
Nilsson’s cover, which is the only version most people have heard, is faster and radio-friendly. It’s oddly upbeat, although that trait arguably fits opening of the film:
Bill Paxton on Luke Askew:
“[Luke Askew] had been a great actor, and he’d also been someone Bob Dylan first identified with when he went to New York and decided he wanted to play in the coffeehouses. He used to see Luke singing the blues…
Most people think [Harry] Nilsson wrote that song, because he made a hit out of it in Midnight Cowboy, but Fred wrote that. [Sighs.] Luke Askew, man…”
From Easy Rider, Luke Askew as Stranger on the Highway:
Billy: Where ya from man?
Stranger on the Highway: Hard to say.
Stranger on the Highway: I’m from the city… Doesn’t matter what city; all cities are alike.
Billy: Well, why’d you mention it then?
Stranger on the Highway: ‘Cause I’m from the city; a long way from the city, and that’s where I wanna be right now.
Stranger on the Highway: [giving Wyatt some LSD] When you get to the right place, with the right people, quarter this. You know, this could be the right place. The time’s running out.