The Cake and the Rain

A Memoir

[Amazon Link]

I have been a Jimmy Webb fanboy for about 50 years, ever since I noticed that those sweet Glen Campbell songs ("Wichita Lineman", "Galveston", …) and a lot of songs off the Johnny Rivers "Rewind" album, and … whoa, Richard Harris's "Macarthur Park" were all written by the same guy.

So over the years, I've bought his albums, I've bought albums from artists who recorded his songs (Art Garfunkel, Linda Ronstadt, even Michael Feinstein, etc.). I've seen him in concert three or four times (I lose track). At one of those concerts, I even got his signature on a poster off his "Archive" 5-CD set.

I used to be kind of bashful about this, but the hell with it. "I celebrate the guy's entire catalog."

Well, actually, that's not true. There are some clinkers. But every songwriter has those.

In his concerts, Jimmy is quite the engaging raconteur, telling yarns about his encounters with Sinatra, Richard Harris, the city of Galveston, etc. He also displays this talent in a lot of documentaries: I'll Be Me (about Glen Campbell); Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him?), The Wrecking Crew, etc. You can kind of think of this memoir as an version of those anecdotes, much expanded and R-rated. The book only covers his early life, up to 1973 or so. A hint is dropped at the end that there may be another tome in the pipeline.

I've been reading numerous memoirs from artists I've enjoyed over the years. Mostly musicians: Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Donald Fagen, Willie Nelson, and more. Looking for insights into the creative process, but about the only common threads I can discern: (1) mild mental illness; (2) substance abuse, usually illicit and multiple; (3) violation of one or more of the seven deadly sins. Jimmy's no exception; in his case, the most noticeable sins are lust, gluttony, and pride. He loves the ladies, including those married to other people. There are hilarious/horrible tales of drug use, including an episode at the end of the book (co-starring Harry Nilsson and John Lennon) that nearly kills him. And his tales invariably seem to involve dangerous levels of irresponsibility, stupidity, and (often) wretched excess.

It's not all glibly sordid, however. Jimmy tells some genuinely moving stories about his mom and dad, and his passion for gliding.

As noted, I would have liked to read a little more about his creative process, but there's not a lot of insight here. There is (on the other hand) a lot about the mechanics of songwriting: what songs are offered to who, the logistics of putting together recordings or concerts, dealing with disappointing reviews/sales, and so on.

True fact: "Macarthur Park" was originally offered to The Association, and they turned it down! Surely the course of world history was altered, the planet wobbled in its orbit, and empires fell because of that decision.