Unless you're of an uncertain age, the name Jimmy Webb doesn't mean much to you. But if you've ever ridden in an elevator, you have heard his music, or someone's version of one of his songs.
He wrote hundreds of songs way back when, stuff like MacArthur Park, Wichita Lineman, The Worst That Could Happen, Galveston, Up, Up And Away, Honey Come Back, By The Time I Get To Phoenix and Where's The Playground Susie?
His own website modestly proclaims him to be "America's Songwriter," and invites you to subscribe to his emails on the "World Wide Webb."
So now he has published his autobiography, "The Cake And The Rain." The title, of course, refers to the line in "MacArthur Park" about someone leaving a cake out in the rain, and Webb took that allusion from poet W.H. Auden, who said that when he looks in the mirror his face looks like a cake someone left out in the rain.
I don't think that I can take it.
I read the book because I am interested in popular music, but Webb should stick to writing lyrics, because the book is disjointed in the extreme. He jumps between vignettes from the 1950s and the 1970s, he talks of characters in his life without bothering to tell us who they are (there is one person present with him at many events who is only referred to as "the devil") and he leaves out many details.
But two things he never fails to mention are what a genius he thinks he is, and how unfair it is that the "left-wing folkie exclusivity" fails to give him the respect he is due. Webb was a fine songwriter, no doubt, but that never meant that people wanted to hear him sing his own songs. Time after time, he tried to mount a performing career, only to receive solid evidence that people preferred The Fifth Dimension and Glen Campbell singing his songs over Webb's weak-throated bleating.
I'm harsh on him because he has obviously had an interesting life but failed to tell us about it clearly. Reading this book, I kept feeling like I was trying to watch a movie on a bad DVD player that kept skipping and stalling. He has stories to tell but he didn't tell them.
He did mention that he consumed an awful lot of drugs, shoving pills down his throat and powder up his nose to ease the pain of his wealth and success. And time after time, he tells of how harshly and cruelly he treated women and fellow musicians. That sort of thing leads to karmic consequences, you know, Jimmy?
I can't recommend this book unless you have a kitchen table with one leg two inches too short.