Jimmy Webb rose to the heights of super stardom in Los Angeles in the late 60s, penning such classics as “MacArthur Park” made famous by Irish actor Richard Harris, “Up Up And Away” by The Fifth Dimension and of course “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston” sung by Glen Campbell – the artist most often associated with Webb.
On May 3rd 2017 an array of musical legends including Judy Collins, Art Garfunkel, Graham Nash and more recent stars Dwight Yoakam and Toby Keith, among many more, gathered at Carnegie Hall in a giant celebration of Jimmy Webb’s music hosted by Michael Douglas.
I find Webb’s songs always create a great sense of space – and emptiness. Given that Webb hails from the plains of Oklahoma, it’s not surprising.
With songs such as “Wichita Lineman” the story of a telephone repairman who can “hear you through the whine” (of the wires) but cannot truly connect to his love…Isolation emerges as a thread throughout his body of work.
The characters in Webb’s songs are often heartbroken and searching, trapped in landscapes that the songwriter paints so vividly.
Whether it be the telephone line repairman in “Wichita Lineman” or “Galveston” about a soldier in Vietnam watching the cannons fire as he cleans his gun – yearning only to return to Galveston – and his love – heartache is palpable.
Jimmy Webb is perhaps best known for his strange and melancholy line in “MacArthur Park,” “someone left my cake out in the rain” (referenced in the title of Webb’s new biography); which evokes in an almost psychedelic way a most dear love lost. A hugely popular hit I recall from AM/ FM radio stations growing up, there always seemed something ancient and “classic” about the song, which wasn’t even a decade old when I first heard it in the early 70’s.
For my self the highlight of this evening was this fantastic song performed by country artist Toby Keith with Jimmy Webb on the grand piano amid a deeply engaged audience.
The concert’s finale was indeed impressive with the entire cavalcade of stars joining Webb onstage to perform “Up Up and Away,” a smash hit for The Fifth Dimension in the seventies.
A uniquely American talent who bridged the gap between the singer/songwriters of the 60s and more traditional pop performers, the wide range of Webb’s musicianship was highlighted and honored during the evening’s program as so many musical legends came out to pay tribute through his songs.