I recall the pink slip that shot out of an angry club owners mouth that summer of ’68, because my five-piece band had the audacity to play that wild and crazy tune about the yellow cotton dress, the rain, the cake, the dark park, etc.. “We do dancing and drinking here; we are not Carnegie Hall, that’s 75 miles west of here kid, so hit the road.” At some seven minutes in length, I guess that was too long to keep his revelers off the dance floor. I say this to establish that I have been inspired by, and a follower of, the career of Jimmy Webb since I first heard him on Joey Bishop’s couch, trying vainly to overcome his stage fright and sing a small sample of his newly-written, “Wichita Lineman” at the insistence of Glenn Campbell.
The Cake and The Rain is the most suitable title for Webb’s newly-published memoir from St. Martin’s Press. In it, he tells far more than just the backstory behind one of the most misunderstood, yet most covered popular songs of all time. (The appendix has a partial list of some 200 recordings of “MacArthur Park” by artists as diverse as the Four Tops, Donna Summer, Waylon Jennings, Charles Mingus and Father Guido Sarducci ) and Webb’s ride from nowhere to the top of the music world. Unlike his earlier book, Tunesmith, which offered some strong anecdotes but focused mainly on the craft at which he still remains at the head of the class, The Cake is beautifully and abundantly iced with stories that will be far more accessible to readers in general, stories that allowed him to sculpt some of the most deeply moving tunes of our time. For those who want a good—and at times incredible—story of muses, merriment, melancholy, melodrama, along with touches of ordinary life and multiple near-death experiences, this is your book.
Fans who have attended his concerts through the years know full well that Jimmy Webb always has some fascinating tales that stand on their own, without the aid of some of the greatest melodies the human ear has been fortunate to catch. Here he gets to fill in the details of interactions with Elvis, Sinatra, the Beatles (and their individual members), Joni Mitchell, Richard Harris, a totally out-of-control Harry Nilsson, and even the Devil himself, as he somewhat discretely calls one recurring industry character. Add in many other fascinating folks, from both in and outside the music industry, and you have an honest-to-goodness book.
Webb’s memoir leads you back and forth across the years, from the Oklahoma family histories of his mom, Ann (who died too young at age 36) and father Robert Webb, who would tell him about the day he came home from the Marines “exactly 9 months and 15 minutes” before Jimmy was born.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Cake and The Rain, but for me, it stops too suddenly, in 1973. That year Webb received several dramatic near-death shocks that, thankfully, gave him some great tunes like “Too Young To Die“ (referencing his own life, and his mother’s) and propelled him onward to his redemption and one of his strongest creative periods, 1987 – 2013. I only hope someday he might also fill us in on that time, as only Jimmy Layne Webb can.