PETE FORNATALE INTERVIEWS JIMMY WEBB. THEY DISCUSS THE SONGS WEBB WILL PERFORM ON THE SHOW. JIMMY WEBB REQUESTS LONGS OF PAPER TOWELS TO BLOW HIS NOSE TO COMBAT HIS POST NASAL DRIP.
PETE FORNATALE INTRODUCES GUEST:
Pete Fornatale 9:52
Hello again everyone and welcome to another edition of mixed bag radio. This is Pete Fornatale at the Museum of Television and Radio We're in New York City with my special guest today one of the most successful songwriters of all time. Jimmy Webb.
JIMMY WEBB PERFORMS "GALVESTON"
Pete Fornatale 14:23
Jimmy Webb and a live version of his own composition Galveston and Jimmy I told you before we started that your version of that song on the 10 Easy Pieces album was a revelation to me. I've always liked the Glen Campbell hit of it, but I never connected it to I guess it's time which was the Vietnam years and yet it doesn't even have to specifically be about that doesn't.
Jimmy Webb 14:51
Well I received an email on my website just a little while ago from somebody asking About this song and and wondering about the anti war or whatever whether it was whether it was an anti war song or and then and this this guy had actually peeled the the onion back another layer and said, was it a civil war song or was it meant to be a take on a civil war song which I'm not above you know, ripping off good folk song every now and then I mean I folk songs are really my favorite songs and I like to write modern folk songs. And it kind of is a more modern folk song. But what I was thinking of was Vietnam, we were right in the middle of Vietnam. And I just remember thinking that I wanted the character in the song to be an ordinary guy, which is one of the reasons he ended up being from Galveston, which is nowhere really I didn't want him to be from New York or LA or I wanted it to be an ordinary guy, you know, one of those nameless guys who died there.
Pete Fornatale 16:18
When that happens when someone hears in one of your songs, something that you did not consciously intend is that a good thing? Are you okay with that when you when you when you finally let go of one and let it out into the world, and it comes back with interpretations entirely foreign to whatever you may have intended? How do you feel about that?
Jimmy Webb 16:46
Well, I feel okay about it. Sometimes I think it's going on. It's going on anyway, I'm looking at the logo on this instrument, and this is three layer s 700. And sometimes I feel that there are the layers are there whether you intend them to be or not, I remember setting off one time to write a song called if these walls could speak for Waylon Jennings, who died just recently. Last year anyway, and all the time I was writing the song I get to hear Waylon Jennings voice and say it started out as a pretty straightforward metaphor about a house. I just lost my piano for some reason,
Pete Fornatale 17:34
Can we get the piano back
Jimmy Webb 17:41
just a song which Nanci Griffith ended up cutting and Amy Grant, everybody except Waylon Jennings. But it started out as a metaphor for a house.
JIMMY WEBB PLAYS A BIT OF "IF THESE WALLS COULD SPEAK."
Jimmy Webb 21:15
the walls of the house have now become the walls of the human being the walls of the personality. Now, I wasn't aware of that. I it was a road I sort of took off on and all of a sudden at some point I realized, Oh, there's another layer here. And a lot of that I think occurs on a subconscious level. And sometimes, man you don't hear it until years later you go what was that? Was that you listened to it again. And I've talked to so many other songwriters who've had that experience where all of a sudden they're they're hearing a song in a different way.
Pete Fornatale 22:03
I know from things that you've said and things that you've written that you like that you like that little Oh Henry thing at the end of a song
Jimmy Webb 22:13
I do I believe it's part and parcel if not quintessential to the you know, American song form that there's a little hook and then this is what all the Masters certainly the Rogers and hearts and Oscars and Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rogers and all the great pairings and collaborations that the great American songs always had little hooks and little surprise endings and little double entendres as, as in the Gershwins. What's What's about the marriage not, but there's no not for me, you know?
Pete Fornatale 23:04
But not for me, is it that that's not it,
Jimmy Webb 23:06
but not for me, not for me. And at the end, he makes it he makes it there's a there's a pawn about tying a marriage not k k n o t, but there's no not for me, right. And all the all those guys did that. And it was great, because it was something you look forward to was the ending.
Jimmy Webb 23:29
I don't know why this pops into my head, but let's call the whole thing off. Yeah, it's very much a fun song, you know, Potato, potato with all of that stuff. But then at the end, the the surprise ending is, let's call the calling off off. Which makes it fun.
Jimmy Webb 23:49
And by the time I get to Phoenix, you don't really know what's going on. And by the time we get to Phoenix, you know, you know that he's leaving her. He's left her before is this just another spat? Is it going to turn around and go back? And it's you wait a while before you before in the last verse. He gets to Oklahoma and says that
Jimmy Webb 24:16
she will cry just a thing and relieve the time and time again. You know? I've tried to tell her so she just didn't know. I would Really go
Pete Fornatale 25:00
that one takes it right to the last word. Right to the last word.
Jimmy Webb 25:04
She didn't know he would really do it. Yeah. Yeah.
Pete Fornatale 25:07
And that's one of your early things. That's early. Jimmy Webb. Big success early in life can make you arrogant. It can make you humble. It can make you crazy. What did it make you Jimmy?
Jimmy Webb 25:25
I think it made me all of those things. Certainly I, the one thing that I that I retained, however, I can't be too sure about anything that was going on at that time, having been under the influence of so many drugs at the same time. But one thing that I am sure of was that I retained my generosity, I I was never selfish about what was coming to me and always wanted to bring my friends along for the ride and always wanted to pass the money out if possible, and, and bought the whole communal lifestyle, peace, love, we're gonna create a different kind of a world where material things are not important. And bought hook, hook, line and sinker. And I wasn't so I was never mean, I may have been guilty of a lot of things and excess was certainly one of them. And, but I I was never mean. And and I had, I must say I had a blast. I mean, I had the time of my life. I don't regret one one misspent moment of the whole thing. But I can see how I have been very lucky not to have ended up lying in the ditch somewhere like so many others, many others. In fact, one of my and even though I don't want to apply that particular analogy to my friend Harry Nielsen, who I did some very hard living with. And he certainly never ended up in the ditch, I think, the most triumph, triumphant and courageous part of his life were the last few years of his life when he knew his health was in terrible trouble and he still lived every day to its fullest and, and tried to take care of his family and tried to do the right thing. But certainly, inherent Nielsen, you have an example of one of our generations. Jim's certainly, you one could say Harry Nielsen was our Frank Sinatra you know by just listening to a little touch of Nielsen in the night so first one to do it it says that all it says it all and and yet a very complicated fellow, you know, couldn't get enough of life just couldn't get enough of it 24 hours a day and really did kind of kind of burnt burn himself out
Pete Fornatale 28:23
a lot of casualties in your line of work. Is it built into the job?
Jimmy Webb 28:32
Well, it's a good question. I, as I mentioned, in my in my book tunesmith that it can be quite distracting. Watching yourself do what you do, and people who perform and write who well people who write music and perform. Singers songwriters particularly watch themselves do what they do. And they study their own sorrow with a magnifying glass. And it can get to be like a circle of behavior, kind of an infinite aid of one heartbreaking affair after another I have been guilty of this in my own life of I believe I'm in a lot of therapy now. Of unconsciously seeking out unsuccessful relationships. Because the songwriter part of me knows that that's where the good stuff is. And and so, you know the other part of me the rational part Part of me that really would like to have a wonderful relationship with a woman, I mean, what a precious thing, you know, to have a friendship and to have a physical relationship and to really interact with another human being and have a friend and have a partner and have all of that is basically antithetic to the reason I'm here to trade it all for the which is to, you know, comment on on the on the on the sorrow and the pain. And it's also interesting to me that there's never there's never, that there's always great demand for it. There's always great demand for even though I must tell you at this time in my life, so there are some songs of that golden era of the James Van Heusen tunes, and the Larry hearts that I can't listen to anymore. They are so poignant that I can't listen to them, they open up, they open up rooms that I just don't want to go into. And it's very hard for me to listen to Sinatra now, because Sinatra was such a good chooser of a Torch Song. And if you're in that place where you're hurting just a little bit, and you're susceptible to being wounded, you probably don't want to listen to a Sinatra album, because he's gonna hit you with six or seven major can openers in a row. And and it makes me wonder about the masochistic nature of what, what I've done with my life and what we do. I mean, I've written up in a ways and ditties and throw aways and, and songs about the environment and songs about all sorts of things. But my gut tells me that song that songwriters are here to write about this relationship between men and women. That that's why we're here.
Pete Fornatale 32:16
It was Sinatra, who raised that to the level of an art form. I mean, the two things I wanted to say to you about what you just said, or that the other side of that coin is, one thing you could do is shut yourself off from it and not expose yourself to the hurt. The other thing is that you can wallow in it, you know? Yeah. Or let someone do the suffering for you. Frank did that on whole albums? Yeah, only the lonely in the wee small hours of the morning. You know, people want to say that Sergeant Pepper was a theme album. Yeah. Go back a few years go back it
Jimmy Webb 32:56
was a song cycle. Yeah, there was three of them foreigners sort of like, for no one was staying staying up for four days with Frank Sinatra while he gets over Eva gardener.
Pete Fornatale 33:09
You know, she is in every one of those recordings.
Jimmy Webb 33:14
But I'm certainly I've I've been influenced by those by those songs.
Pete Fornatale 33:21
I didn't expect to get into this this early. But you're you're on that level. Jimmy, you are. People like Sinatra gave you some of the highest accolades that can be given about your songwriting. So you're on a playing field with giants.
Jimmy Webb 33:40
He was very kind to me. I had had I, let's say, come from a different background, been educated a little bit differently, and have had been able to step into some of the roles that were assigned to me, like I used to read in the newspaper, they would say, Well, you know, Jimmy Webb and this really used to embarrass me terribly. But they would say Jimmy Webb is the Cole Porter of this generation, and I would be mortified, the blood would rush to my face. And I because I had such a tremendous immense respect for Cole Porter, and his rhyming technique and the fact that very rarely was there a false rhyme and, and very rarely was there anything illogical or out of place? It was such careful writing. Early in my career, I was quite slapdash about lyrics, wrote them on the back of envelopes, wrote, you know, wrote I remember sending Wichita lineman over to Glen Campbell and saying, you know, they had asked me for a song and I remember sending out saying, you know, this is all I've got, it's not quite finished but I don't know. Do what you like with it, which is why it came back with guitar solo because there were no lyrics they don't want to do that was the part I couldn't write. So, so I do not put myself on that ground at all. But he, but in my, as I as I've matured and as I've grown older, I have certainly tried to put myself on that ground and I've certainly tried to understand what it means to stand on that ground. And what an accomplishment that is to be a Johnny Mercer what an extraordinary thing that really is, at least I'm an appreciator of it I understand what it means. And I've I've certainly well, I've laid down some some new rules and parameters and and modes of writing for myself in later life. To make my work better, to make it better,
Pete Fornatale 36:15
you are in a unique position by the sheer fact of your survival and your success survivals good. You were the Young Turk the new kid on the block knocking him dead
Jimmy Webb 36:30
I'm still the kid.
Pete Fornatale 36:31
Now you're the now you're the eminence greys, you know, generations of writers who have followed in your path and look to you in some way. And so I guess what I'm asking is, you've already given some of this answer. You can look at it from three points of view. You can look at those that went before you now and really appreciate the Giants. And I'm sure that Cole Porter is on that list.
Jimmy Webb 37:00
Larry Hart is one of my favorites, right? Not to not to diss Richard Rodgers but I personally prefer Rodgers and Hart to Rodgers and Hammerstein even though I love Oscar Hammerstein second, who seemed to be one of the most decent fellows who ever lived and certainly had more sympathy for young struggling songwriters than probably any of his contemporaries.
Pete Fornatale 37:26
The next group would be your peers who among your peers, are you awed by for example?
Jimmy Webb 37:34
Oh, well, that's really pretty easy. I, I was in thrall to Joni Mitchell from the very first album I ever heard. And realized immediately Here is someone who can teach me something and was drawn to her and in fact, went to her and, and got myself physically in proximity to her to find out what this was what is going on here. And she played songs for me and I saw her notebooks and I was in the studio with her when she was recording for the roses. And I knew I would never be that there was something ineffable something there that I would never be and would never, wouldn't possibly would not even aspire to. But she, she defined and brought into being a style of music, or a style that I would call conversational tone, that that had its own validity, in opposition to the formality of the great masters of the golden and platinum eras of songwriting, who wrote these formal almost sonnet like constructions that made such perfect logical sense. And Joanie came along and wrote, look at those suckers, betting on that damn hockey game, you know, and other people picked up on it and Randy Newman, you know, there she is out with the smokehouse, you don't say nothing, she don't do nothing. You know? Maybe she's crazy. I don't know. Maybe that's why I love her. So tomorrow, you know that whole bit about all of a sudden, you're just talking. It's just some character talking. came into being in this most this lovely way. You know,
Pete Fornatale 39:58
you showed up for a tree Brian Wilson here are yours. So, go. Where is Brian in that pantheon?
Jimmy Webb 40:07
Well, I see Brian Wilson as a great melodist. And I'm I mentioned him in the same breath is McCartney and Billy Joel as and Stevie Wonder, as you know, like in our tops, five, six melody riders tune riders, a guy who could hold his own against against the back racks certainly wrote, as well as Barry Mann and Cynthia. And that whole sort of Brill Building generation of riders, and maybe even had a little bit more flair. So, because of a very oblique, very personal view of the way a chord structure should go the way a melody should go. So I see him primarily as a composer. Sure, I mean, there's no to me there is I, my imagination is not even slightly stretched at the, at the idea of Maurice Ravel sitting and listen to listening to don't talk, for instance, and saying, Oh, my, that's lovely. And, and perhaps even borrowing on that theme for some Fantasia of some sort. So I see Brian as a composer, who, who, who ran into some interesting guys who wrote great, you know, some great, memorable lyrics that were admirably suited for their for their time. In fact, at his at his memorial enough, so I'm not going to say Memorial, I got, let's go. Let's try a tribute. At Brian's tribute at Radio City Music Hall. I was privileged to be there with a host of people. But one of the most interesting things that I that I, I was involved in that night, I did get to sing a trio of in my room with David Crosby and Carly Simon, which was just best fun. And the other thing, the second most interesting thing that I got to do was to do Surf's up with Vince Gill and David Crosby. And I think that that's the first time that that had been done in in public, perhaps in a long, long time.
Pete Fornatale 43:01
I became a Vince Gill fan. In that moment. I had no idea.
Jimmy Webb 43:07
Oh, he's outraged. I had no he's lovely. Yeah, he's loved. And. And Brian, Brian hadn't done Surf's up in decades, because he didn't like it. And he didn't think he liked it, liked it. And he heard us doing it. And he decided that maybe he'd start doing it again. But yeah, well, Brian is a composer.
Pete Fornatale 43:33
I just want to finish the ARC of this question, Jimmy. We've talked about those before you we've talked about your peers. The industry has changed. The world has changed. The century has changed. I'm guessing that songwriting has changed and is changing to looking ahead. Do you see anybody out there? Are you? Are you optimistic about your chosen profession?
Jimmy Webb 44:03
Well, I have no choice but to be optimistic because my three oldest sons are recording artists. actually signed to Warner Warner UK. That's the web brothers out there. I think that a few years ago, young writers went through a kind of anarchistic period and probably rightfully so. I'm thinking about Kurt Cobain now and sort of Nirvana and that sort of Seattle grunge late 80s. Mid to late 80s, early 90s kind of very anarchistic approach to songwriting and a sort of nullification of form. Which did not surprise me I felt I felt but I felt that it was inevitable. And I, then I thought, but it's, it's, it's so amusing that it's really all for nothing, because what will happen is that they will destroy the form. And then they will slowly begin to rebuild it. And eventually, they will do Sergeant Pepper again. they'll do, they'll just go through the old but that's okay, because that seems to happen cycle cyclically in art. And I believe that, you know, I heard it, I love some of Sheryl Crow's tunes. I've heard odds in the last I mean, I have to really date myself to say that, to me, Mark Cohen is a young songwriter. And that when I heard him, I was really, really excited. And I occasionally I hear someone come along, and they're, they're writing some, some one song will pop out, and it will, it will sound great. So I believe that we are now getting reorganized. What's the young lady's name? You just won the Grammy, Norah Jones, Norah Jones, Please edit that out. Because I don't want her to know that I didn't know exactly who she was. But Norah Jones is, is a kind of a self made artist, which I think we all were. Who recorded who recorded a song or an album in a garage, recorded a song written by a songwriter, and won a Grammy. Which sounds a little bit more like 1968 than it does 2003. The idea of I'll put forth put forth one of my grand theories here, which is that in general, the synthesis of singer and songwriter has not been a terrific thing for music. And there have been good things that have been happening that have happened. Jackson Browne was great and Joni Mitchell was great. Randy Newman was irreplaceable. He was he Steven Foster, he's our Steven Foster. So certain wonderful things happened. But when the singer songwriting idea fell into the hands of the multitude of unsophisticated, uneducated on a disrespectful majority of people who had no idea what this tradition of songwriting means, and what it's about what it's capable of what his capabilities are, it suffered singer songwriting, in the many cases you had, as a singer, songwriter, you had two people who didn't know what they were doing. And I I'm, I'm quoting Joni Mitchell on that. So that's, that's not an original quote, it's very clever thing to say,
Pete Fornatale 48:31
well, it's like when baseball opens up to expansion teams, you suddenly have guys who would normally be minor league level playing in the bigs and it dilutes the quality of the whole. I think that what you're saying yes.
Jimmy Webb 48:45
And I think that we may be reaching the end of a kind of a, of an era of about 20 years, let's say, when we might begin to see those two roles begin to diverge again, which would be a wonderful thing for the singers and a wonderful thing for the songwriters. Because it's great to be a songwriter and concentrate on being a songwriter. When I was a kid, I used to get down beside the bed on my knees and say God please please please let me be a songwriter just let me be a songwriter I forgot to say and a recording artists who knew Oh no. So but I was one of those kids and and I believe that there was that you saw something demonstrate if you want to just go back to Sinatra for a minute and say, during the whole Sinatra era, you came to the to the peak of what songwriters could do boy, what James Van Heusen could do what Sam mekon could do what Yip Harburg could do what these guys could do, man, when they were just left alone to do what they did couldn't be equalled by anybody. And when these great singers like Sinatra and Clooney, and people like that came along and got a hold of these songs, then you had something then you had something you had something incredible, insurmountable, unmatchable?
Pete Fornatale 50:30
backtrack. David and Dionne Warwick.
Jimmy Webb 50:32
Absolutely. Well, when Jimmy Webb met Glen Campbell, it was a nice little marriage was a nice little blending of, I don't know, tastes
Pete Fornatale 50:43
That is in fact, my next question to you collaboration as a songwriter you tend not to but your collaborations are with the artists in the same way that Sinatra formed partnerships with Khan and venues and, and with Nelson Riddle. As an arranger, you really seem at times to get in some total involvement.
Jimmy Webb 51:09
Elson really grouses about that message? All the songwriters got all the glory, He says, but it was the arrangers who were really making those songs, wrote, the arrangers were really putting those songs together and making them sound good. You know he felt that way. Right? Sure. Sure, everybody, I'm sorry. I just had to throw that out there
Pete Fornatale 51:32
I love it. I love it. Talking about partnerships, Linda Ronstadt with both Nelson and yourself, but that's just one of them. I'm thinking, of course of Glen Campbell, whom we already mentioned, but there was a period,
Jimmy Webb 51:43
there was some there was some of my songs that had Linda Ronstadt stamped on them, you know, when when, when they were written, they just had her name on them. And you just, you know, I'm very unabashed about my belief in God. And there are times in my life when I just believed that God was in control of those, some of those just indefinable perfections that occurred in the matching and material with people.
Pete Fornatale 52:21
I went to a concert at Town Hall a short time ago, featuring Art Garfunkel. And at a certain point in the show, he stopped and said that his five favorite contemporary songwriters, I hope I get the list, right? Five favorites were Stephen Sondheim. Paul Simon. Randy Newman, James Taylor. And in no particular order, by the way,
Jimmy Webb 52:47
I'm sure I was number five. Jimmy Webb
Pete Fornatale 52:51
alphabetically. I think you would be that way. Anyway. There was a party should list.
Jimmy Webb 52:54
It's a pretty good list. Yeah. I, I remember when they broke up. And I was I was in London and I had written a song for my for, as usual for an unrequited love of mine. And excuse me, and already had asked me to come to San Francisco where I think he was kind of, I don't know, licking his wounds a little bit. I'm not sure how happy he was about the separation with Paul. Not not overjoyed, I would think, and a little insecure about his future as a recording artist, certainly. And he was there with Roy Howell, and he had me come into the studio. And he said, Well, play me some songs. And I said, Well, look what and he said everything that you know. So I played him everything I know. At the end of I'm playing amazing grace. I played him everything I knew. But I had this little song that I'd written in London. And I remember when I played it for my girlfriend in London, and I poured my heart and soul into it and I said, So darling. What do you think she's Oh, she said, that's silly. That's exactly what she said.
JIMMY WEBB PERFORMS "ALL I KNOW"
Pete Fornatale 58:10
Jimmy Webb and a live version of his beautiful all I know. This is Pete Fornatale on mixbag radio. I'll have more with Jimmy after this.
Pete Fornatale 58:21
I just needed a break after that. Oh, that was great. Oh, thank you. That was great.
Jimmy Webb 58:26
I feel I just I have just I feel a terrible voice I haven't sung in a long time. So I feel very vulnerable. And I hear these little shaky things going on. I'm just
Pete Fornatale 58:38
sounding good over here. How's it sounding over there? How's it sounding back there?
Jimmy Webb 58:45
I guess it depends on whether vulnerability is selling you know at the moment.
Pete Fornatale 58:54
Wow, we got into a lot of play. I think I'm only on my second question.
Jimmy Webb 59:00
Well, you know, run me to the curb.
Pete Fornatale 59:39
Pete Fornatale back with you on mixed bag radio with my special guests today. Jimmy Webb we are at the Museum of television and radio in New York City. Jimmy unfortunately, a short time ago, we heard the news about the passing of Richard Harris. And I was one Wondering almost immediately from then to this moment, how you heard about it and what went through your mind when you did hear about it?
Jimmy Webb 1:00:10
Well it was it was very anticlimactic, because they have now they have the scrolls at the bottom of all the newscasts. And so more likely than not, you're going to hear about it. While you're watching someone else in the thing is going to roll by it's gonna say Richard Harris, and that will catch your eye and it says Richard Harris dead at done another nada die. I said it went, Oh, well, it was terrible. It was terrible because we had so much unfinished business between us because we had sort of spent a lifetime sparring with each other over various issues. And I'm immediately kind of went into some deep mourning. It took me back to my youth because when I met Richard, I was only about 20 years old, he was 40 or so. And he literally took me out to educate me in the ways of the world, which he wasn't, you know, and he was an expert in the ways of the world. And so, you know, he, he, you know, taught me how to lay siege to pubs and, and capture fair maidens carry them off and despoil them and then, you know, drink all the wine in the house and then go to someone else's house and capture their house and spoil it. But I just, I just loved him. So there's no, there's no way I could ever tell. In words. The love I had for this great big riotously funny, explosive man who believed so much in my music that he would take this outrageous seven minute 21 second long song and insist on recording it insist that it was going to be a hit and by God it was a hit, you know, just just an amazing guy.
Pete Fornatale 1:02:27
How did that unlikely pairing come about?
Jimmy Webb 1:02:35
Well he and I used to it goes back to LA to some charity work, we were doing together some benefits, doing the late 60s and just hanging around the piano and doing some pints. And I have to say that my standard disclaimer is I don't drink anymore okay, but in those days I really used to put it away and there's nothing that goes quite as well with drank as Irish music. And he must have taught me 40 or 50 Irish songs and three four weeks beautiful things like don't give me a little piano here.
Jimmy Webb 1:03:48
the stuff got under my skin in a big way. You know, and a lot of the foci stuff that came later the the highwayman, the Moon is a Harsh Mistress a lot. A lot of this stuff was was really the seeds were planted by Richard and by this by trips that we took to Ireland and just wonderful things that we did together. But to answer your question specifically about how that album happened, is we kept saying, Well, one day we'll make a record together. One. Jimmy Webb, you always call me Jimmy Webb never called me Jimmy never called me Webb. Always call me Jimmy Webb. He said Hi, Jimmy Webb one day we'll have to make a record together. And I'd say yeah, Richard. Sure. We'll do that. You know, and, again, give it no more thought. And then one day, a telegram arrives at my house in Los Angeles and it says, Do Jimmy.Come London? Make record? Love Richard. That would be the telegraph. And the next thing you know, I'm on a plane to London and I've got all my songs with me. We're in his apartment and we're going through song after song after song. No, no, no. Don't like that. Don't care for that. Nope, nope. Nope. Like that one like that one. No, don't like that. Finally, same situation with as with Artie Garfunkel, you get through all the songs and there's no songs left. And he says, well, is that it? Is that all? Well, no, I've got this one song that was written for somebody else. And they turned it down. And every songwriter has one of those way down at the bottom of the trunk. He just kind of hesitate to bring it out. He said, let's see it. So I brought it out. It's huge. It goes put it up on the piano. I think I played I played.
Jimmy Webb 1:06:23
He said, I'll have that. That was that was the end of it. It was done. It was a done deal. And then it was all
Jimmy Webb 1:06:42
everybody thought we were crazy. You know, and they I mean, they absolutely thought we were crazy. When the radio stations got the record. They said what is this? You know, I mean, it would have been some FM stations that had played jams by Bob Dylan and the doors and different things but never this highly structured and you know, almost classical music. And and the most unlikely thing in the world happened I became a huge international success. I mean, absolutely mind blowing. There. There are little ripples around MacArthur Park, we actually could do a show about MacArthur Park,
Pete Fornatale 1:07:26
no question. You use the word big. It was a phenomenon.
Jimmy Webb 1:07:31
It's you know, it's been recorded over 500 times.
Pete Fornatale 1:07:34
And it's had more lives than a cat.
Jimmy Webb 1:07:37
Well, some of the some of the people who have recorded it makes an interesting list, I think just is kind of illuminating in itself. And these just come off the top my head. Maynard Ferguson, Don Ellis, Tony Bennett, Liza Minnelli, Frank Sinatra did the center section. Don novella did it in character as Father Guido Sarducci, which was really a kick.
Pete Fornatale 1:08:09
I gotta find that one.
Jimmy Webb 1:08:11
It was in the movie airplane to there's a big elevator that comes down. That holds about 50 people and the doors open and there's a stampede of people trying to get out of the elevator because the music is playing MacArthur Park. I gave them I gave them permission to do all this stuff. There's the weird Weird Al Yankovic did Jurassic Park is melting in the dark and he had he had a he had a Tyrannosaurus rex eat Barney. And it i It it it literally there's story after story after story. Artists who just couldn't leave it, they can't leave it alone to this day. They can't leave it alone. Especially comedians comedians loved it. And it was just it was it was it was done in Germany. It's been it's been a hit in Germany like 10 times, to fraudulence. You know, I mean, you know, who knows? Who knows what's going on out there? I mean, we didn't know. We had no idea. And in fact, one of the great you know, God bless him. I mean, he's gone now, one of the great turmoils of our lives and one of the bones of contention that was between us for so many years. Was that one night when we were riding back from the studio at Lansdowne Road. And we were just two fellows on a lark. Does anyone seriously think we thought we were going out to sell platinum albums? I mean, we were drunk. We had a he used to take a picture of PIMS to the studio every night like a Pimm's number one and then was to two benches, two stools in front of the microphone. One was for Richard and one was for the pims. And as soon as the pims was gone, the session was over. This is about how this is how serious we were. So one night we're motoring along in a phantom five Rolls Royce. These things were gorgeous. You know, you saw John Lennon had one that was painted all in rain, psychedelic colors. And we're going along in the Phantom five. And he says, I tell you what, Jimmy Webb.
Unknown Speaker 1:10:31
He said, If this record is a hit, is as if it's a hit. I had to give you this phantom five.
Jimmy Webb 1:10:43
And I said no, no, Richard. Yeah. No, you don't have to do that. No, no, no. I'll give you this phantom five, if this records a hit, if this records number two, if it's number two. Right. You would give me this car? Well, MacArthur Park was number two in the United States for weeks. We never, we never got into number one. I can't remember why. But I think it was, hey, Jude. I think it was hey, Jude kept us out. And it was number one in France. And it was number one in Germany. And it was number one in Australia. And it was number one in New Zealand. And it was was this international phenomenon. So he clearly Oh, owed me this car. I mean, let's let's, let's just put it right out there. Okay, he opened his big mouth, and he clearly owed me this car, right?
Pete Fornatale 1:11:45
Is there a buck coming?
Jimmy Webb 1:11:46
He never gave it.
Pete Fornatale 1:11:48
Jimmy Webb 1:11:50
He never gave it to me. He could never bring himself to give it to me. God bless him. Did he tried to give me other cars? He tried to wiggle other cars and say, Well, why don't you take this Bentley? Why don't you take this? Now I've got this nice silver shadow. That's 1917. That's a gorgeous, you know, he would he would run ringers in on me. But he didn't want to give me that car. And I think it had something to do with the royal household. I think he'd gotten it from Princess Margaret or something. And he had any sort of sentimental attachment to it.
Pete Fornatale 1:12:28
What did he make the offer under the influence? That might be the only out I'd give him?
Jimmy Webb 1:12:33
No, especially especially under the influence he got. He pays up. All right now, especially if he's drunk, he's got to pay and my passion in the whole situation. And he got angry at me for telling this story. And I, I stopped telling it. Because I knew that there were reverberating reverberations, from me telling the story. So I'm bummed up and stop telling. But my passion was, came straight from the heart. It was out of love of that man that I wanted his car. And for no other reason. Not because it was a Rolls Royce. Not because it was worth X dollars. But because of MacArthur Park and because of his promise, and because he was my friend and because I loved him like a father and a brother and God all rolled into one. That's why I wanted that car. That's why I wanted it. And that's why I never really completely fully accepted that he didn't give it to me.
Pete Fornatale 1:13:55
Jimmy, tell me true. Did he ever walk in to the studio or your house and say, Jimmy Webb, what the hell does this mean?
Jimmy Webb 1:14:10
No. He knew exactly what it meant. We were the only two people in the world who knew what it meant. And now he's dead.
Pete Fornatale 1:14:22
I once asked you this question, I will ask it exactly the same way again, is MacArthur Park your rosebud?
Jimmy Webb 1:14:31
It it's? Well, you know what? It's interesting. It's a surreal piece, sort of written in the style of a lot of psychedelia. A lot of psychedelic lyrics that go unchallenged. They marched right across the drawbridge nights in white satin, that what's that about? And what were Strawberry Fields in I mean, a lot of these psychedelic songs just marched right across the drawbridge. But when MacArthur Park marches up to the drawbridge, hold there. Hold hold. Is that MacArthur Park? I hear down there. We'll have to see your papers, please. You know, I mean, so much trash was written that was just a bunch more psychedelic trash. I mean, let's be honest, party, there's a not very nice love song in the middle of it called after all the loves in my life. It's the natrual loved and recorded as a separate song. And then there's MacArthur Park. And there's the fast bit and there's the classical bit. And it's seven minutes 21 seconds long. And, and a bit of a monster, because it did become that sort of rosebud. Like, question that follows you around for the rest of your life, whether you like it or not, that will probably be somewhere there in your epitaph after your, you know, that's that will be the last crack that someone will make about you after you you know, died a horrible death is an anyway, what did the cake out in the rain mean? You know, and that will be the last thing said about you. You know, and you just, you know, I don't know, you just create certain things. I mean, we have all created monster Frankenstein created a monster walked about the countryside, you know, disturbing the neighbors. I mean, this is MacArthur Park, it's this big thing that got loose. And no one, no one knows how it got loose, and it wasn't supposed to get loose. And people were saying and who said it loose. They wanted to, to blame someone and was just there
Pete Fornatale 1:16:54
in your mind who opened the door to that kind of songwriting, songwriting that was imagistic songwriting that was surreal, as you say,
Jimmy Webb 1:17:05
Oh, it was the Beatles. Yeah, it was the Beatles. It was the Beatles using drugs and, and slamming. Well, Bob Dylan was really doing some incredible things lyrically, so I can't, I can't say I wasn't influenced by Bob Dylan. But clearly, I mean, the Beatles took the gloves off and just said, Alright, we're gonna write this song, and good luck, because we're the only ones in the world and have a clue as to what this is all about. Because it's all about inside conversations that we've had in the studio while we've been making the record. So you will never figure it out. And we'll probably never tell you. And, you know, so I mean, know that they were they were the culprits. I mean, they were the ones. And, you know, many, many, many people followed suit. It was a style. I mean, it's not like I went down in history as a guy who wrote nonsensical, you know, sort of Lewis Lewis Carroll ish, kind of lyrics, I would have, I know that if I had another shot at it, I could, I could do a decent job of rewriting MacArthur Park. And, you know, I wouldn't have been so quick to throw it together, less surreal. I wrote it as a kind of a demonstration piece for bones house because he said, what could you do if you wanted to combine classical music and rock in a long piece that had movements? And I said, for the radio, he said, Yeah, you'd want to play it on the radio? I said, Well, I don't know. It's but it's a fascinating idea. And there's George Martin. And certainly, once one has heard yesterday, one knows that the musical world that the world has been tilted on its ear, and now anything is possible. I certainly did. I knew that once I heard what George Martin was doing with the Beatles, that all bets were off. That it that you could try anything. And so I so in a way, it was kind of a prototype. So I mean, in a way it was kind of an unfinished airplane. You know. I mean, I'm really being honest. It was sort of like an unfinished plane, but Richard grabbed it, and he said, I'll have that. And he was the type of man who wasn't going to wait for you to finish the plane. It was just going to be done now and recorded, done, sent out
Pete Fornatale 1:20:04
unfinished or not it took off on its own.
Jimmy Webb 1:20:07
And it just, you know, I had this weird life. I asked you earlier about goes on when you even as we speak,
Pete Fornatale 1:20:16
even right here today, when you fling something like that out there and people get their hooks into it. Over the years have there been interpretations? I'm not talking about the Yankovic thing now, have there been interpretations that amused you or angered you? of that particular song?
Jimmy Webb 1:20:37
No, I feel you know, there's no, there's no rules, that that's kind of what we were doing is saying, you know, and I felt, I feel that to not have a sense of humor about that song is to make would have been to make a grave error on my part, and to have protected it, like some sort of national treasure. You know, when it was really when it really did have flaws, and some of them we're kind of funny, somewhat, we're kind of comic in loves hot, fevered iron, like a stripe ID pair of pants, which I use in my in my book on songwriting as an example of mixing metaphors. And how does that whole line goes? Oh, it doesn't matter. I refuse to repeat it. I refuse to ever, you know, you can hear it if you want to. But I, I mean, I put it on a page with with some other absolutely horrific mixed metaphors as a classic example of what not to do. And, and I wasn't thinking about that. We were just kids. I think that and that's no excuse because Mozart was just a kid too. You don't tell me you're just a kid. You know, Mozart was just a kid. But we were just kids on drugs. We were just kids in California on drugs, having fun. And somehow or other some of these things got done. And they got out of hand they, you know, they took on epic proportions that were far beyond what they were ever intended to be.
Pete Fornatale 1:22:44
And just to post scripts to the story. It did win a country Grammy,
Jimmy Webb 1:22:50
Waylon Jennings recorded three times.
Pete Fornatale 1:22:54
And one of those received those
Jimmy Webb 1:22:58
And it was the song of the year,
Pete Fornatale 1:22:59
and that elusive number one spot in the states happened with Donna Summer
Jimmy Webb 1:23:04
Donna Summer cut a disco version. And we went number one. That was my only number one record ever in my career.
Pete Fornatale 1:23:12
Is that right? Yeah. Wow.
Jimmy Webb 1:23:15
And it made a great disco. Song too
Pete Fornatale 1:23:18
how did you celebrate? I mean, something like that has to be truly a gift out of the sky.
Jimmy Webb 1:23:24
It was pretty cool. i i Actually, I'll tell you what I did. I call it this friend of mine, Don G at Starlight limousine. And I said, Don, I said, I want you to come over and I want you to drive me today because I've got the number one record in the country. And he's any came over with a limo. And I just drove around all day in my limo. And I in my limo. I drove over to Harry Nielsen's house and said, I've got the number one record in the United States. I visited all my friends. gloated, I told him I had the number one record. You know, it's very funny, not number two.
Pete Fornatale 1:24:11
You had mentioned earlier that there was a song that you had tailor made in your head for Waylon that he didn't Oh, that was If These Walls, right. You mentioned a number that were tailor made for Linda. Which one's specific?
Jimmy Webb 1:24:29
Well the one the one that she that she got on first
JIMMY WEBB PERFORMS "THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRES." WRITTEN FOR LINDA RONSTADT.
Pete Fornatale 1:28:32
beautiful Jimmy Webb alive version of the Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Jimmy our time is running away from us. I got a couple of more things I'd like to ask you about if we can. I mentioned earlier the notion of collaborations you generally don't like to collaborate in songwriting? Correct?
Jimmy Webb 1:28:55
Well, I have done it. I've just never never been very good at it. And, you know, I think that it's, it's the Pavlovian thing to some degree, if you've had a good experience and you've had a reward and you've had pat on the back. Oh, that was a lovely thing you did with Kenny Loggins are that was a lovely thing you did with Gerry Beckley or what a great thing was with Elvis Costello or whoever it may be. I've just never had that kind of echo response type of thing. And seem, I seem to be better off on my own. You know, a fellow Oklahoman Roger Miller, who was actually born about 12 miles from where I was born, we were born very close together. And Oklahoma said, you know, Picasso did co paint, you know, so, but, you know, I think that certain people were, are maybe more more suited for that kind of thing. And I go down to Nashville on part of the group, sometimes I'm drawn into a situation where I say, Sure, let's try it. I don't. It's a, you know, it's a test, it's a test. It's a test of, of moral fiber, to really see if you can sit in the same room with someone else and actually put yourself through that. I think I'm maybe a very, very, very, very, very shy person who really has difficulty airing out those things in front of other people. And that may be the problem that I have with it.
Pete Fornatale 1:30:41
Let me ask you about one time when you did do it, which was film noir.
Jimmy Webb 1:30:46
Oh, I thought that Carly Simon and I wrote a really fine song together. And fact they just took it and made it a part of her her grand anthology, I guess a four CD set. And that was one of the songs that they selected for it, which I was obviously flattered and honored that he also did the arrangement on that by the way.
Pete Fornatale 1:31:13
I discovered that late actually, I can't remember the reason why but I loved everything about it the package being black and white, the majority of material standards by the likes of people we were talking about earlier, and sort of the umbrella for it the thing that holds it all together is is the title song that you wrote for it is was that one on commission was that one
Jimmy Webb 1:31:40
well, she and I decided to write together. The truth is you should go to you should go to the album
Pete Fornatale 1:31:55
Which is exactly what we're going to do right now on mixed bag radio.
Pete Fornatale 1:32:01
That's Carly Simon and the title track from her album film noir, which she wrote with my guest today
Jimmy Webb 1:32:08
we detuned all the pianos on that album, we had the idea that we we that to truly be film noir ish and and to truly be black and white. That none of the pianos could actually be in that really Crystaline concert pitch. So they're all slightly varying degrees of detune. So and if you're not aware of it, you will be aware of it now that I've told you, but when you hear the album, it's more of an ambience after it. It gives it puts a little smoke in the air is what he does.
Pete Fornatale 1:32:45
Off the top of your head. Tell me three of your favorite movies.
Jimmy Webb 1:32:50
Oh, being there? Let's see. Being there. Shane would be another one. Lawrence of Arabia,
Pete Fornatale 1:33:10
three color films interesting. And three great films. Obviously. That last one is one you don't want to see on. VHS, you want to go? Yeah, you want to go to the theater. There's a handful like that, that just don't convert. Right
Jimmy Webb 1:33:30
but my very, but I think my very favorite is being there.
Pete Fornatale 1:33:35
Jimmy Webb 1:33:36
I just loved always loved Peter Sellars anyway. But I can't think of a more evocative way for him to end his career on film. And in that. And I in many, many ways I look at the government, I look at the progress of politics in the world. And I think where, oh, where is Chauncey Gardiner, when we need him so desperately.
Pete Fornatale 1:34:03
Really brilliant, great. To stay in that character. And the beauty you remember what they did with the closing credits? That was what see where he just lost it? Because it was almost too much to keep that.
Jimmy Webb 1:34:21
Yeah. I had a friend who worked on that picture as an extra he actually played one of the President's Men, one of those. Yes, men who ran around with a clipboard, William F. Williams actually helps. He's on the credit. You can see him there. And he was he was he was a kind of an observer of Peter Sellers on that picture, and he said that he never left character that he was always Chauncey Gardner all the way through that movie from beginning that he never let down for For a moment, even in private,
Pete Fornatale 1:35:02
I can't remember who beat him for the Academy Award. I'm thinking it was Paul Newman, who would certainly be a sentimental favorite any year. He's nominated this year again.
Jimmy Webb 1:35:11
And of course, Shirley MacLaine was great in that picture, too.
Pete Fornatale 1:35:16
But I feel like Peter was robbed.
Jimmy Webb 1:35:21
he was a sweetheart. I mean, I go all the way back to you know, the goons and just loved him loved clothes, sell love to watch New Pussycat. Just
Pete Fornatale 1:35:36
all that stuff. I want to jump back to something we were talking about earlier. Waylon Jennings did record one of your song with three other modestly known gentlemen, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson. Johnny Cash. Yeah, that must have been a kick.
Jimmy Webb 1:35:56
Well, it was quite a phone call. I remember. The phone call came from my manager and said, you know, you've got a record on highwayman. I said, really? He said, Yeah. Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson. I send you You mean for records? I said, No, it's just one record. I thought, certainly, this this will be one of the few times in my life that I receive a phone call like this. And it was really Glenn's doing he played the song for them. And I was lucky in that it was a four verse song. Always had been a four verse song, and there were four of them. And that's really I think, how I got the gig. But as it turned out, each one of them singing a verse of this if you can imagine, was rather evocative. Would you like me to do it?
JIMMY WEBB PERFORMS "THE HIGHWAYMAN"
Pete Fornatale 1:41:19
And when those four musical legends went out on tour, they call themselves
Jimmy Webb 1:41:24
well, they became the highwaymen, which is, you know, it's just another one of those, you know, it's blessing, it's a blessing.
Pete Fornatale 1:41:32
Well, I'm gonna stay with that subject for just a second. Jimmy, you've spoken in this interview of your belief in God, one listens to that song and hears either notions of an afterlife or
Jimmy Webb 1:41:46
reincarnation? Well, I believe in a god that's big enough for everybody no matter what their religion is, and no matter what their color is, and no matter what their country is, and that's the God that I believe in. And I think he's the real one. And I believe that our lives do reverberate down through the ages. And I believe that everything we do counts in some way or another no matter how small which is why I really wish I could go back and rewrite quite a few songs that I've written. Because I still hear Wichita, I'm on the radio sometimes and go see that bits? Not quite right, is it?
Pete Fornatale 1:42:50
Jimmy 100 years from now, they will still be singing and playing and listening to Jimmy Webb music you have to know that.
Jimmy Webb 1:42:59
Yeah, sure. appreciate you saying that. I hope they have something better to
Pete Fornatale 1:43:06
listen, we only got halfway through so I told you before we did something in the 80's something in the 90s now something in the arts. I don't I don't want to wait another decade for the No. Okay, so we'll we'll let Part Two go for right now. Okay. I just want to ask you specifically what you're in town for which is other interesting collaboration. Jimmy Webb, Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. who will gave you your first Grammy and in a sense, right?
Jimmy Webb 1:43:37
Yes, they did. And we were laughing and talking about that today about how the first Grammys were held at the Sportsman's lodge in Encino. No television cameras, no radio no nothing. And I was nominated for Best Song. I was for Song of the Year and I had two songs in the category competing, competing and I was positive I wouldn't win. And I had this big the last of the tycoons Jay Lasker sitting next to me, huge guy with a big cigar sitting next to me. And he saw how nervous I wasn't he and I said I'm out as well leave I might as well leave. And so about halfway through the show, he leaned over and he took a huge puff off of the stogie. He leaned over and he said relax, kid it's in the bag so it was so it was
Pete Fornatale 1:44:35
just for the record the competing song of your own was
Jimmy Webb 1:44:39
by the time I get to Fina Yeah, yeah, but but to I really must give this some weight. This little thing this little reunion between Maryland and COO Marilyn McCoo Billy Davis and myself onstage with a couple of instrumentalists is the first time we've ever done anything like this. We're going to do Some of our music from Magic Garden which is the album that we think was our definitive album together.
Pete Fornatale 1:45:06
Carpet man yours.
Jimmy Webb 1:45:07
Jimmy Webb 1:45:08
I love that carpetman.
Jimmy Webb 1:45:14
and we're going to do bill in Maryland. We're gonna do a tribute to Laura Niro. It's part of the songwriters series at Feinstein's. And so we feel that Laura needs to be represented. We all loved her and we're going to do some of her songs. And we are having the time of our lives. It's a sweet, a wonderful rebonding of candidates, kindred spirits with a lot of a lot of funny tales to tell and some very, very pretty singing by Marilyn McCoo, who's one of our great divas and Billy Davis, who I put without hesitation on the same level as Otis Redding. Wow. Without the slightest editor hesitation,
Pete Fornatale 1:46:03
Jimmy, Marilyn and Billy will be at Feinstein's at the Regency from March 18 through the 29th I'm sure you can find out more about it by checking your website.
Jimmy Webb 1:46:17
Yes, yes, absolutely.
Pete Fornatale 1:46:19
Anything we've spoken about today I didn't get to your book in any great detail. That's all for part two. Okay. But in the meantime, those of you out there wanting to know more right now can go to www dot Jimmy webb.com Jimmy time flies well,
Jimmy Webb 1:46:37
I hope I didn't meander too far off course for you Pete
Pete Fornatale 1:46:42
I loved it. I loved it but I just gave you a song cue
JIMMY WEBB PERFORMS "TIME FLIES"
Pete Fornatale 1:51:02
and that just about does it for this edition of mixed bag radio. My thanks to the great Jimmy Webb for being our guest. Thanks also to Bill Cole are Chris Hall and Bruce rains Special Thanks this week to Ken Beck and Chip crystal Rella at the Museum of television and radio in New York City. If you'd like to know more about our programs, please visit our website at WWW dot mixed bag radio.com This is Pete Fornatale Thanks for listening.
Description: TAPE DATED MARCH 14 2003
Keywords: linda ronstadt
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