~ Editor's Chair ~

In the Presence of Greatness JW

Since June 20, 2007 was the first time I had ever seen JW live, I wanted to try to describe how it was for me. I became such a fan of this man's gifts, that once in 2000 I was inspired to wrote an anonymous review. My letter from 2007 follows that review.

The Holy Grail of songwriting... March 25, 2000  ***** (5 stars)
Reviewer: "A music fan"

Yep, here 'tis... The preeminent effort of pop music's melancholy maestro. This exquisitely sparse gem is a requirement for every serious student of great songwriting, and my personal prescription for every single solitary soul squeezed through the sieve of life. It and the Bible will fix all your broken parts. And what Ten Easy Pieces can't mend, it will make bearable. The opening strains of "Galveston" alone are worth the ticket price. In his heartbreakingly beautiful introduction here, Webb has poured [out] the landscape of a lifetime. Here again is innate genius - - these songs may have once sounded "simple" at a glance, in their lowest common denominator commercial presentation, but that simplicity was deceptive. Here are ten "easy" pieces, not easy at all, rich with the same intelligence which earmark the greatest musical compositions in history; as Copland, Berlin, Gershwin, Thompson, Bernstein, Bach, etc., full of soaring lines and aching, grinding dissonances - - the stuff life is made of (and quite an accomplishment for a mere teenager to have attained, once). Webb's melodic wisdom, combined with an innate lyric sense, results in a subtly articulated intelligence insinuated throughout the entire CD. Thank God he slowed these cuts down from their previously hyper-sterilized commercial formulaic homogeny. We can view those astonishing landscapes now, one exquisite moment at a time. Other aural jewels here include "If These Walls Could Speak","The Moon's A Harsh Mistress," his version of "Highwayman" which I could write volumes on, alone, and "All I Know." In fact, there isn't a note played or sung on this remarkable collection anywhere which could be considered wasted. This IS the quintessential Jimmy Webb collection; ten of his best-known songs, performed in an achingly tender, intimate context, the way they should be offered... by 'him what conceived them;' just him, and his piano. This IS The Holy Grail of songwriting.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Jimmy Webb in Concert (from a letter to a far away pal)

OK. I'm not a journalist. I am a songwriter. An admirer of music, and of great art even. But this man's talent has, until "Ten Easy Pieces," flown beneath the journalistic radar in a way that seems almost intentional. The power and beauty of what he does in perfomance needs to be covered by one with greater eloquence (and typing skills) than I possess.

That said, I concede that there are some things that remain simply inexpressible. My reaction/response to his concert is accordingly so, for I cannot find sufficient words to properly describe what I witnessed. However, I will attempt to (below) give you some impression of the evening.

Due to great fortune and--no doubt--God's mercy, I sat in the front row, dead center. Normally such seating would have proven too profoundly uncomfortable a position for me. I am not a front row concert person. It feels too invasive. I have a few fans and even friends, however, who can sit nowhere else. They stand in lines for hours to see concerts--many even camp outside venues for days in tents for significant events...NOT me. I don't; no, I simply won't exalt any performer(s) to that degree. OK, before last night.

Last night I found myself in company of such rabid fans. Downtown is now dangerous at night and I, not wanting to walk alone post-concert to my van in the dark, accompanied good friends who were determined to see JW up close. I have to tell you though, it was a revelation to have to sit in line with so many other "Webb-heads" devouring boxed dinners on their laps, waiting for the choicest seats, rabidly poised to spring at the slightest cracking of the venue door. And I, too, last night--no longer performer myself--sat and waited there in full view with good friends, alongside fans and sycophants, uncomfortably close to the "gate".

I am so thankful I did. It was the best gift I could have ever given myself. I have waited to see this man perform for ten years. Not many such gifts have actually ever been afforded me. He has not played Austin to my knowledge but one other time, during a SXSW closed concert. Last year I did see songwriting hero Bob Dylan in a gorgeous concert hall in San Antonio, but our seats were so far away, even at a high ticket price we might as well have been in the next county. It was my first experience of Dylan live, though, and not quite the gratifying experience we had hoped for. Although his artistry was undeniable.

But seeing Jimmy Webb last night became nothing short of an epiphany. I could see his eyes. I was four mere feet from his piano. He struggled with it, too, a clunky old Yamaha baby grand rental piano. His difficulty negotiating it seemed to me sort of like a prima ballerina having to dance Swan Lake in construction boots. But his consummate artistry and humility enabled the end result, song after phenomenal song, to transcend its trappings. And I wept.

Repeatedly, Webb gave accolades to those who had put him on the map--luminaries like Glen Campbell whose (commercially distilled) renditions of his songs had given JW a reason to exist...and yet he related how his own good friend Harry Nilsson had under influence of alcohol once opined , "Jim, your singing sucks."

But I wanted to rise up and shout, "God and I LOVE your singing, Jimmy....yours is the stuff of angels! The Lord has every one of your albums... He (and I) know every one of your HEART !!!"

I never did though. My friends wouldn't have understood. However, I did remove my sandals for the entire duration of his concert. For even I recognized at once that, despite my original uneasiness about the front row, I had indeed been blessed to be seated upon truly holy ground.

At one point between sets I was told by a female friend seated two rows back that the only thing she had enjoyed more than seeing JW live for the first time herself, was watching my enjoyment of him.


At concert's end, I was again at the mercy of my friends' get home early--their work day early in the morning and all that. I had no time to stay and introduce myself or possibly cause subsequent embarrassment to my family :-)

Between you and I, though, beyond my surprising emotional response to the evening, I found it overwhelming to observe a vestigial torment others' disapproval/dismissal has wrought upon this man. It is a rejection overtly familiar to me. My instinct in such matters is to at once comfort all those similarly afflicted. For I believe that in The End, contrary to what we posit, it will be our human un-kindness to each other that will be longest remembered as our human legacy, and not our accomplishments.

So, if you ever have occasion to do so, then somewhere down the line would you please tell Mr. Webb that in my humble opinion, his own versions of those songs he's penned is the ONLY version of them that has ever fully displayed their true beauty and perfection. And while others' recordings may have given those songs the visibility and even credibility they indeed deserved, it was him performing his creations last night in such world-weary humility--just one man; one piano--that left me quite certain that I had truly been in the presence of one of God's beloved.

I will never forget it.

Thanks for listening.