~ Editor's Chair ~
In the Presence of Greatness
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 Amazon.com review. My letter from 2007 follows that review.
The Holy Grail of songwriting... March 25, 2000 ***** (5 stars)
Reviewer: "A music fan"
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
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.
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 songs...by 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.
end, I was again at the mercy of my friends' schedules...to 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
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
I will never forget it.
Thanks for listening.