For reasons long forgotten, I thought it would be a good idea to study French when I was a freshman in high school. Another kid in Monsieur Drouault’s class, also named Jim, had just moved to Southern California’s so-called Inland Empire from somewhere in Oklahoma. No matter how godawful my little hometown was, I knew it was probably better than his hometown. Oh, how I pitied that unsophisticated Okie rube.
The other Jim soon became very well known in school. For all the wrong reasons. He thought of himself as a musician and composer. He was one of those kids that all the teachers loved. You know the kind. Every time we had an assembly or talent show or student gathering of any kind, they pushed him out on stage to play the piano and warble another of the horrible songs he had written.
I knew they were horrible songs because, well, I was a smart ass teenager who just knew those things.
Every time he got up on stage, the student body let out a collective groan.
“Oh, my god,” someone invariably said. “Not Jimmy and his piano again.”
Let’s make a long story short.
By the time I graduated from our local community college, that no talent loser had already written three top ten hit songs. And he was just getting started. The recording industry’s biggest names soon lined up at his door, begging him to bless their careers with some of his magic. Jimmy Webb had become one of the hottest talents in show business and for a while it seemed like he had written every other hit song on the radio.
Up, Up And Away – The Fifth Dimension, 1967
By The Time I Get To Phoenix – Glen Campbell, 1967
MacArthur Park – Richard Harris, 1968
Wichita Lineman – Glen Campbell, 1969
Worst That Could Happen – Brooklyn Bridge, 1969
Galveston – Glen Campbell, 1969
Where’s The Playground Susie – Glen Campbell, 1969
All I Know – Art Garfunkel, 1973
Honey Come Back – Glen Campbell, 1970
MacArthur Park – Donna Summer, 1978
Every big name singer around the world recorded his songs — Sinatra, Streisand, Dusty Springfield, Al Wilson, Nina Simone, Diana Ross & the Supremes, Waylon Jennings, the Four Tops, Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66, Ray Charles, Roberta Flack, Sammy Davis Jr, Nancy Wilson, the Temptations, Tom Jones, Dionne Warwick, Mama Cass, Art Garfunkel, Joe Cocker, Cher, Judy Collins, Linda Ronstadt, the Everly Brothers, John Denver, Kenny Rogers, and David Crosby to name just a few. For god’s sake, even Bob Dylan covered one of Jimmy Webb’s songs.
Some astute judge of talent I was.
Well, here we are 50 years later and Jimmy Webb has now written an autobiography titled “The Cake and the Rain” (a reference to the lyrics of MacArthur Park). It’s packed full of tales of his formative years in Southern California’s remarkably misnamed Inland Empire and how he became a legendary composer.
And the best part: He has written extensively about our close friendship, how his time with me in Mr. Drouault’s French class inspired him to write all those hit songs, and how he would have been nothing without me. How I was his muse. I was touched and honored that he dedicated the book to me.
OK, that last paragraph was a complete lie. Not a word of truth in it. I guarantee you that Jimmy Webb doesn’t know I ever existed. If he does have any memory of me, it’s that I was one of those jerks who groaned and said, “Not Jimmy and his piano again.”
So here’s the thing:
Jimmy Webb has written about a thousand hit songs and an autobiography. I, on the other hand, have written a mere handful of mildly amusing radio and television commercials and some silly blogposts. He wins.
But in my mind we are forever linked together because of Mr. Drouault and by the fact that we are both writers.
In psychology, I think they call it rationalization.
I bought the iBook version of “The Cake and the Rain.” I’ll be reading it while we travel. I think it will be pretty interesting even if he doesn’t mention me.