Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Cake and The Rain A Memoir By Jimmy Webb

The Cake and The Rain
A Memoir By Jimmy Webb

I was more interested in the subject and the exciting career he must have had before I read this book. I guess I was hoping for more in-depth, human interest stories, or just a more personal feeling. He doesn't really come through with that.

The book has a disjointed, hop back and forth through time, jauntiness about it. Chapters have dated subsections of a couple pages or so each. “1966” “1970”, etc. I think he would have been better off just going linear. The result is the impression of not following through whatever emotions the Jimmy Webb character is going through during any episode. It is hard to get involved with the feeling of empathy for Jimmy Webb as he presents himself here.
The man gets a lot, quite soon. He is wealthy just after his teen years. There is a lot of money in having written and orchestrated big hit pop recordings in the mid to late 1960s.
But given that he is a songwriter I expected to get more from the book than rather surface stories of the people he hung out with and the fancy cars and cool glider soar planes he got. He never really tells us how he feels about things. I guess he is just not the philosophical type.
There are stories, information, but not a lot by any stretch, of the business of being a major hit songwriter in the 60s-70s. He is contracted to Johnny Rivers for 7 years but his work was taking off and wanted to be on his own. So a business guy working for Rivers, the man whose job it was to tell him that it was time to sign the option for the next few months or the whole thing would be over and Jimmy free, conspired with Jimmy Webb to get him out of the contract. This is what happened and apparently they have not spoken since. It does seems quite underhanded. Johnny Rivers was a big star in the mid-1960s although one would hardly know that now. Then he got more into the business end of things with a record company that put out Up, Up, and Away, the 5Th Dimension mega hit written by his contract songwriter Webb.
So Webb split and was successful. He got really rich and bought a high powered REAL sports car a Shelby Cobra. There are some mishaps and stories with the car. I'm like, “OK, rich First World People's Problems.”
He takes a lot of cocaine. There is a lot of cocaine in the book, and cocaine with other stars. Harry Nilsson is in more of the cocaine stories than anyone else. He was an excessive coke partner. Rock star cocaine stories are not very interesting. They usually involve spending a lot of money, trying to get more cocaine and being nasty to someone along the way.
There is a scene at the end of the book, it is 1973. Jimmy and Harry  are at a party. Harry has this stuff. Does a bunch of it, Jimmy thinks it looks funny but does a bunch which ended up being PCP and really messing him up for awhile because it was a large overdose. He can’t play the piano. Then he finally remembers he can play Amazing Grace on the piano. The end. This is not a particularly compelling drug story. Does Amazing Grace mean he is returning to the faith of his father? His dad was a Baptist preacher for a time. To me that is not exactly revealing of anything very deeply discovered in his drug adventures. More a frightened retreat, but maybe that is all that is available in the Rock Star Excessive Cocaine cliche experience.   
He doesn't tell us what happened to Harry that night, but we know that Nilsson didn’t live to be old and his career went downhill before that around the time of all this cocaine and partying with John Lennon who had separated from Yoko for a spell and had this notorious LA binge with Harry.
Jimmy Webb doesn’t tell us if he stopped taking drugs or if he only took them while singing Amazing Grace after the PCP thing. And the whole book stops in 1973. That's a really long time ago.
Anyway, it is a rather disappointing book, but it has large print and one can zip through it rapidly if curious.

There are a couple or three women who come and go in his life here up until 1973, but they are never really fleshed out as characters, we don’t get to know them at all.

There is a character called The Devil, who was a powerful radio DJ on the mid-60s and then became a pal, or hanger on, or business associate with Webb. He is the guy who suggests that Webb writer a song about a hot air balloon. They have a falling out over a woman. We never are told who The Devil is or why we are not being told. Why not just tell us? Did The Devil threaten to sue? It’s not like the betrayal over the woman story is that bad and it was many decades ago.

I think he is frustrated that he never got to be a revered singer/songwriter recording artist like Carol King of Joni Mitchell. He keep trying to make these grandly produced LPs but the sales are poor, so that type of stardom doesn’t really happen.

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