Almanac Music: Geography, geometry and the cartography of loss… revisiting Jimmy Webb’s By the Time I Get to Phoenix

It’s just over 2000km from LA to Oklahoma. Let me take you on a journey of just over 2000 words, as we explore the curves and crests of Jimmy Webb’s timeless By the Time I Get to Phoenix.


“New York, Sept 14, 1990 – BMI, the world’s largest performing rights organization, today announced the titles, writers and publishers of the 50 most performed songs in the company’s 50 year history.

    1. Yesterday…John Lennon, Paul McCartney
    2. Never My Love…Donald Addrisi, Richard Addrisi
    3. By The Time I Get To Phoenix…Jim Webb….”

There is something insidious about the geography of love and lust. And leaving.

In “Phoenix”, that geography insinuates itself. Until you become part of the journey.


I can’t really say when Phoenix became my favourite in the Webb/Campbell pantheon.

I was always a Galveston man, something about the chorus and the stories of the flood from the great hurricane of 1900. And Wichita Lineman, that great fragmented masterpiece, arguably the greatest vocal of all time. Ditto Susie, I now see it’s clunkiness, but the simplicity of the metaphor appealed, and the loss in the “if I don’t stay around” talked of passions and obsessions I had never really felt.


Apparently Sinatra agreed, Phoenix is the greatest torch song ever, apparently.


I’ve flown over Phoenix. From the air, its strategic rationale as a defence town in the SW makes sense. It’s a million miles from nowhere. But in Webb’s masterwork, Phoenix the place, Phoenix the song, becomes the centre of everything, the leitmotif of that dreaded moment in every relationship.

But more, it becomes not just the symbol of Webb’s subject’s journey. It’s America on the rebound.


Three verses… three cities… lines… lifelines… birth, work, death…. meet, mate, leave….Phoenix, Albuquerque, the high school production of Oklahoma!


When it’s not about beautiful balloons that go Up Up and Away, or 99 of them flapping across the East German sky, great pop is about love or death, or love and death, or in the context of Love Will Tear Us Apart, about love in the context of subsequent death.

Phoenix is about the death of love. Clearly, of undying love – I’ve left that girl so many times before.

Relationships as dissected plateaux, flat, but riven with crevices. Will they dig themself out of this one?

I’ve left that girl so many times before… yet you feel he has never made it to Oklahoma before. Maybe he never will, never make it to that unwinding third base.


After all, this is a song of movement, but inferred movement only. He could be sitting in a café in downtown LA or San Diego the whole time, just mapping out how it will unfold. He talks a good leaving, but every time I play the song, I get a different feel. He will go, he will stay. He will go, and come back. Graeme Wood, if you know what I mean.

So Webb’s artifice is to create a magnificent canvas of journey, in a world of paralysis. It’s us that move him across the desert, not really willing him on, but certainly dragging the google map, to see where he goes after Oklahoma. And all the two-bit towns he would pass through.

Journey Without Maps.

This… map without journey…


We use “roadmap” all the time now as a catch-all in our lives.


According to Wikipedia, Webb and Campbell had first met during the production of a General Motors commercial. Webb arrived at the recording session with his Beatle-length hair and approached the conservative singer, who looked up from his guitar and said, “Get a haircut”.


One of my unfulfilled dreams is an art installation thing. I hire out a cinema. There’s a split screen movie playing – he is on the left, probably played by Ryan Gosling, but more likely Aden Young or similar local. She is on the right, played by, I don’t know, someone watchable. Got to look good rising, working, sleeping, reading post-it notes. Maybe Sarah Snook. Good sleeper.

Anyway, it’s a realtime thing. The song starts when he leaves – let’s presume it’s from LA. It could be anywhere – San Diego, perhaps. Maybe San Fran. Webb doesn’t ever say. But let’s presume LA. It’s about 600km and about 5 and a bit hours. So we’ll have him leave around 2, and arrive at 7:30.

And she will rise. And read. And laugh.

By the time I get to Phoenix she’ll be rising
She’ll find the note I left hangin’ on her door
She’ll laugh when she reads the part that says I’m leavin’
‘Cause I’ve left that girl so many times before.

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 11.19.04 pm

In another 8 hours, it’s Albuquerque. We’ll have him go by Route 60, and then I-25. Towns like Show-Low. Eagar. Pie Town.

And she’ll work and eat and ring.

By the time I make Albuquerque she’ll be working
She’ll probably stop at lunch and give me a call
But she’ll just hear that phone keep on ringin’
Off the wall, that’s all.

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 11.30.03 pm 

Another 8 hours – and an unknown number of Bennies – gets us to Oklahoma.

By the time I make Oklahoma she’ll be sleepin’
She’ll turn softly and call my name out low
And she’ll cry just to think I’d really leave her
Tho’ time and time I try to tell her so
She just didn’t know I would really go.

Crying, disbelieving. Moaning.

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 11.31.53 pm

(Thanks to google for the maps.)

As you watch it unfold, you can play every single version of Phoenix ever recorded. You can fast forward to any bit. Or go the whole hog, Renaldo and Clara style, badge of honour as you leave.

An App will help you track progress on google maps and google street view. You will be able to virtually drive the route. Frank Black knew d=r x t.

You will be able to squeeze every last bit of mystery and romance from the song.

I mean, skeletons need flesh; don’t they?

(Thanks to Jimmy Webb for the lyrics.)


Juxtaposition makes this song. It’s just him and his position. And the rest is all about her. Just doing the routine. She is Oblivious. As they head to Oblivion. We get a look into the everyday, to see what happens when someone leaves.


What happened the night before? Who did what to whom? Do we really care? It doesn’t really matter – just be thankful that they did it. (There is an Isaac Hayes prequel version, but this time I’m saying “No, Chef!)


Webb mines the universal vein in Phoenix. It’s a song about she and me.

But the geography, while purely metaphoric, is the pivot. We know those towns, we know the journey, it’s the only road he could have travelled.

You try it – try singing “By the time I get to Ballina”; “By the time I get to Watford”. You will be begging on the street before you know it.

We’ll come back to this theme.


Roads are long and life is lonely, and relationships are like truckstops.


The first time your hear the song, it’s actually only in verse 2 that we realise he is on the move, not just going to Phoenix. And then verse 3 confirms it. In subsequent listens, it’s us doing the projecting, not Webb.

This great icon of a break-up song is a slow cooker. No boilover, not even a simmer.

It’s the first ever boiled frog song about relationships


Haven’t you ever wondered, just what does that part of the note that isn’t about leaving say? Can you buy some milk and bread, please? I fed the dog?

Forget Leo Sayer, Webb is the genius un-sayer.

It’s not even “show, don’t tell”. It’s just “don’t tell”. Don’t explain, because we all get it, we have all left that guy/girl so many times before.


Wikipedia tells us Webb wrote Phoenix in ‘65, Johnny Rivers kicking off the appearances in the charts. Campbell’s signature version went to Number 2 in the country charts in 1967.

He’s a strange cat, that Jimmy Webb. Music’s Shakespeare, I reckon. Up, Up and Away was one of my favourite songs as a kid, courtesy of the Trans Australian Airlines ad. Up Up and Phoenix won 8 Grammys. Webb wrote half the first 5th Dimension album and pretty much all of the second. Macarthur Park – the genius is that it could be dribble, or genius

He moved to LA in the early 60s with 40 bucks from his dad. I read somewhere the studio chiefs saw his talent straight away and effectively begged him to stay in a caravan and write write write, they would bring him food and the other nutrition a great writer needs.

Webb had a string of hits with Campbell and others like the Supremes.

There was to be no haircut.

(thanks to Wikipedia for the facts.)


Just when did the American Dream sour? I couldn’t find that on Wikipedia. Was it already dead when Pet Sounds came out? Was Vietnam just the symptom, not the disease?

From the early 1800s, west they went, for land, water, gold, for rock and roll. For a share of the dream. Chuck’s Route 66 screams out the roll-call of staging posts as we all hurtle Westward, Ho.

But it’s Chuck’s “The Promised Land” that is the clarion, a bus-bound escape to sun and surf and fun and… anyway, allegedly he wrote it in prison in ‘65. Using an atlas as prompt. I was born the same year. And love atlases. The facts are not connected. They are just coincidences. Like points on a line.

Webb wrote Phoenix the same year, from a different kind of prison. By the time Webb had Campbell getting to Phoenix, it was becoming clear, despite Monterey et al, there was no paradise out there. Or anywhere. ’68 was just the exclamation mark.

So we head back east.

To Watergate. To E Street.

Welcome Back, Kotter.


The road as metaphor is the great exemplar of the cliché that is truth nonetheless. Easy Rider. Kerouac. McCarthy’s dystopian scrounging travelogue. Smokey and the Bandit. Duel. Convoy. TransAmerica. Broken Flowers. Kiss or Kill.

Vanishing Point.

Kowalski cremated the dream when he vanished the Dodge into the concrete.

The Band and CSNY and others tried to channel the essential California Dreamin’, to keep it alive. But it was gone, they could only capture a caricature. The music was to become sclerotic, with the Eagles et al the Walking Musical Dead.


The sense of loss is profound. The Americana movement has been searching for it ever since.


What happens after Oklahoma? Why don’t we care?

See, this is not Tangled Up In A Blue Webb. Dylan would have filled the canvas with so much colour and character and history and incident that we would have lost all interest in “she” and “I”… I married Isis on the 5th day of May, early one morning the sun was shining she was laying in bed, someone’s got it in for me they’re printing stories in the press.

30 verses and 200 encounters with svengali and shaman later we don’t really care, we’re just thankful we survived the ride.

(Actually, there’s a fair bit of Webb in As I Went Out One Morning and even Watchtower, just fragments of stories, circularities. Might explain the revisiting that goes on.)

In the great works, there is no end. Songs, books, movies. Lines go on to infinity.

It’s only 6 Feet Under that dared to show how the next 80 years of the characters’ lives would pan out. It was fun, sad, shocking, corny but worth a crack. It hasn’t been done since.


A journey without beginning or ending. All about ending. Love’s Never-Ending Story.


Jimmy Webb’s musical was called His Own Dark City. Jimmy Webb was born in Oklahoma. The two facts are not necessarily connected.


Is he going to Nashville? Where do the roads take you?

Is it the Country Boy from that song going home to Tennessee? Is the song about Campbell or Webb? Facts don’t help.

You make your own mindmaps out here.


He leaves her a note on the fridge. He breaks up by post-it-note!

I guess you can’t really blame Webb’s villain…

Tho’ time and time I try to tell her so
She just didn’t know I would really go.


I never can say “goodbye”, said Gloria Gaynor, who clearly wasn’t trying very hard.


By the time I get to Phoenix she’ll be rising.

What a line. Stripped of context, it could be about the mythological Phoenix rising. It could be a simple descriptor – the town of Phoenix will be rising when I get there. We even know a woman called Phoenix, it could be about a person.

But we should have known better with a girl like her. This is Lamentations 101. The sun may never rise on this relationship again. The sun was going down on America. No world peace was going to rise from the fiery ruins.

All that remains is the metronome, time passing as wheels go round and round.

Onward, ever onward, on the road to nowhere.

 

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About Peter Warrington

Richmond fan; Kim Hughes tragic; geographer; kids' book author; Evertonian; Manikato; Harold Park trots 1980; father of two; cat lover, dancer with dogs; wannabe PJ HArvey backing vocalist; delusional...

Comments

  1. Polythene Pam says:

    Um, Cranky, do you write about music for a living? If not you should- this is superb.

  2. I really enjoyed this discussion of a classic song. I had a cassette I used to play as I drove along the Newell which included a Dean Martin rendition of it. Seemed an appropriate place to be listening.

  3. I agree with Polythene Pam.

  4. Thanks groovers. Most of my writing is on geography, the music just happens to be incidental this time. Maps and Legends by REM, etc. (One day I will complete the mini thesis on why there are no trot tracks on the NSW South Coast, and won’t that be something.)

    I haven’t written much re music since I used to do the odd sport/music piece for Sydney street press back in the 90s. Did the My Bloody Valentine Gig the other year for my blog and got 3 views. That was awesome!

    JTH, am planning – always planning – a big Newell trip, we Sydneysiders don’t really connect with it, more likely to cross it than to run along it. Have never driven it end to end – maybe the new Dylan with the 150 outtakes of Like a Rolling Stone would make a great soundtrack. Probably the Basement Tapes box, which to be frank I didn’t warm to, after years of anticipation. By the time, I get to Finley, I’ll be melting etc etc

    (The country music station plays soft but there’s nothing, really nothing to turn off..)

    Anyways, friends, thanks for the generous feedback!
    Pete

  5. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    More please (My Bloody Eardrums indeed)

  6. Brilliant. So much meaning and thinking here. I’d love to read a similar piece on Wichita Linesman. I remember REM covering it and Michael Stipe speaking highly of it.

    For years we’ve toyed with the Great American Roadtrip idea, taking in cities like Chicago, Nashville and New Orleans. You’ve given me another reason to make this happen. Thanks.

  7. Thanks Mickey!

    My fave story about Wichita is about someone giving it to Campbell while Webb was still deciding how to finish it. Campbell cut it, the studio loved it, Webb complained it wasn’t finished… Oh well, happiest accident in musical history.

    Yes we are probably going to do the States next year too, I am probably more inclined to head to Yellowstone via nowhere in particular. Feel like going to Athens to see what is in the water, had the girls hooting to the B52s this AM, glorious in its FUBAR.

    Cheers Pete

  8. Cranky Pete.
    You found the zone.
    Sit still.
    That’s magic.

  9. Cheers, you big mountain ash, you!

  10. Dave Nadel says:

    Great piece Peter. Jimmy Webb is a great songwriter and Glen Campbell was a great interpreter of Webb’s music. However my favourite Glen Campbell song was written by John Hartford.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2A7iuQF_tAc&spfreload=10

    I suppose Jimmy Webb’s best songs were By the time I get to Phoenix, Wichita Lineman, Galveston and maybe The Moon is a harsh mistress but my personal favourite is “Do What You Gotta Do” as recorded by Al Wilson in 1968.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6TQXV6yxrU

    While “Phoenix” is about a woman who doesn’t realise that she is about to be left, “Do what you gotta do” is about a man who knows that his lover is leaving him and accepts it with dignity. It was a very minor hit but I loved it in 68 and still think it is a fine song forty seven years later.

  11. There’s no shame in only being a minor hit in ’68. Some pretty solid competition.

    I would have loved Dusty to have stayed in Memphis and done a whole album of Webb. Could have been the greatest album ever.

  12. Masterful CP. I could quibble about a few of your dismissals of lesser heroes of mine, but not with the quality of the discourse. We had Glen Campbell’s Greatest Hits on high rotation in the car on our European driving holiday. Somehow I mystically know every word of all the Jimmy Webb songs.
    You made me realise how much geography there is in many of his songs. Wichita, Galveston, even Macarthur Park is a real place in LA where he shared good times in a relationship before it melted away.
    Metaphor and meaning.
    I dug out my copy of Art Garfunkel’s great first album ‘Angel Clare’ before he descended into MOR schlock. “All I Know” by Jimmy Webb is sublime. The same elegant melancholy as Phoenix, packaged in a Bridge over Troubled Waters style ascending melody.
    “But the ending always comes at last
    Endings always come too fast
    They come too fast but they pass to slow
    I love you and that’s all I know”
    As for more important matters, I longed mused on what made some parts of Australia keen on gallopers and others trotters. My conclusion was Green Grass = Wealth = Thorooughbreds (think Western Victoria, the Hunter Valley and coastal NSW – not many trots tracks north of Newcastle on the coast either – there are no Ballina or Coffs Harbour trots; strugglers there have dogs). Brown Grass = Struggle = Standardbreds (think Northern Victoria and Western NSW). I undertook an extensive thesis *(unpublished) on the topic at great personal expense in the 80’s and 90’s.
    Regards.

  13. Yep, we went through a real Glen Campbell car trip period around the time our second started to sing. Was a nice rejoinder to Frozen (which I don’t really mind). They used to get me when they would harmonise on One Last Time.

    But the 7yr old rules now and it’s all Blondie and Abba, with a bit of Elvis Costello, and I feel like my work here might be almost done!

    I’ll be checking out that Garfunkel.

    And you have motivated me to crack off a post about trots v dogs. Better if we all share our experiences and theories rather than some academic geography think wank piece.

  14. You certainly haven’t ‘squeezed every last bit of mystery and romance from the song’, Peter. You’ve done the opposite. Flesh on the skeleton indeed. Enjoyed the Dylan references especially. May the muse move you again, and again, and again.

  15. Thanks Vn! I really do hoPe to make that art installation one day. Free entry for Almanackers.

  16. Jen Costello says:

    Brilliant..thought provoking stuff!

    Thank you Peter…could hear the music running through this piece…

  17. Thanks!

  18. Cranky Pete – you did an outstanding job on this piece. You taught me things about By the Time I Get to Phoenix that even I didn’t know. This is a brilliantly written essay and your pop culture insights were very impressive. I hope to meet you next time I tour Australia. Do you mind if we quote you from time to time?
    Jimmy Webb

  19. Robert Rainey says:

    Peter, what an excellent piece on Jimmy Webb’s classic song. I have been a lifelong follower of his music. I believe he has written in nearly every genre, quite an accomplishment. I was lucky enough to see him in concert in 2013 at MacArthur Park, a summer evening show. Yes, he played Mac Park, and told us many interesting back stories, about the songs.

    Keep up the great work. You truly have a gift.

    Robert Rainey Orange County, CA

  20. Well now, Pete. If that last post hasn’t peaked your day, week, and 2015, then you’ve been taking some highly excellent substances in the previous months. I’m expecting a telegram from Cormac McCarthy any day, myself.
    Cheers, Anson.

  21. 2nd last. The Webb one. Not to downgrade Rainey.

  22. Jeez it’s brush with fame week on the Almanac. First GSChappell. Now the extraordinary songwriter and great human being, Jimmy Webb. I checked out the email address and the web, and its 100% kosher.
    Well played, Cranky Pete. You can die happy and proud now.
    Here is Jimmy’s Facebook acknowledgement of CP, and a sample of articles about the great man. Love the anecdotes about playing “Wichita Lineman” twice in the same concert. Jimmy (back when he was drinking) and Glen Campbell in recent times with his Alzheimers, and the crowd yelling “again”.
    https://www.facebook.com/JimmyWebbMusic/
    http://www.jimmywebb.com/the-news/
    http://blog.cleveland.com/euclidsunjournal/2009/07/jimmy_webb_talks_about_his_acc.html
    http://articles.courant.com/2013-02-19/entertainment/hc-jimmy-webb-0219-20130219_1_wichita-lineman-jimmy-webb-s-lyrics-and-orchestration

  23. A great emotive piece on such a deserving song. It’s nice to know that Jimmy himself has read it and posted a link on his facebook page (which is how I found it) – https://www.facebook.com/JimmyWebbMusic/posts/1177889345572351

  24. Clay Broussard says:

    Fantastic article, Pete! What an insightful exploration of the melancholy beauty that is at the heart of JImmy Webb’s greatest songs. And you’re right: the geography is key. The exquisite sadness of the American West is the only setting that would work.
    Bravo!
    Clay

  25. Matt Quartermaine says:

    Music by geography is brilliant Peter. Got to love any piece with a Vanishing Point reference too. Excellent.

  26. Magnificent, Pete. And hopefully Jimmy’s words have made you somewhat less cranky.

  27. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    I wonder what Jimmy would make of the Coodabeens’ Wycheproof Lineman?

    Congrats Peter, you’ve tapped into a rich vein with this one.

  28. Sorry everyone my agent says I can’t talk to you without going through her…

  29. Now… seriously. Sorry, I have been a bit stunned, this came through when we were on the way to a crucial work meeting within govt, and I was under multiple pumps as it was. So I presumed it was a hoax, as you would. And then it dawned on me that it wasn’t. I have been too busy to take it all in.

    But I am really, really happy that it all happened in the context of the Almanac, where everyone is a giver, where the free exchange of erratic ideas is facilitated (see the trots and Trotsky post, what a brilliant, organic conversation that is), where the kindredy of the spirit is the drink of choice.

    Here’s to Jimmy! To the Almanac! To the true beauty of the Internet! To Geography! To the mightyf-ingRichmondTigers! Most of all, to all of you.

  30. I just found this article because Jimmy posted it along with some kind words about an Aussie writer. Well done! Do catch up with Jimmy – I had the privilege of interviewing him years ago and he’s such a lovely wise soul (and unsurprisingly has quite a way with words).

  31. Hi Peter

    There is much to consider in this essay but I think we are in strong agreement that Jimmy Webb and this song are standouts in the history of American music. I don’t think Jimmy Webb comes close to Dylan and there are plenty of other songwriters (from Hank Williams to Lucinda Williams) who eclipse his best efforts but he certainly made a deep impression and his impact carries on.

    In fact Charlie Pride had a hit a few years after Phoenix with Is Anybody Going to San Antone, which cites Phoenix in its lyric. I can hear the strain of Phoenix even today in songs like Mean by Taylor Swift or The Sing by Bill Callahan. And that’s a powerful a compliment for a song and writer to get. That the idea keeps paying forward.

    As you note, we project our own interpretation of the journey onto the lyrics. In Stevie Wonder’s version, for example, Stevie doesn’t hold back, as the protagonist, in letting the listener know what he really thinks of his partner. (Not that I think Stevie’s version is the definitive reading). In Glen Campbell’s version (which we can reasonably call Webb’s) the protagonist to me sounds like he will never leave. He plays out this fantasy in his mind at 3am and it is he who cries himself to sleep.

    The story’s intrigue is that neither partner is given any clear positive or negative characteristics. (Except that he is running away rather than dealing with his issues in a reasonable or mature way). So why is he leaving? Why is he running so far away? All we know is that he has threatened to leave many times. And I suspect he gains some small delight (my reading) believing that she will cry when she realises that he has actually left her. So what do we make of him? Will he settle? Or will he leave another relationship for an unspecified reason and the next song about him is By The Time I Get To Birmingham (where he would find himself in a bar listening to a young Emmylou Harris singing Boulder to Birmingham).

    Again, Peter, a terrific essay exploring the map of the human heart.

    Cheers

  32. Thanks Rick. Much to ponder here.

    Yes, my most recurring take is along your lines – I think – his visualisation of escape is his escape from what emotional ails he has. And who hasn’t dreamt of cutting and running?

    Timeless and placeless, at the same time being so evocative of a time and place. So simple it’s overwhelmingly complex.

    Thanks for dropping by!

    Pete

  33. I enjoyed Peter Warrington’s piece on By the Time I get to Phoenix because it reminded me of my dear old Mum, long gone these past 20 years. Of the mid-20th Century generation, she hated loud rock’n’roll and loved bittersweet, sentimental songs.

    But don’t anticipate what I’m about to write…

    She had a particular aversion to what she called ‘droning’ songs, by which she meant any song with a subtle tune, lasting longer than about two-and-a-half minutes.

    She hated Phoenix more than any other. She would groan every time it came on the radio, because once it started you knew you had to wait for the singer to go through all those towns before it was over. It was the archetypal ‘droning’ song.

    I must have inherited her short attention span, because even though I liked it originally, I now can’t listen to the thing beyond Albuquerque. But what would I know? – I quite liked McArthur Park.
    Mum also hated Englebert Humperdinck. But loved Tom Jones. She also fancied Muammar Gaddafi, Imran Khan and Humphrey Bogart. All ‘bad boys’, I guess.

    Great writing, Cranky Pete. I just felt, given that all 32 comments you received were universally positive, I owed it to Mum to present the antithetical view.

  34. Thanks Rob, it’s always important to capture both sides of the story. I understand, I never liked the song that much myself until about 5 years ago, and then it clicked, more because of the geography.

    Always thought of Bogart as one of the good guys, like Mitchum, the on-screen persona far rougher than the affable, approachable genius of both off-screen.

    Imran went into RPA in about 85 to visit Dave Gilbert’s dad, recovering from a heart attack. The nurses are still quivering.

  35. John Butler says:

    Cranky, seems like I’m last on the block to read this. Bravo, indeed.

    If you ever score that PJH backing singer gig, can I come too?

    And you have to love the classically Almanac discourse that follows – connecting the hitherto unconnected dots from Art Garfunkle to Muammar Gaddafi.

    I think it’s time to break out Ten Easy Pieces. And a good map.

  36. yes Almanac accretion. the best way to get buried alive, one layer at a time.

  37. Great commentary, crankypete. Your journeys from the lyrics of the song to the emotional stratosphere deep inside it are evocative and unique. That is, I can’t imagine anybody else writing about it like this, certainly not in the mode of what elsewhere passes for music criticism.
    A further note. I remember attending a Webb masterclass at the Continental in Melbourne during one of his Down Under tours many years ago. He talked about the trouble he had with the studio over the structure of the song: three verses, no chorus. “You can’t have a pop song without a chorus,” he was told. History allows that he won that one. But he did take the time to demonstrate how it all might have turned out if the suits had been able to have their way. Same three verses, but this time separated from each other by some melodramatic piano pounding accompanied by a series of full-throated bellows: “PHOENIX!!!…. PHOENIX!!!”
    And there’s no truth to the rumour that Webb turned to music only after Collingwood denied him ther half-back flank.

  38. Thanks Tom. I have seen him do that riff on youtube on a small US talk show. Hilarious. Lucky he stood his ground – seems that sort of artist.

  39. The Avenging Eagle and I went to see a terrific French movie “The Belier Family” in Perth’s nightclub district last night. Do yourself a favour if you want to see something blindingly funny, clever, warm, real, generous and musical this Festivus season. It surrounds a deaf farming family where only the daughter can hear. As a teenager she finds she has a brilliant soprano voice and could win a scholarship to study singing in Paris, with all of the family conflicts and miscommunications that creates. Very, very funny in parts. And with the story told with all of the subtlety and surprises that the French create so artfully.
    See it now before the sickeningly syrupy Hollywood remake in a few years.
    We leave the theatre with me thrilling passerbys with my best French rendition of the concluding tear-jerker “I’m Flying”.
    Northbridge Square on the corner has a big screen provided by the City of Perth, and it is showing Late Night with Jools Holland interviewing some haggard looking geezer at the piano.
    Bugger me – that’s Jimmy Webb. No audio in a public space, but there are subtitles and we stand for 5 minutes reading Jimmy and Jools’ stories about Glen Campbell, with some old footage thrown in. It’s on the Arts Channel, so those of you with Foxtel – do yourself another favour. There is old 2007 footage of Jimmy and Jools on You Tube, but this looked like a recent program.
    Anyway, Jimmy starts singing, but passerbys are deprived by the lack of audio. So I give away the French and wander off to dinner regaling them with my best “Wichita Linesman” and “Galveston”.
    Sing along at home if you like.
    People stop in stunned admiration to listen as I pass by.
    Me, the Belier Family, Jimmy and Jools – united in musical bliss. Life mimics art mimics life.
    And a Happy Festivus season to you Pete and the rest of the Cranky Family. Thanks for all the sunshine and mystery you shared with Almanackers this year.

  40. Peter Warrington says:

    Thanks Pete. A modern day Jools et Jim.

    Always great stuff on Later With…. Eg Exceptional PJ harvey over the now decades

  41. crankypete says:

    Saw the Beliers over the break. A few flaws, but the lead broke my heart, that song about leaving. Daughters of my own (granted they have a long way to go down the time tunnel.) Burst into tears. Think everyone did. Really enjoyed the flick. Wanna move to the country. etc etc

    We were listening to Campbell this AM and Phoenix came on. The almost-8 is helping up plan our US trip. She asked me to show her Phoenix on the map. We traced the route. She said “wow. We don’t know where he’s going – he could be going anywhere etc”. I said, exactly, everything we think about that story, we put there ourselves, Aided by a few markers. The song really can be the metaphor for America, empty, it’s what you make of it.

    She said wow, I get it. I said, I don’t. We hugged. Then went and practised her catching, which is rubbish. Throws like Ponting, tho…

  42. Thanks Jonny for pointing me to this beautiful, sensitive piece of writing…I’m a Jimmy Web/Campbell tragic. But with lines like this:
    “Roads are long and life is lonely, and relationships are like truckstops.” your friend should be writing songs.

    Or maybe he is?

    sensational critique….praise from an ageing baby boomer

  43. Thanks Jan, very generous, high praise coming from you. I’ll take it.

    i’ll stick to kid’s books and policy, but happy that this piece achieved something approximating “criticism”.

    cheers
    pete

  44. Colin Ritchie says:

    How did I miss this first time around? Brilliant stuff!

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