Saturday, March 23, 2013

She would cook their dreams while they were dreaming

Ok, this is definitely guilty pleasure time.   My obsession with the songs of Jimmy Webb has led down many strange alleys, including the pop song cycle "The Magic Garden" by the Fifth Dimension, Thelma Houston's "Sunshower", and Mr. Webb's ongoing work with Art Garfunkel and Glen Campbell.  But by far the oddest of his collaborations was his second album with Richard Harris.  "The Yard Went On Forever" from 1969 was the follow up to the previous year's "A Tramp Shining", itself (in)famous for the #2 US hit "MacArthur Park".  I will not be an apologist for that song as it has always touched a soft spot in my heart with its florid imagery of wanting and loss.

So the 45rpm single released from TYWOF was the title song, and it seems clear that Mr. Webb was on a mission to top the over-the-top production of his previous hit with Mr. Harris  Based on the results I would say he succeeded in spades.   The lyric content alone takes this one into another dimension.  The domestic bliss of Kansas City/Nagasaki housewives and their ironing boards is shattered by all sorts of natural disasters - tornadoes, volcanoes, etc.  Since Jimmy spent a considerable part of his youth in Oklahoma, I understand his meaning here.  A perfectly tranquil day in the life can quickly turn into a crazy scurrying for the shelter during twister season.  

Here is an excerpt from the 4 1/2 star review of The Yard Went On Forever at  AllMusic
"the lyrics are dazzling in their cascading imagery, the music is richer and more vividly conceived and recorded, and the entire album works magnificently, juxtaposing grandeur of expression and intimacy of feeling at different moments..."

Musically the song serves as the prelude and source of the musical motifs for the rest of the album.   The opening two note piano chord in its highest register becomes a recurring theme throughout.  And then a gospel choir quietly enters with "Is everybody safe?  Has everybody got a place to hide?".  This is a foreshadowing of the destruction that is to come.  Then Richard Harris enters with a lovely verse (thankfully written well within his range) that warns of the singing of women from around the world (Pompeii, Kansas City) as their worlds come to an end.  At the words "on doomsday" a staccato orchestral section comes shrieking as a lead in to a children's choir singing words from Psalm 130 and the Catholic mass:

De profundis clamavi ad te Domine
Donae nobis pacem

As this repeated section dies away, the true center of the song enters, and for a brief few minutes calm and order are restored to the universe.  But tranquility can only last so long, so the opening sections come back for another round of the end of the world.


6 comments:

tim brough said...

I love your columns. It is too bad that they are so rare!!

Mister Pleasant said...

Thanks so much Tim. I have had a rough year with medical issues, but I intend to post as often as I can. Thanks for visiting.

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

There is no one on this planet save Mister Pleasant who could trick me into listening and enjoying this stuff. Dude, if you don't listen to opera, I think you should because then you could explain it to me!

And i know you could!

Tim nailed it in his customarily pithy way when he said "columns" -- your posts are in fact delightful, full-fledged old-school columns that would sell newspapers if newspapers had a clue of what they need to do to become relevant again.

Well. Ms. Who and I send prayers and all good vibes to you (seriously, we actually try to do this shit figuring, wtf, it can't hurt) as we root for you to kick the medical issues in the ass.

Take care, Mr. P, and thanks for posting.


Who Am Us Anyway? said...

Mr. P, Just wanted to note the factual fact that Ms. Who and I are thinking about you and your wonderful blog and sending all good vibes your way for good health and happiness. Pls. check in with an update when you can.

Mister Pleasant said...

Mr. Who (and Ms. too) -

Thank you for your kind words, and for checking in on me. My body has had time to heal and I have finally been able to resume normal activities. Those good vibes you sent worked! The last few months have been busy with a move (a couple of miles) and now that things are settling in I hope to get back posting. All the best to you and yours.

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

Mr. Pleasant, you are the absolute best. Even just a link to a song you like with no commentary whatsoever would be extremely cool. We'll be giving it multiple listens in this house and that's no lie.

Very best wishes to a very good man.