Written by Matthew O’Donoghue.
When my grandfather lay on a borrowed hospital bed, in the corner of my grandparent’s living room where the sofa used to be, slowly ebbing away there were few things moved him. His enjoyment of food was reduced to potted desserts and soups, each spoon that was fed to him alternated with a wiping if his face with a cloth, then a moistening of his lips with a small cube of sponge on a stick dipped in cold water. He had lost sufficient mental capacity that reading or films were past him. What he had left was having his hand held, or his hair washed, and music.
While our family wasn’t a hugely musical one the radio would often be on in the kitchen, then the living room when we realised its effect. My grandfather would tap his foot to Glen Miller, or Dr Hook, or Glen Campbell. Emaciated, often reduced to staring at the ceiling with what seemed to us a look of terror, in a bed he would never get out of alive, he could still tap his foot to these songs.
I spent a lot of time with my grandparents as a kid, watching westerns with my grandfather, peeling vegetables with my grandmother. The music was always in the background. As I suspect is often the case, I grew up and started to question my grandparents’ ideas and tastes. I’d hear different music and Glen Miller started to look a little creaky. I’d read a bit about westerns and John Wayne (my grandfather’s favourite) and questioned the politics of what I previously enjoyed. But there were certain things that were undeniable; The Searchers, Rio Bravo, Galveston, Wichita Lineman. These (and the water-skiing scene in The Great Outdoors, which reduced my grandfather to genuine hysterics) formed the baseline for our relationship. The ties that bind.
My grandfather was diagnosed with Parkinson’s when I was around 18. It slowly took him away, bit by bit, over the next twenty years. His pride went with it. He lost the ability to drive, to fish, to walk with ease, and became less communicative. He withdrew, and although he was there it often felt like he wasn’t. Shared moments of joy came in dribs and drabs, hearing “By the time I get to Phoenix she’ll be rising” coming through the single speaker on the kitchen radio and looking at each other, excited for the rest of the song. As more of him left we lost even that. But we could always see his foot move, or his wrist sway to the music. How could I have known that man ultimately responsible for many of these moments of respite would be someone I would end up working with.
The Cake and The Rain is published in the UK on the 31st of August, with exclusive UK content. And the writer of many of my grandparents’ favourite songs is the author. Jimmy Webb’s memoir ranges from explorations of the alchemy of music and its effect on people; to tales of hell-raising; to literal conversations with the devil. It’s a joy to read; it’s entertaining and vibrant, with a cast of the great and the good over its three hundred and fifty-two pages. Omnibus Press is proud to publish it.
My grandfather made ball-bearings for a living, he worked with his hands. I’m not sure he ever fully understood my line of work in books. That said, I know he’d understand this book. He’d be proud that I was helping share the story of the man who wrote the music that bridged the gaps of generation, health and politics between my grandfather and me. I’m pleased to be taking the energy that kept my grandfather’s foot tapping, when all else was failing, and paying it forward by helping publish this book.
Thanks for the music, Jimmy Webb, and thank you for the words.
“At an age when other singers are losing their voices… Mr Webb is still at the top of his game.” The New York Times.
A gripping tale of “sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll”. Following Webb from the early 70s across three decades to the moment of him weeping over the piano keys as his fingers finally remembered what they had been born to do. Jimmy Webb still plays and records like there’s no tomorrow. This is the memoir of one of the greatest songwriters of all time: a man with unfathomable talent – and luck.
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