I saw Ben Huberman’s Odd Trio Redux over the weekend calling for a post to be written about anything that comes to mind, but we had to incorporate a slice of cake, a pair of flip-flops, and someone old and wise. All of a sudden, I heard in my head, Richard Harris’ original rendition of Jimmy Webb’s MacArthur Park from back in the late 60’s. I saw images of my sister, Manette, trying feverishly to learn the piece a few years later, on the piano, complete with the mid-tempo prologue to the progressions of quieter stanzas, to the more upbeat, large orchestra arrangement leading up to the climax. What amused me was the recurrent earworm I developed for the lines during the slow philosophical section:
I will take my life into my hands and I will use it
I will win the worship in their eyes and I will lose it
I will have the things that I desire
For my passion flows like rivers through the sky
And after all the loves of my life
Oh, after all the loves of my life
I’ll be thinking of you – and wondering why
I know I had to end the song so I could get it out of my mind.
Yes, there is definitely cake in this song:
MacArthur’s Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet, green icing flowing down
Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don’t think that I can take it
‘Cause it took so long to bake it
And I’ll never have that recipe again, oh noooooo.
There’s the reference to older people (hopefully, they’re wise too!):
I recall the yellow cotton dress
Foaming like a wave
On the ground around your knees
Birds like tender babies in your hands
And the old men playing checkers, by the trees
I had written about music that I considered poetic in the past. I have to say, I missed this. Jimmy Webb used his heartache over the end of a love affair, of losing a girl who meant a lot to him, as the theme for the melody and the lyrics. What he did not expect were the very strong reactions the public had over the entire piece, even the fact that the original version was recorded by a British actor who was not known for his singing. (He was, however, known for his unconventionality.) There were allegations about the lyrics coming from a drug-addled mind or that the metaphors were too over-reaching or frivolous even. Rolling Stones claimed it to be one of the worst songs of the sixties! (Not sure if I would agree with RT fan assessments because “Cherish” by The Association and “I Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher were included. Not all music need to conform to Warholian rules for cool. I also prefer to look at these old songs relative to the sociocultural milieu of the time.)
So label me un-hip, uncool. Liken me to sentimental teens huddled around their pink bedroom phones waiting and waiting. But the charts at that time will not lie. Just about every famous artist worth their mettle had their own rendition of it. Weird Al Yankovich even parodied it with his own version, “Jurassic Park.” But, that’s Al for you!
When the song came out, I was just a kid in elementary school. I loved this song from the first time I heard it on the radio. I loved Richard Harris’ interpretation. I appreciated the orchestral arrangement, Jimmy Webb’s piano riffs, the violins, the different movements, the horn transitions, or even the fact that the piece is more than seven minutes long. Mr. Harris did justice to the song as an actor. You can hear the pain and the regret in his delivery, the resignation, and eventually, the acceptance of reality. To this day, I would consider it one of my all time favorites.
Recently, Paul Shaffer and the CBS orchestra performed the song, with Jimmy Webb on keyboard and Will Lee on vocals at Dave Letterman’s Late Show. And yes, they also had a green cake on stage! Boy, what I would have given to be in the audience of that performance!
P.S. Does it count that I’m wearing flip-flops while I’m writing this?