Jimmy Webb untangled

Jimmy Webb doesn’t do stand-up comedy: “I do sit-down,”?he says.

Although he’s not extremely famous, songwriter Jimmy Webb is widely considered to be one of the greatest songwriters of the rock-era. That’s because unlike Lennon/McCartney, Smokey Robinson or even Carole King, Webb was a pure songwriter whose greatest moments came at the hands of others.
But whether it was Sinatra performing “Didn’t We,” the 5th Dimension doing the delectably light “Up, Up and Away” or Glen Campbell’s own poignant readings of “Wichita Lineman” and “By the Time I Get To Phoenix,” Jimmy Webb’s uncanny knack for marrying lyric to melody always shines through. This week, the MFA features two performances from Webb in their Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Celebrity Lecture series, featuring not only the singer and his piano, but also anecdotes and a Q&A session.

He’s now in his mid-60s and still active on the recording scene: 2010′s “Just Across the River” features career-spanning remakes with vocalists from Lucinda Williams to Jackson Browne and Volume 2 is on its way. Webb now finds himself in the unique position of being a professor emeritus on the art of songwriting. He is the Chairman of the National Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, sits on the ASCAP Board of Directors and his 1999 book “Tunesmith” is still critically regarded as the best book on songwriting.

“I don’t do stand-up, but I do sit-down, because I am at the piano,” says Webb on his own performance style, which he has worked hard to continually improve over the years. “I try to make people laugh and let them see that, as horrible as the prospect is of exposing one’s self as completely as songwriters do, that there is a funny side to it as well!”

Listen to the teacher

When asked out the state of contemporary music, Webb is still alert. How about the resurgence of beard-folk and the rise of Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes?

“It’s cyclic,” he says of our return to roots. “The technological pendulum has swung wildly in one direction for such a long time.”

How about Taylor Swift going pop with the DJ-ready low-pass filter on “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”?

“She’s making the move from something of a goodie-two-shoes to something a little more provocative. She’s wise to do that.”

The lighter side of Webb

Webb has a grand Southern wit, but fans know him best for his often-mysterious lyrics.

“I’ve certainly left the door wide open for all kinds of crazy interpretations,” says Webb, recalling letters from admirers whose interpretations exceeded his fantasies. One wrote that her husband played “Wichita Lineman” every day, but never understood why the protagonist got electrocuted in the end. But that’s not what happens in the song at all.

Another praised “MacAr-thur Park” (widely-lampooned for its infamous ‘cake in the rain’ metaphor) as an ode to General MacArthur.

Did Webb write the most misunderstood song of all time?

 “Anyone who might wonder if I’ve been punished enough for writing ‘McArthur Park,’ rest at ease!”
The professor has spoken.

If you go

Jimmy Webb
Wednesday and Thursday,
6:30 p.m.
MFA, Remis Auditorium
425 Huntington Ave, Boston, $40-$47, 617-267-9300


Mutant worms stay sober, even on alcohol

U.S. researchers have developed "mutant worms" that do not get drunk by alcohol, a breakthrough that could lead to new treatment for people trying to quit drinking


K-9 nose helps capture $150K in cocaine at…

A furry, four-legged security agent helped authorities stop an illegal cocaine shipment from sneaking past JFK customs.


Minnesota man asked to leave Southwest flight after…

A man and his two sons were asked to leave a Southwest Airlines flight after the man sent a tweet complaining about being treated rudely by a gate agent.


Man sues hospital after surprise penis amputation

An Alabama man who went in to a hospital last month for a circumcision awoke after surgery to find his penis had been amputated, his lawyer said on Thursday.


Review: Brett Ratner's big 'Hercules' movie is small…

The latest "Hercules," starring Dwayne Johnson as the half-god beefcake of Greek myth, strips its hero and tale of most of its fantastical elements.


Scientists recreate world's smallest Monet copy

Scientists have reproduced a famous Impressionist painting using nano-printing, to create what has been described as the world's smallest work of art. Reworked at the…


Jerry Seinfeld is ambidextrous, and other Reddit AMA…

See some of the weirder highlights of Jerry Seinfeld's recent Reddit AMA.

Going Out

Grab a pedestrian and start dancing at What…

As a New Yorker, I’ve mastered the art of focusing my gaze straight ahead. Though it occasionally piques my interest, the absurdities that play out…


2014 NFL Fantasy Football Top 100 overall player…

2014 NFL Fantasy Football Top 100 overall player rankings

U.S. Soccer

NYCFC announce signing of Frank Lampard

The tease of a big signing Thursday by new MLS side NYCFC ended up being one rumored for weeks. England midfielder Frank Lampard agreed to…


NBA great LeBron James sends 800 cupcake apologies…

By Kim PalmerCLEVELAND (Reuters) - NBA star LeBron James, whose recent return to the Cleveland Cavaliers in his home state of Ohio sparked a frenzy…


Jerry Reese confident with Giants, skipping countdown clocks…

Last year, Giants GM Jerry Reese installed a countdown clock in the locker room to inspire Big Blue to play in their own stadium for Super Bowl XLVIII.


Forget Wi-Fi: Li-Fi could be the future

Li-Fi technology – developed by Mexican company Sisoft – is wireless internet connectivity using specialized LED light.


Weather app Climendo might be the most accurate…

The wait for a truly accurate weather forecast could finally be over thanks to a nifty new app called Climendo.


Napkin Table puts focus off the phone and…

Michael Jan, a design student at Tunghai University in Taiwan, has invented a serviette-picnic blanket hybrid called the Napkin Table.


Essie's new Color Boutique

Essie launches high-tech kiosks at major airports and malls across the country.