Bob Dylan has been famously quoted as saying, "The point is not understanding what I write, but feeling it." Well, I'm no songwriter, but I carry that quote with me whenever I'm trying to write something. I have been known to obsess over the little details, and have worked hard to make sure everything is just so in my writing. But, in the end, all of that is worthless if I can't properly convey the emotion of a piece. If I can make an impact on a reader, he/she is much more likely to forgive any technical shortcomings in my work.
I use that quote and my own experience to introduce the song "Wichita Lineman" because I am in awe every time I listen to it. If you break that song down, there are less than 20 lines in it. And yet, songwriter Jimmy Webb paints such an evocative picture in that economy of words. Yes, obviously the delivery and the music work in concert with the lyrics to fill in the details. However, there's never a doubt that they are there to better tell the story of the song.
What is the story? Well, on the surface, it's the titular character telling us about himself. But then it's gradually revealed that he's telling the story to someone else - the unnamed second character in his story. By the end, there can be no doubt in anyone's mind that it's a love song - especially with the lines that essentially serve as the song's coda. They are almost heartbreaking in their simplicity. I think that simplicity is their strength. You don't just understand them; you feel them.
There are a number of versions of "Wichita Lineman" out there, but I think my favorite is the one linked below. It is performed by Glen Campbell, the man who made the song famous. Accompanying him are Robert DeLeo, Dean DeLeo, and Eric Kretz of the band Stone Temple Pilots, and producer Brendan O'Brien. I find the rawness in this "jam" version to be especially haunting.
Jimmy Webb has composed a number of famous songs, including others brought to life by Glen Campbell. Fortunately, I don't have to pick a favorite, but "Wichita Lineman" would be a strong contender.
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