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Wichita Lineman

Searching in the Sun for the World's Greatest Unfinished Song

Dylan Jones


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Dylan Jones' luminous excavation of Jimmy Webb's song 'Wichita Lineman' offers a portal into a defining moment of American cultural history. The sound of Wichita Lineman was the sound of ecstatic solitude - but then its hero was the quintessential loner. What a great metaphor he was: a man who needed a woman more than he actually wanted her. Here, deep in American Arcadia, was a man in deep existential crisis.
Written in 1968 by Jimmy Webb, "Wichita Lineman" is the first philosophical country song: a heartbreaking torch ballad still celebrated for its mercurial songwriting genius 50 years later. It was recorded by Glen Campbell in LA with a legendary group of musicians known as "the Wrecking Crew", and something about the song's enigmatic mood seemed to capture the tensions of America at a moment of unprecedented crisis. Fusing a dribble of bass, searing strings, tremolo guitar and Glen Campbell's plaintive vocals, Webb's paean to the American West describes a telephone lineman's longing for an absent lover who he hears 'singing in the wire' - and like all good love songs, it's an SOS from the heart.
Mixing close-listening, interviews and travelogue, Dylan Jones explores the legacy of a record that has entertained, perplexed and haunted millions for over half a century. What is it about this song that continues to fascinate and seduce listeners, and how did the parallel stories of Campbell and Webb - songwriters and recording artists from different ends of the spectrum - unfold in the decades following the song's success? Part biography, part work of musicological archaeology, The Wichita Lineman opens a window onto America in the late twentieth century through the prism of a song that has been covered by myriad artists in the intervening decades.

Faber & Faber Social, 9780571353408, 288pp.

Publication Date: September 3, 2019

About the Author

Dylan Jones studied at Chelsea School of Art and St. Martin's School of Art. A former editor at i-D, The Face, Arena, the Observer and the Sunday Times, he is currently the Editor-In-Chief of GQ. He has won the British Society of Magazine Editors "Editor of the Year" award a record eleven times, and in 2013 was the recipient of the Mark Boxer Award. Under his editorship the magazine has won over 50 awards. He is the author of the Sunday Times best-seller David Bowie: A Life, and the New York Times best seller Jim Morrison: Dark Star. A trustee of the Hay Festival, in 2013 he was awarded an OBE for services to publishing.