I stepped into a time machine the other day. I listened to Glen Campbell’s 1968 album Wichita Lineman and was transported to another era. I was in my living room but really I had travelled to the back seat of a Dodge Dart while the woman up front drove to the A & P to buy some TV dinners, her hair in rollers. I’m not sure how exactly this album enables such time tripping. Maybe it’s how melancholy the title track comes off. Maybe it’s the pleading in Glen’s voice on “If You Go Away”. Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” was not quite a year old when Glen took it for a spin. His version is quicker and even jaunty which is to say it sounds dated. But is that really a bad thing? This album’s sound is so distinctly AM radio gold. I could wallow in it for hours.
Glen Campbell is nearing the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease. After going public with his diagnosis in 2011, he embarked on a true farewell tour. Along came a camera crew. The result of documenting Campbell’s concerts over the next 15 months is the recently released film Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me. Interspersed with concert footage there are frank discussions with Glen’s doctors and family. The film includes scenes from home movies which offer the viewer a look into Glen’s life. And yet it’s his last performances that are the most poignant. Watching these final concerts, it soon becomes evident that the effects of Alzheimer’s are growing more pronounced.
With his youngest children as his back up band, Glen did numerous shows around the country. The disease hadn’t yet wrecked his ability to play his songs. The chords were still in his fingers, the muscle memory still intact. What proved more difficult for Glen was remembering what happens next. During one show, he and the band had neatly finished up the song “Galveston”, the crowd cheered and then for the next song, Glen launched into the opening chords of…“Galveston”. Alzheimer’s disease is a blatant thief of memory.
Glen recorded his last song in 2013. It is aptly titled, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You”.
It’s a simple presentation of a man losing all memory. “I’m still here but yet I’m gone,” he begins. And that’s about right. Glen Campbell as we know him is gone. But if you need to hear his music, watch videos of him performing or hear laid back talk show interviews with him you are most lucky because there is a treasure trove of material out there.
Thank you, internet for furnishing me with hours on end of great Glen Campbell moments. Look how handsome and strapping he is playing “Blue Moon of Kentucky” sometime in the early ‘60’s. Look how chummy and easy going he is with his pal Jerry Reed as they shred it up on “Guitar Man”. Look at the lovely clip of Glen and Leon Russell in 1983 playing “Gentle On My Mind”. Was Glen underrated as a guitar player? Most definitely. He could also play the banjo. And sing, did I mention the singing? Smooth and beautiful. And what about the bagpipes? For Glen’s 1981 appearance on the Merv Griffin show, he played Paul McCartney’s “Mull of Kintyre”. Why, of course, he’s playing the bagpipes because he’s a great musician despite the People magazine covers of the cheesy ‘70’s. It’s the Rhinestone Cowboy playing the bagpipes brimming with cross over appeal. Isn’t it easy to fall in love with Glen Campbell? And while it’s sad that he is leaving us, his music isn’t. How fortunate for us!
Hear and watch “I”m Not Gonna Miss You” by Glen Campbell below.