I’m waxing a bit nostalgic lately. The one and only time I saw Glen Campbell, it was only weeks before it was announced that we was dealing with Alzheimer’s disease. He was touring with his family as his backup band and appearing at an Indian casino north of Topeka. I hadn’t heard much of Glen in recent years but couldn’t pass up a chance to see him in concert. Always a huge star to me, in his more recent years he was relegated to being a relic, playing his hits on the road to aging audiences and on country award shows.
The Glen Campbell of my youth was an all-around talent – television, films, hit records and even a member of the Beach Boys for a while. In his early days in Los Angeles, he played on many hit records as a member of the Wrecking Crew, the top session musicians of the 1960s. The only thing missing for Glen were good songs, which writers like John Hartford and Jimmy Webb were soon to provide. “Gentle On My Mind,” “Galveston,” “Wichita Lineman,” “Dreams of the Everyday Housewife,” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” were soon big hits. Television came calling with a primetime musical-variety show as well as a few film roles, most notably “True Grit.”
The 1970s produced a few hits but times were changing. By the time “Urban Cowboy” hit big in 1980 and country music spiked in popularity, Glen’s star was on the wane, but his turbulent romance with Tanya Tucker kept him in the news. Cocaine and alcohol problems dogged him in mid life until he met the woman with whom he would find stability and raise a new family.
When I saw Glen in concert, it was somewhat known among fans that he had memory problems and relied on a teleprompter on stage to remember lyrics to his well-worn hits. Touring with his family provided a safety net for him, as they would help him onstage when he would start to play the same song he had just finished or searched to remember stories or song titles. Had I not read up on these facts prior to the concert, I would have been surprised and quite concerned, but knowing about his struggles, which I assumed were just signs of aging, made him very human to me. Despite his trouble with lyrics, his guitar playing was spot-on, his mastery of the frets as solid and polished as they always were.
The small but appreciative crowd overlooked his memory issues giving him a rousing and warm reaction. Loving family and adoring fans, it was a great showcase for a man in the twilight of his existence. After the concert, I couldn’t resist the temptation to see him, if only for a few seconds. A small group of folks who seemed to know him, were grouped by the stage door, waiting. We merged into the group and slid backstage as if we belonged there. Glen’s oldest daughter Debbie, who provided backup vocals, said he would be right with us. She commented on a photo that I had of her father from the “True Grit” era. It was a close-up photo and he was young, handsome and full of life. Glen came from the backroom and seemed delighted to see this group of fans. If he really knew the other people, it wasn’t evident, but he was warm and gladly embraced them, and us. He signed and a couple of items, said thank you to us, and was whisked away.
Had I known the facts about his disease I wouldn’t have bothered him, let me make that clear. While this was a once in a lifetime event, I would have respected his privacy. When the news about his disease was made public a few weeks later, along with the announcement of his final concert tour, I felt relieved and thankful. He did a brave thing to share with the world his declining health but he offered a final opportunity for his fans to see him.
When I hear one of his early songs I am instantly transported back to the 1960s and of gentler times. Thanks, Glen. May peace be with you.