MTV used to play music. Shocking as that may sound it is true. When they were not playing music videos, they were often showing documentaries about music. One day, around the time R.E.M.’s Out of Time album came out, they played a documentary on the band from Athens. During the video, Peter Buck talked about how one night Michael Stipe did karaoke in some bar and chose some old Jimmy Webb songs. Then they cut to them singing Wichita Lineman and Galveston. Instantly, I knew these were great songs. My mom comes to my room and asks if R.E.M. is covering Glen Campbell. I respond that they are covering Jimmy Webb. She informs me those are Glen Campbell songs.
Of course, Jimmy Webb wrote the songs, but Campbell did indeed make those songs his. I became a fan of both.
Campbell is an underrated interpreter of songs. Many pop artists today might sing (or auto tune) other people’s songs, but few interpret them. They just go for the sound. Campbell did so much more with other people songs. If you have not heard Galveston in a while, go take a listen. He took what could have been a political anti-war song and made it a song that just about a soldier that misses his girl. No matter what side you took when the song came out (the Vietnam era), Campbell’s soulful interpretation made the song just about love.
Campbell has had a career revival as of late. In 2008, he recorded Meet Glen Campbell. Covering artists such as Green Day, Travis, U2, the Velvet Underground, and my beloved Replacements, he proved he could still interpret a song like no other. Campbell was making younger fans. A career renaissance seemed to be blooming. Then, doctors diagnosed him with Alzheimer’s.
Instead of just fading into the sunset, the Rhinestone Cowboy decided to head for it with his head held high. He decided to record one last album and do a farewell tour. Unfortunately, it was not coming anywhere near New Orleans.
Luckily, we were not near New Orleans this past July.
Riding from Orlando to Panama City Beach, Cristina called her grandparents to see what they wanted to do for dinner. They responded that Cristina’s mom and stepdad were going see Glen Campbell but they were free. Cristina’s jaw dropped. She asked for me details. Cristina turns to me and says Glen Campbell is performing that night. I immediately ask if it really was Glen Campbell. She laughed knowing that is how I would respond and said yes it really is him. We now knew what we were doing that evening.
Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease. For Campbell to have the courage to go on tour astounds me. Stage fright has to be a constant concern. Modern technology helps with Teleprompters. Having his kids make up his backing band also helps. Of course, he would forget some words. However, the melodies, I’m not sure if he could ever forget the melodies. The guitar work on “Wichita Lineman” was perfect. The phrasing of his lyrics, even when he had to make it up, was always on target. He kept telling us how great Jimmy Webb was. The woman next to me was so overjoyed she kept knocking over her oxygen tank with excitement. He played all the hits. He played some new songs including one by Paul Westerberg that Campbell made a point of telling us what lyrics he liked the most. He sang duets with both of his comely children. Overall, it was a great, moving show.
This was not a parade of an old man to make money. This was just a great singer enjoying his last couple of shows. May the future be gentle on his mind.