November 15, 2014
Back when I was little, I would watch The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, which aired from 1969 to 1972. I’d have my toy guitar slung around my neck and pretend to play and sing along with him. While my mother listed Johnny Cash as one of my favorite television shows in my application to attend kindergarten (along with Captain Kangaroo and HoHo the Clown), I remember Glen Campbell’s performances better than Johnny’s. Glen had that sweet and cheerful persona, big grin, and striking hair. I consciously imitated that hairdo; it would take premature baldness to put an end to my long bangs.
Glen’s singing and guitar playing was a highlight for me as a little boy, although I begged my mother for years to take piano lessons rather than wanting to learn to play a guitar. I finally started those piano lessons at age four, wanted to be a piano teacher through my elementary school years, and earned seven National and five International Piano Guild pins before I left home for college. I neglect my grand piano these days, but have bought over 13,000 songs over the years; listening to music is one of the greatest pleasures of my life and hardly a day goes by without me indulging in it.
Glen Campbell also fell in love with music as one of many children of an Arkansas sharecropper family which was impoverished in material goods but rich in music. Glen’s father bought him a $5 guitar at Sears when Glen was four years old. Glen became an accomplished public performer, dropping out of school when he was 16 to seek a musical career out west. He was one of the Los Angeles, CA session musicians termed The Wrecking Crew, playing on over 600 tracks for artists from Frank Sinatra to the Beach Boys, filling in for Brian Wilson for six months.
In 1967, Glen’s solo career skyrocketed. He racked up an amazing four Grammys, with his performance of John Hartford‘s Gentle on My Mind winning two in the country & western categories and Jimmy Webb‘s By the Time I Get to Phoenix winning two in pop. In later years he won more Grammys and other music awards. Hits you might recognize include:
- Gentle on My Mind (1967; Hartford)
- By the Time I Get to Phoenix (1967; Webb)
- Wichita Lineman (1968; Webb)
- Galveston (1969; Webb)
- Rhinestone Cowboy (1975; Weiss)
- Southern Nights (1977; Toussaint)
I especially like his live performance of Classical Gas.
Glen’s personal life was tumultuous, with four marriages, affairs, and alcohol and cocaine abuse. But he found lasting happiness after 1982 with Kim Woollen, who was a Rockette at Radio City Music Hall. She has stuck by him through rough times, and is now seeing him through the long goodbye of Alzheimer’s disease.
I’d heard about Glen’s announcement of his Alzheimer’s diagnosis a few years back and heard he had a goodbye tour. Here’s a farewell piece from CBS in February 2012:
Contrast Glen’s unprecedented decision to continue to perform even amidst his worsening Alzheimer’s to the recent passing of the beloved Tom Magliozzi. Tom and his brother Ray, Click and Clack to us fans, mysteriously quit recording new episodes of their Car Talk radio show a few years back. Only with Tom’s death did we learn he quit because of Alzheimer’s. I’m so very glad that Glen could be so public about his problem as he faded away; only with the tremendous support of his family and friends, and a Teleprompter, could he keep performing so long.
But I’ll be frank with you; I did not give Glen’s condition or his farewell tour much thought until this weekend. His dark years and backsliding led me to view his farewell with cynicism. As always with me, there is nothing like music to tear away the hard crust and open me up to love once again. Tears washed away my bitterness about him this week when I heard Glen’s heartbreaking final song, I’m Not Gonna Miss You.
I’m still here, but yet I’m gone
I don’t play guitar or sing my songs
They never defined who I am
The man that loves you ’til the end
You’re the last person I will love
You’re the last face I will recall
And best of all, I’m not gonna miss you
Not gonna miss you
I’m never gonna hold you like I did
Or say I love you to the kids
You’re never gonna see it in my eyes
It’s not gonna hurt me when you cry
I’m never gonna know what you go through
All the things I say or do
All the hurt and all the pain
One thing selfishly remains
I’m not gonna miss you
There is such a brutal and daring truth in those lyrics. He recorded it in January 2013; as I write this post in November 2014 Glen is living in a Alzheimer’s care facility. He has lost most of his ability to speak and can no longer play his guitar. One of his daughters, Ashley, was quoted:
The other day when I went to visit him, I walked into the room and his face lit up. He walked over to me and gave me a big hug, and whispered in my ear, ‘I remember you.’ I didn’t want to ever let go.
I don’t want to let him go, either. There is documentary film now in release, I’ll Be Me, about his final tour. He was using a teleprompter to recall the lyrics, but he could still sing and play quite well.
The release of Glen’s final song and the documentary about his farewell tour will help me remember the joy Glen brought to my life, even if he can’t.