Glen Cambell’s Last Album

Great article from Philip Martin in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette 8-28-11

Glen’s last waltz

PHILIP MARTIN

It’s knowin’ that your door is always open
And your path is free to walk
That makes me tend to leave my sleepin’ bag
Rolled up and stashed behind your couch
Your relationship with Glen Campbell is complicated.
It goes back to around 1968, and 1968 is one of those years you’d remember if you were there. It was the year the hippie dream curdled, when the illusions of the Summer of Love evaporated, replaced by the acrid sting of cordite and tear gas. Martin Luther King Jr. gets shot to death in April; Bobby Kennedy in June. Vietnam burns furiously in the national consciousness.
There are race riots in American cities; a sitting president declines to run for re-election. The Beatles release what became known as their White Album, and Charles Manson and a small group of followers take up residence at George Spahn’s movie ranch in hills above Los Angeles, waiting for the apocalypse foretold in “Helter Skelter.”
And, in the summer, a guitar picker named Glen Campbell is hired to host The Summer Brothers Smothers Show, to run while Smothers Brothers’ Comedy Hour is on hiatus.
Campbell seems almost a parody of the Nehru-jacketed pop star, a kempt, establishment-ordained alternative to Revolution.
And then, the next year, CBS cancels the Smothers Brothers — maybe the only genuinely subversive prime-time network television series ever — and installs this toothy golden-blond beach boy as the host of his own musical variety show.
Campbell is nominally a country singer, but not the cranky old kind with the terrifying pompadour, Nudie jacket and whiskey shakes — he’s otter-sleek and all too ready for his close-up, a Stepfordian candidate with Bobby Goldsboro helmet hair sent as Soma to tame the tube-bedazzled denizens of a brave new world. Campbell is safe, an old-school entertainer who has played on Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra records.
He is a session musician — part of Hal Blaine’s famed “Wrecking Crew” of versatile “first call” players. He’s toured with the Champs (though he only joined the group after they’d recorded their hit “Tequila”) and the Beach Boys (singing the “retired” Brian Wilson’s falsetto lines and playing bass) and played guitar on Pet Sounds.
Even his first hit, the John Hartford-penned “Gentle on My Mind,” first released to only middling success, seems like ersatz Dylan, a smoothed-out hobo ballad for the suburban everyday housewives who’d come to make up Campbell’s key demographic.
Or at least, that’s how it seemed at the time.
And it’s knowin’ I’m not shackled
By forgotten words and bonds
And the ink stains that have dried upon some line
You have heard stories over the years — like the night 30 years ago when, for two hours, he stood in a hallway of Le Bossier Hotel in Louisiana, screaming curses at the door that separated him from his lover, Tanya Tucker, who at 21 was almost exactly half his age. Finally Sgt. Ricky Speir of the Bossier City Police Department showed up to convince Campbell that the discussion was unlikely to prove fruitful until after both parties had slept (apart) for a reasonable interval. Campbell avoided going to jail that night, and even briefly reconciled with Tucker, as the tabloids swarmed.
Then there was a period of relative quiet, as Campbell moved out of Los Angeles, and gave up Tucker and cocaine. He still released records regularly, though it seemed no one really cared much about them aside from his hard-core fans.
But the word was Campbell had straightened himself out. He released an album of hymns. He retreated to Branson.
Then came the ghastly mug shot that made the Internet rounds in 2003 — the Rhinestone Cowboy as Mean Old Bitter Fool. It surfaced after Campbell was arrested in Phoenix for drunken driving and leaving the scene of an accident. Campbell’s BMW hit another car and sped off, and a witness followed it to his home and called police. They showed up, found Campbell disheveled and obviously intoxicated and arrested him and took him to the Maricopa County jail for booking. And after he’d been fingerprinted and was about to be released to his waiting friends and family, he became angry and tried to knee Sgt. Bill Niles in the groin. The officer took the blow harmlessly in the thigh, and arrested Campbell on suspicion of assault charges.
“There was a lot of, ‘Do you know who I am. I’m Glen Campbell … I shouldn’t be locked up like this,’” Niles told USA Today.
It’s not clingin’ to the rocks and ivy Planted on their columns now that bind me Or something that somebody said because They thought we fit together walkin’
Campbell is about to go out on tour, for the last time, as his short-term memory sputters and flares. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s around the beginning of the year, and he has embarked on a farewell tour that will kick off Wednesday in Toronto and will include a single stop in Arkansas, at the East Arkansas Community College Fine Arts Center in Forrest City on Sept. 10.
It says something about the trajectory of Campbell’s career that he is winding up 60 years in showbiz playing a community college in Arkansas. And that something is not quite sad — though there was a time when Campbell was arguably the biggest pop star in the world (from 1967 to ’69 he released 10 albums, seven of which went to No. 1) — but it is poignant to think of a 75-year-old man onstage, maybe not knowing precisely where he is, doing the thing he has done all his life, for an audience that likely remembers him as he was when he was young and pretty. An audience that might see him largely as a nostalgia act, a comforting sound from their past.
They will want to hear the old songs, and Glen Campbell will very likely play them. Maybe because he wants to, maybe because his new material — the songs on his excellent new album, the Julian Raymond-produced Ghost on the Canvas — might be too risky to attempt. The chord progressions might not have imprinted sufficiently in the neural corridors, the lyrics might be too easy to forget. The album itself might be the only evidence that survives, that argues for Glen Campbell’s interest in pushing forward into an enveloping black frontier.
People say that people who carry on despite their troubles are brave, but maybe that isn’t how it is. Maybe it’s just that you do what you can, what you know how. Maybe it’s that or taking the gas, stepping off the bridge into uprushing oblivion. Glen Campbell is a Christian, so he does not believe in nothingness or swirling chaos, and maybe we shouldn’t put too much stock in the songs chosen to fill out this final album. Certainly the diagnosis freights the album with something, it gives it the authority of a deathbed confession.
But Campbell sang the Velvet Underground’s “Jesus” on his last album — 2008’s Meet Glen Campbell — without a trace of irony, like it was actually about the Nazarene (which it may have been, considering that Lou Reed later recorded a version with the Five Blind Boys of Alabama). He has always been an earnest artist, his wistful tenor flecked with gold, but at times immune to nuance.
Glen Campbell is the polar opposite of someone like Leonard Cohen, a suspect, chopless musician suffused with soul and a kind of louche integrity. One gets the feeling that Cohen is simply incapable of performing a song that doesn’t hold great personal meaning for him, while Campbell is a professional songster, a supple interpreter who could do a credible version of anything with chords and a melody — it’s no stretch for Campbell to cover the Foo Fighters, the Replacements, U2, the Scottish band Travis or Green Day (as he did on
Meet Glen Campbell).
Just as Campbell took Jimmy Webb’s odd little ditties — “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Galveston” and “Wichita Lineman” — into melodramatic mainstream ballads, so he transforms all that passes through him into well sung and string-lubricated Glen Campbell songs.
Ghost on the Canvas isn’t composed of cover songs — although the Paul Westerberg-penned title track previously appeared on his 2009 EP PW & The Ghost Gloves Cat Wing Joy Boys — but was conceived as a farewell to music, and to life. Most of the songs were written by Campbell and producer Raymond, who took notes on his conversations with Campbell during the sessions for Meet Glen Campbell in order to fashion lyrics.
There are six instrumental interludes — composed by keyboardist Roger Manning — which seem designed to evoke particular moments in Campbell’s life and career. (“The Billstown Crossroads” is an aural evocation of Campbell’s upbringing near Delight — he was the seventh of 12 children born to impoverished sharecroppers. “May 21, 1969” alludes to the debut of The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour on CBS.)
There are also songs by Teddy Thompson (son of Linda and Richard), Jakob Dylan (son of Bob) and Robert (Guided by Voices) Pollard and guitar solos by Billy Corgan, Brian Seltzer and Rick Nielsen. Thematically, the album concerns itself mainly with gratitude — for his fans, for fortune and maybe especially for Campbell’s fourth wife, Kim, to whom he has been married since 1982 and who evidently has seen a lot.
I might still run in silence
Tears of joy might stain my face
And the summer sun might burn me ’til I’m blind …
You might want to forgive Glen Campbell, if you think he ever did you wrong. Listen to his version of “Gentle on My Mind” today, you might hear it a little differently. Hartford’s lyrics are rooted in concrete observation; they aren’t blighted by the psychedelic impressionism that affected the era. It’s a sturdy, elegant song — well constructed, and Campbell’s reading is conversational.
And you can appreciate the other hits, too — in the same way you can appreciate Sinatra and Tony Bennett now, when before they might have struck you as impossibly “square.” And maybe you understand that while Campbell wasn’t really much of a songwriter himself — he wrote minor songs, like “Turn Around, Look at Me” — he had genuinely wonderful taste. Not only did he make Hartford and Webb rich, he covered Allen Toussaint. His version of Donovan’s “Catch the Wind” is not only the best Donovan cover ever, it cuts the original.
You know this now because you’re smarter than you were, and you recognize that just because someone makes it look easy — it isn’t easy. Just because Glen Campbell hit all the notes, in key and in time, with the precision and sobriety of an Eagle Scout, it didn’t make him less human, more facile or less invested in the music he made than the frenziedly excited thrashings of inspired amateurs.
It’s a matter of style, not soul.
E-mail:
pmartin@arkansasonline.com

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/JOHN DEERING
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette file photo
Glen Campbell (right) was joined by country greats Johnny Cash (from left), Merle Haggard and Buck Owens in this undated photo from his series The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. The program aired from 1969 to 1972.
Glen Campbell will release what he says is his final studio album on Tuesday. Ghost on the Canvas features performances by Jakob Dylan, Paul Westerberg and Dick Dale, among others.
AP
Glen Campbell performed at the IP Casino in Biloxi, Miss., in July.
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One Response to “Glen Cambell’s Last Album”

  1. Rosanne Says:

    How do I get tickets for the EACC performance in Arkansas??

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