Reflections on Glen Campbell, 1936-2017

One of the finest country/pop musicians of the past 60 years, not to mention a man who by most accounts was a genuinely good human being, Glen Campbell died on August 8th. The 81-year-old had been in declining health since late 2010, when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

I’m not going to list his myriad achievements within the music and entertainment industries. By this point, you’ve undoubtedly read about many of them. Suffice to say, Campbell had a far-reaching, if too often undervalued, career. Personally, I suppose my first introduction to him came through watching TV as a child; The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, his weekly variety show for CBS, was often on in our household growing up. A few years later, after finding WQXI on my transistor AM radio, I regularly heard “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Southern Nights,” his biggest crossover hits. By high school I was discovering all sorts of wilder bands and I didn’t think Glen Campbell was cool anymore, so when one of my music-fanatic friends told me I should accompany him to Campbell’s upcoming concert at (I think) the Fox, I laughed and turned him down. I deeply regret that decision now, but I did, thankfully, attend Glen’s final show in Atlanta in the summer of 2012 at Chastain. Man, oh man… It’s difficult to truly describe how moving that performance was, simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming. Noticeably struggling with the early stages of the disease, he’d forget a line or lose his place from time to time, but he had three of his children in his band offering loving support and backup. And man, when he’d fire off some licks on his guitar, he sounded astounding. I walked away from that concert emotionally drained, but not depressed. More uplifted, really, and grateful for the experience.

Many of Glen Campbell’s peers and friends offered thoughts and recollections upon his passing, several of which deserve relaying here. Jimmy Webb, the songwriter whose creations provided Campbell with some of his most beloved recordings, called him “a great American influence on pop music, the American Beatle, the secret link between so many artists and records that we can only marvel.” Country singer Tanya Tucker, who was involved in a brief and storied romance with Campbell in 1980, released a new song, “Forever Loving You,” in his honor and noted that “it’s been so hard these past several years knowing what he’s been going through. My heart just breaks. Glen and I shared some incredible, precious memories together for a long time. There were some ups and downs and, of course, all the downs were played out in the press. We both got past all that. Forgiveness is a wonderful thing.”

Finally, veteran rock showman Alice Cooper told a Phoenix TV outlet that, despite the seeming unlikelihood, he and Campbell “couldn’t have been closer… He could hang out with the Rat Pack, or he could hang out with Donnie and Marie, or he could hang out with the Beatles, or anybody. He was in the middle. He was just that all-purpose, good-looking kid that could do anything. He was the golden boy. And yet him and I were like this when it came to our sense of humor, when it came to golf, when it came to music.

“We both survived the alcohol and drug world,” Cooper continued. “I mean… he did cocaine more than just about anybody out there, during what we called the ‘L.A. Blizzard,’ when everybody was into cocaine. But he had a real problem with it. I mean, a huge problem. He navigated through that, we both came out the other end with great families. We both came out sober. We both became Christian. We both understood where we were. And that’s what we had in common, is that we were survivors of that world. And we both moved to Phoenix to get away from that world. And still were in the business. In other words, you can be in this business, and be a Christian, and navigate your life through it.”