Going out in style
Growing up we had big console that took up the better part of an entire wall in our very small home. But life was good when the records were spinning and music filled the air. The variety was amazing, as popular music was going through such transformation at the time. Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys, and Mario Lanza freely spun on the record player and I distinctly remember my mother singing along as she dried the dishes.
I don’t think we were into country music at the time, but Western music was another story. Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, and Tennessee Ernie Ford appealed to my father’s farming roots. I remember her bringing home a Glen Campbell album one day. Some of those songs of Glen’s seemed pretty good at the time, but I never got over the his white leather chaps and the image of a Rhinestone Cowboy in my mind. He was probably a little too mainstream for us.
I still don’t like country music much, but I’m digging Glen Campbell now – and I think you might too once you hear this story.
The years march on
Glen Campbell has Alzheimer’s, diagnosed just a couple of years ago. After he digested the news, he and his family moved to put out more record – a swan song. He said it would be his last studio album.
He has 70 albums to his credit, and has playing with a variety of other bands like the Beach Boys, the Everly Brothers, Elvis Presley, Monkees, and many many others. In 1963 alone he played on nearly 600 cuts for other artists. He’s sung thousands of concerts and even had his own variety show for a while. With all of that to his credit, how does he go out? How does he say goodbye?
The resulting album, Ghosts on the Canvas is deep, rich and it left me breathless at times. It’s surprisingly hope-filled and yet retrospective. He starts out with a song of humble contrition for sins of the past and praise for a life lived.
“I’ve tried and failed Lord/I’ve won and I’ve lost/I’ve lived and loved Lord/Sometimes at such a cost/One thing I know/The world’s been good to me/A better Place/
Some days I’m so confused Lord/My past gets in my way/I need the ones I’ve loved Lord/more and more each day/One thing I know./The world’s been good to me/A better Place/
Campbell desperately wants to be known for something else now that he is at the end of his days. He has a past. He’s been married four times. He’s fought drugs and alcohol. He’s been in the news for plenty of unsavory things. But with eternity looking at him, he’s made peace and reconciliation. And this bleeds through every track. The “Ghosts” are the visages of the old man he’s been running from – and soon will disappear.
The song “Strong” still puts a lump in my throat. “As I look into these eyes I’ve known/for all these years/I see for the first time in my life/fear/This is not the life I wanted for us/but now that it’s here/I want to make one thing perfectly clear/All I want to be for you/Strong/.”
And I could go on and on about the other songs. Just buy this album.
Over and again, I had to remind myself that this man was 77 years old when he recorded these albums. Not a warble, not twitch, not a missed note. He nailed it. Plus he played guitar throughout.
What would my final work say?
If I were faced with Alzheimer’s, or another debilitating disease, would I be able to look into the eyes of my loved ones and tell them I would be “strong?” Or would I wilt with the certainty of the diagnosis?
Interviewed by USA today just a few months after the recordings, he has no real recollection of them, the cruel disease marching on. “As the new recordings have seen Campbell’s legacy swell, his world has been shrinking,” they write. Yet, give him a guitar and it all kicks in, the chords roar back.
He just released another album from those sessions; it reprises a number of his old hits, stripped down, simple. His voice is strong, his pitch still perfect. Every note is strummed and sung with conviction.
It’s dark and sad and light and uplifting all at the same time.
The album closes with a simple rendition of Rhinestone Cowboy, the song I hated. And now it sounds so pure. All the glitter is gone. His horse is in a distant pasture. And he’s just a man waiting for the end.
The name of the album is, “See You There.”
Going out in style.
Watch this version of Hey Little One
Here’s an interview with his wife about the record.
A CBS Final tour profile
Do you have a favorite Campbell song? Rhinestone Cowboy, Witchita on the Line, Galveston, Little One?
And I’m thinking. What would be my last essay? My last speech? My last conversation with my family? How about you?