In June 2011, country music legend Glen Campbell revealed that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Campbell also announced he would release one last album which would be accompanied by a farewell tour. At the time I wrote, “I hope Campbell is able to make his way up to Boston or New York because he has long been on my list of musicians I have wanted to see in concert.”
Well, last week I crossed Campbell off my musical bucket list when I attended his concert at the Wilbur Theater in Boston. While I don’t know if Campbell will remember much from that show, it is a night I and everyone else who attended will not soon forget. Campbell’s tour continues through the end of June. If he comes to your town don’t pass up an opportunity to see an American original because this is it.
Although he has had multiple hits on both the country and pop charts, “Rhinestone Cowboy” remains his signature song and it is what introduced me to the genius of Glen Campbell. In the 1970s and early 1980s, I had an aunt and uncle who owned a record company in Palm Springs, California called TeeVee Records. They mostly sold compilation LPs and eight track cassettes and from time to time they would give my parents some of their extra stock.
One of those albums was called Knockout, a compilation of songs from the mid-1970s which featured a fist on the cover. How “Rhinestone Cowboy” managed to be included on that album is a bit of a mystery to me given that most of the songs on it were disco hits such as “Shake Your Booty” by K.C. & The Sunshine Band, “Saturday Night” by the Bay City Rollers, and “Disco Queen” by Copperpenny. But, hey, it was the ’70s. It was entirely possible to have The Sylvers, Barry Manilow and Glen Campbell co-exist on the same album. I cannot begin to tell you how much these albums and eight tracks helped shape my musical tastes.
So after hearing Campbell belt out “Rhinestone Cowboy” at the Grammys tribute earlier this month (which even had Paul McCartney singing along), I quickly checked online to see if he was coming to The Hub. I am glad the Grammys saw fit to pay tribute to Campbell that night because otherwise I might have missed a once in a lifetime opportunity.
The evening began with a half hour set by Instant People, which consists of Campbell’s sons Shannon and Cal, daughter Ashley as well as Phoenix based guitarist Ry Jarred and bassist Siggy Sjursen from Norway. How can you go wrong with a Norwegian bass player named Siggy? Their brand of music tends towards indie rock but with a hint of country.
After a short intermission, Glen Campbell finally hit the stage to a rapturous reception. Campbell struggled through “Gentle on My Mind” and “Galveston.” He seemed to have difficulty singing and playing guitar at the same time. Complicating matters is that Campbell no longer remembers the lyrics to songs he has been singing for over four decades and now relies on teleprompters, which are set throughout the stage area. But sometimes it only helps so much. Then again I would like to see President Obama manage a day without a teleprompter.
Indeed, there were spontaneous moments as when he sang a few bars of Dave Loggins’ “Please Come to Boston.” As the show progressed Campbell seemed more comfortable and at ease, as was the case when he sang the Don Gibson classic “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” the pop standard “Lovesick Blues,” as well as when and he Ashley battled center stage on “Dueling Banjos.” Whatever memory he has lost, he can still play guitar with the best of them, his fingers having lost none of their dexterity. At one point, he asked what key they were about to play in and Ashley said, “E flat.” To which Campbell replied, “Oh, that’s True Grit,” to delighted applause. After briefly talking about John Wayne, he again asked what key they were in. His children have learned to deal with his lapses in memory and that for now the show goes on.
After a short break, which saw Ashley and Shannon sing “Hey Little One,” Campbell returned to the stage to sing several songs from his final album Ghost on the Canvas before returning to more familiar territory with Jimmy Webb’s “The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress,” “Country Boy (You’ve Got Your Feet in L.A.),” and another Webb classic “Wichita Lineman,” which included a fantastic guitar solo. With the opening chords of “Rhinestone Cowboy,” the audience jumped to its feet, prompting a sing along. It turned out to be an abbreviated version, as Campbell would omit the second verse. But the show wasn’t over. Campbell returned to the stage for an encore and flawlessly sang Allen Toussaint’s “Southern Nights” before concluding the evening with “A Better Place,” the opening track on Ghost on the Canvas, before taking a bow and leaving to a standing ovation.
The lyrics to “A Better Place,” which were co-written by Campbell, are simple yet both poignant and powerful:
I’ve tried and I have failed, Lord
I’ve won and I have lost
I’ve lived and I have loved, Lord
Sometimes, at such a cost
One thing I know
The world’s been good to me
A better place, awaits you’ll see
Even as Campbell’s memory recedes, his faith remains strong. It also conveys the gratitude for the life he has lived both good and bad and the determination to make the best of the time he has left. Although it is dimming, the light still shines on Glen Campbell.