Growing up in New York, we were drawn more to The Beatles or the Stones than to Glen Campbell, this singer from Appalachia who had hit after hit with songs such as By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Galveston, Rhinestone Cowboy or that masterpiece Wichita Lineman.
He was from a different America. He sang, plaintively and sharply and many times thanks to Jimmy Webb’s lyrics, about an America of small towns, clotheslines hung out to dry in the Oklahoma sunshine or roads upon roads leading for miles and miles though heat and snow.
It wasn’t sly like Hank Williams or sharp like The Byrds or raunchy like Bob Wills.
Glen Campbell was MOR, tv-lite and a little too old fashioned. A bit cheesy, I thought.
But many years ago, I spent a good summer (and some) driving back and forth and back and forth across the States for a number of reasons- . New York, Cincinnati, Des Moines, Rapid City, Cheyenne, Denver, Kansas City.
My brother and I would spin the AM dial and up would come Campbell and his songs about the America we saw unfolding in front of our windscreens- places that had nothing to do with eastern cities.
We were nosing through Glen Campbell country and I’ve always admired him since.. His songs weren’t dumb clunky country tunes from a Porter Waggoner tunebook or fake cowboy stuff from a battery of Nashville hicks. This was sharp story telling, this was portraiture of the land we were driving though.
His songs were short stories and they purred and jangled from the car radio and blended into the prairie states, the mountains, The Badlands and the fields of Minnesota. Those trips were really about Glen Campbell country.
This, his latest tour of the UK, will be his last. He has Alzheimer’s and forgets things- so much so that he uses a a pair of autocues to remember the lyrics.
And he uses something else too to make it all the more effective- he has his family as a backing group to help him along, remind him of the playlist or a line in the banter between songs. Sometimes a quip to the audience is said twice or three times. He laughs and shrugs as do the family behind him.
It is a brave and poignant show. His daughter and two sons coaxed him, laughed with him about the lapses and carefully reminded him along the way about what comes next.
The songs were in tight three minute bursts- such as you would hear on old fashioned AM radio when you are driving on an endless road across Nebraska.
And when he chose to take on a guitar lead, whether for a country or a rock and roll number, you remember somewhere that in the beginning of his career he was a highly successful backing session man himself.
So, this performance is a farewell. He will retire. And when he sung Wichita Lineman, you remember why he has been around, as the song goes. … ‘for all time.’