By the Time He Gets to Heaven

 

Before my musical taste shifted to rock, in my teen years, I listened to country and western music as a kid. Johnny Cash was my absolute, all-time favorite, but I also enjoyed hearing folks like Ray Price, Loretta Lynn, Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, Buck Owens, Roger Miller and Tom T. Hall.

And Glen Campbell.

523938839238

Glen passed away Tuesday, at the age of 81, after living the last six years with, in my view, the most cruel, insidious affliction to ever befall a person: Alzheimer’s disease.

The thought of my mind slowly and deliberately eroding, eventually leaving me unable to dress myself, feed myself, or remember anyone I’ve ever known and loved, while those loved ones helplessly watch…

Rest in Peace, Glen. Your suffering is over.

Peace and comfort to you, Campbell family. You don’t have to witness it anymore.

 

Glen had the good looks, the mellifluous voice, and the instrumental skills, and he was an immensely popular recording artist, especially in the late 1960’s and ’70’s. He had tremendous crossover success, earning Grammy awards in 1968 in country and pop music. He sold an estimated 45 million records over his career.

(I’m not going to get into the toll his success took on him, personally, because really, there’s no need to do that here. Suffice it to say, he came out the other side of it.)

Above all that, though, was just the joy, the love of performing, that made him a star. You could see it every week in the late 1960’s and early 70’s on his variety TV show, “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.” He put his heart into everything he sang; from the bouncy, infectious “Southern Nights”, to the resolutely optimistic “Rhinestone Cowboy”, to the wistful, apprehensive “Galveston”, to the sunny and upbeat “Try a Little Kindness.”

Then, there are my two personal favorites, both written by Jimmy Webb, one of the best songwriters ever, without a doubt: “Wichita Lineman” (beautifully orchestrated, like most of his hits), and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, still one of the most sublimely heartbreaking tunes I’ve ever heard.

Even in the face of that merciless monster he battled in his later years, Glen kept on performing, enlisting the help of his sympathetic audience for the words he could no longer remember. He even allowed a camera crew to travel with him on his farewell tour, resulting in the award-winning documentary, “I’ll Be Me.” He was not afraid to make his struggle public, which earned him high praise from former President Bill Clinton, a fellow Arkansas native.

So, if it’s been awhile since you heard you some Glen Campbell, reacquaint yourself with an old friend, and celebrate his life and career. If you’ve never heard of him, take this opportunity to listen to a truly great artist. Even if you’re not into country music, you’ll discover a good song and a good singer transcend all genres.

Adios, Rhinestone Cowboy. Thanks for all the good times, and all the great music.