Remembering Glen Campbell (1936-2017)
We lost country and pop legend Glen Campbell this afternoon after a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease; he was 81 years old. He – or rather his celebrity and his music – played a large part in my early life, and was part of what helped to shape my rather eclectic tastes in music.
My mom was a huge fan of Campbell from the very beginning. Whenever he popped up on TV variety shows, my mom and I would always watch. I think she first spotted him when he was a regularly appearing singer on Shindig; I don’t remember for sure. But when he really started to click big, and ended up with his own hit television series, “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour”, which was still a top rated show when it was cancelled just one year after CBS’ infamous “rural purge” (he got lucky), she was thrilled – she got to see him every week.
Whatever station she listened to on the radio – I think it was KSPO-AM – featured his hits a lot; you couldn’t go more than an hour or two without hearing his current hit at the time, whether it was “Gentle On My Mind”, “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” or my personal favorite, “Wichita Lineman”, which remains one of my favorite songs of all time even today.
I have a particular memory of that song as well. We lived in the tiny town of Waverly, Washington at the time – it was the smallest town in the state with only 79 people, I believe – and one night my little body of four or five was not feeling very well after dinner. So after watching “The Flintstones”, my mom gathered me up, with a blanket and a pillow, and laid me out on the back seat of our monster Mercury Park Lane (this was long before child seats and restraints were required), and got in and began to slowly drive around the countryside. We weren’t going anywhere, she was doing it because the soft motion of the car usually helped to settle my sensitive tummy when I was little. On that night, as I watched the trees go by the back window of the car surrounded by soft moonlight around us, and saw a few street signs go by as well, the memory that sticks with me most of all were watching the passing of the telephone poles and power lines, strung almost rhythmically from pole to pole, and my mom humming softly to Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman” playing on the radio. I’m sure something came on after it, but I don’t remember it. I remember hearing the song end, and then waking up the next morning in my soft, cozy bed – I didn’t wake up even when she picked me up and brought me back in the house. It’s one of the most happy memories of my childhood, and whenever I hear that song, I think back to the little munchkin I was that night..and feel awesome again…
Glen’s music was always on the radio when I was a pre-teen; I had a ton of 45’s by him, even the less successful songs like his remakes of “It’s Only Make Believe” and “Dream Baby”. And then when I hit puberty, he had another renaissance, with “Rhinestone Cowboy”, “Country Boy” , and “Southern Nights” all hitting the pop chart as well as the country chart.
When Glen announced to his fans he’d been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2011, I blinked back tears – and it made me realize that even someone with such a beautiful gift of song can be lost to this dread disease. I never saw the documentary about his final concert tour and his battle against the disease, because I knew then and know now I would sit there and sob like a baby…
Glen, thank you for 5 decades of wonderful music and wonderful memories. Your voice will always resonate in my ears, and your songs will live on forever.
I’ve included some of my favorite songs, and some of Glen’s best known hits, in the Spotify playlist below. Listen and enjoy – his music will always be here to remember him by…
Also published on Medium.