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Glen Campbell’s Long Goodbye

Glen Campbell performs during the 54th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles in February. (AP)

By: Alex Ashlock

I saw Glen Campbell perform at the first Farm Aid Concert in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois in 1985.

His guitar playing blew me away and still stands out in my memories of that concert. And this was a show that also featured the incredible guitar work by one Edward Van Halen. Campbell played the great John Hartford song “Gentle on My Mind” and also sang with Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash in an improvised version of The Highwaymen.

Today, there’s an extra poignancy in nearly every song Glen Campbell sings, especially those great Jimmy Webb tunes he made so famous, “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” and “Witchita Lineman.”

Here & Now's Robin Young (center) visited with Glen Campbell and his wife Kim on the day of his recent show at The Wilbur Theater in Boston. (Alex Ashlock/Here & Now)

He made it public last summer that he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and since then he has released what he calls his last CD of new recorded music, “Ghost On The Canvas” and he’s embarked on a goodbye tour, giving his many fans a final chance to see him perform.

A Rare Interview

For months, I have been trying to set up an interview for Robin with Glen Campbell and a couple of weeks ago, it finally happened. He’s not doing many interviews these days, and he hardly ever does them on the day of a show, but he agreed to on the day he played a sold-out concert at Boston’s Wilbur Theater. We were lucky enough to spend about 45 wonderful minutes with Glen and his wife Kim.

Musician Glen Campbell. (Courtesy Glencampbellmusic.com)

He talked about the outpouring of emotion he’s been getting from audiences. He talked about playing with the Wrecking Crew, that group of top-notch studio musicians in Los Angles in the 60s and 70s, amazing them with his guitar chops because he couldn’t even read music. And he also talked about living with Alzheimer’s. “I don’t really think about it,” he said. “I haven’t seen any change on me that I know of. I don’t worry about anything. I just thank God for what he’s given me.”

Alzheimer’s And Performing

“He’s always a positive person,” his wife Kim said, as she sat beside him and helped him recall moments from his 50-year career.

“He enjoys life and I think being on stage and out touring with his kids is exactly what he wants to do. There were times when I worried, ‘Should we be still out there doing this? Would it be better to retire?’ But the more he does what he’s always done, the better he is, the more he’s on stage singing and playing and enjoying life, the less evidence I see of the Alzheimer’s.”

Glen Campbell told us he has been amazed by the reception he has been getting at these shows.

“It’s been wonderful. That has been my life, playing and singing. I am very comfortable on the stage. It’s something I’ve done for 50 years,” he said.

Paul Westerberg wrote the title song for the new Glen Campbell CD. Here are the first words “I know a place between life and death for you and me. Best take hold on the threshold of eternity.”

That might be the perfect way to describe the place Glen Campbell is in right now. See him while you can.

Audio Extra:

Glen Campbell and his wife Kim tell Robin how Glen recorded “Southern Nights,” a song written by Allen Toussaint. It was a number one single in 1977.

Guest:

  • Glen Campbell, singer-songwriter

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  • Tina

    Please tell him how much his music has meant and continues to mean to us!  My best wishes for his health.  My musical father’s piano playing only seemed to get better during his long bout with Alzheimer’s.  

    • Jan

      I was fortunate to have attended his concert at Mohegan Sun last weekend. I found it so touching and really moving to know that he is surrounded by a backup band which includes his children, who assist him every step of the way throughout the show. You could feel the love. His guitar playing still blows me away, and his final Ghost on the Canvas CD I find to be heartfelt and emotional. I actually cried the first time I heard it. I was a proud member of his fan club when I was a kid, while my peers were into psychadelic rock. This recent tour brought it all back for me.

  • Deb in ATX

    Thank you for this interview.  I grew up in Houston in the 60s and 70s – and Glen Campbell’s music makes up a large part of the soundtrack for my life.  I realized listening to this story – I know the words to almost every song.  All the best to him – and his family.

  • guest

    I cannot hear the name Glen Campbell without goosebumps running up my arms, and shivers through my body, and my heart fills with such nostalgia – I grew up in Arizona, and Glen Campbell was as loved as the land.  His music swept through one’s very essence…and it still does the same today.  It’s not a memory, it’s part of my soul…  We love you!

  • guest

    Lovely article. I’m glad you mentioned his awesome guitar playing and Jimmy Webb, too. Thanks for sharing your experience. I will always love Glen. He is THE best guitar player and such a giving performer. We also share the same birthday!

  • countryroyalty

    the brilliance of the man!

  • Swetannie1959

    This is the best driveway moment I’ve ever experienced – your interview with Glen Campbell. Thank-you for your music and how it makes me feel, and for your uplifting spirit despite Alzheimers. I’m going back to work now much lighter than when I left an hour ago. Godspeed.

  • Anonymous

    My husband & I really enjoyed his concert in Boston last week.    I recently lost my mother after a long bout with Alzheimer’s.   She loved to sing and dance and responded to music right up to the last.    During the concert I remember thinking how fortunate Glen’s children are to be able to share this time with their father.   

  • Catdancer

    Ohh, Robin! Do u know how hard it is to apply eye liner when there are tears in you eyes? Such a great interview, thanks so much! What is it about the song Wichita Lineman? A few months ago I listened to it three times in a row! Glen + Jimmy Webb!

    Also, an IMPORTANT point – that his Alzheimer’s is less “noticeable” if he is doing what he loves – a story for everyone to learn from there…

  • http://twitter.com/LogMint Logan Minter

    I have his songs on my truck mp3 player and listen to him pretty much everyday.  I’m so glad to hear he is still doing well and staying happy.  I can’t imagine him any other way. Keep it up and God bless!

  • Leland Stein

    We had the pleasure of hosting a rare benefit screening for the Wrecking Crew Film, featuring Glen Campbell’s contribution prominently, last December at the Regent Theatre in Arlington. We had over 300 people in attendance, and many more who couldn’t make it that night. For anyone interested in seeing the trailer and learning more about the documentary and helping to get it released on DVD, visit http://www.wreckingcrewfilm.com. –Leland Stein, Regent Theatre Co-Owner

  • Alex Ashlock, Here and Now

    Thought I should mentioned the other songwriters that we heard from today, besides Jimmy Webb.  Southern Nights, by Allen Toussaint; Help Me Rhonda, written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love; Gentle On My Mind, written by John Hartford; Ghost On The Canvas, written by Paul Westerberg.

  • Jack (Ohio)

    I included Glen Campbell’s Greatest Hits on my Christmas Wish List and received the CD in my stocking.  I recall listening to Glen’s songs on scratchy AM radio as youth while traveling with my father on long stretches of highway.  Glen’s songs remind me of a simpler time; no seat belts, windows rolled down and sailing arms out the window!

    • Solong921000

      those were the days!!!

  • Langston1

    Good luck Glen.    I have always loved your music.  I remember being a kid in the local swimming pool and belting out  By The Time I Get to Phoenix as loud as I could.  Little did I know that many years later I would live in Phoenix.  You sound and look wonderful!

  • amy gorman

    Greeting Glen from a Gorman from Hazard Kentucky.  You played at our Bank’s 50th anniversary in 1973, I was 9 and star struck when you came to our house.

     Saw youon may other occassion when you  would visit Hazard to see LD and my DAD, Joe Pat who you played golf with and visited our home in Tucson. 

    God Bless,
    Amy Gorman

  • Kimberley

    Wow! What an amazing human being! A truly positively blessed artist of the highest realm! Having grown up on the road, I was lucky to have the radio for a friend and Glen Campbell’s music touched my spirit frequently – he could make me cry, make me fly and make be wonder why. We are truly blessed to have had this wonderful person on his planet giving us his gift! Being middle-aged now, I have passed his music on to my younger family and it is a pleasure to see this musical folkloric figure of Glen Campbell continue on throughout time! Thank you Mr. Campbell for sharing yourself with all of us. Blessings to you and all of your’s.

  • S Marg

    This 61 year old ex-Marine had tears in my eyes listening to your story on Glen Campbell today. Thanks for that, while not a big fan, I’ve always liked his music. He seems like such a nice guy, it’s so sad.

  • JAMESDTHOMPSON

    Thanks for the merriment Glen Campbell…God’s speed to you and your family.

  • CPipkins

    I’ve seen two shows of this tour – once at the beginning of the tour on Sept 10th and again on Dec 5th.  I am so glad I did.  Please go see this tour if you even remotely like Glen.  You will love it after it’s over.

  • Guest

    I remember watching Mr. Campbell’s show in the early 70′s as a young boy in NJ with my family who were all originally from AR.  I can recall the positive energy of the music, how I wanted to emulate him by combing my hair like his, and even the set design that was represented in his recent video.

    Thank you so much Mr. Campbell for sharing your art.  It is an everlasting anchor for one of my family’s happier times.  May you recieve the same comfort and pleasure that you have brought to all of us.  

  • Anonymous

    One of my first crushes was on Glen Campbell.  So tall and handsome with that little southern accent and wonderful singing voice.  That voice still gives me chills as it did listening to this interview.  I remember wanting his Wichita Lineman album for my 16th birthday; I still have that album.  (As well as an autographed post card of Mr. Campbell, in a blue turtleneck shirt holding his guitar, obtained during my letters-to-celebrity youth.)  That was back in the day of more than one hit on a record: The Dock of the Bay; If You Go Away; Ann; Dreams Of The Everyday Housewife; You Better Sit Down Kids, etc.  There are several more of his albums in my little collection.  The possibility of this voice, this talent, this personality fading into the sunset is unthinkable.  But what a treat it is to hear his music and his voice in interviews such as yours.  It’s selfish to cry when you know he’s happy, but I did.  Thank you (and hugs) to Glen Campbell, Mrs. Campbell, and thank you “Here and Now”. – Topeka, KS

  • Eithne_clarke

    Glen Campbell was my seatmate on a TWA flight in the early 80′s; I was going from New Orleans to San Antonio for a meeting. He was most gracious, and when he detected a slight accent, he asked me where I grew up. When I said “Ireland”, his eyes lit up and the for rest of the flight he talked about how much he loved traditional Irish music.  One of the groups he specifically mentioned was The Wolfe Tones, who happened to be friends of our family! Every time I hear a Glen Cambell song it brings back the lifelong memory of sitting next to him that day.  

    Eithne Clarke

  • Janet de S.

    My daughter arranged a surprise private meeting for me with Glen in Sept, 2011. It was right before his show. He is the most gracious, generous man. I’ve been a fan of his since the 1960′s. He spent time talking and allowing pictures and allowing me to hug him and give him a kiss on the cheek. I will never forget these wonderful moments. My heart was full of happiness at meeting my idol.  He is a true gentleman and a great performer. God bless you Glen and your loving family.

    • guest

      How did you get to be so fortunate?!!  I’ve wanted to meet him since my teenage crush on him in the late 60s early 70s.

      • Janet de S.

        My daughter’s mother-in-law is friends with Glen’s road manager. I will carry that memory in my heart forever.

        • RuthM

          Thanks for responding!  I’ve asked that question several times in response to comments on Glen Campbell’s website; no one else has ever bothered to answer.  You may be interested in reading my comments posted on his website, under Tour and Discography, posted under RuthM.  My husband and I recently attended a Glen Campbell concert  in Tucson; we flew from Denver to see him. It was wonderful!  I took a letter I had written to Glen and a lapel pin for him, and I was able to give them to his daughter Ashley after Instant People’s opening act.  That’s as close as I got.

  • Lvcarol

    You and I are about the same age, and your music has enriched nearly my entire life.  Thank you for the wonderful music you have given the world, and for your wonderful happy optimism in the face of this sad diagnosis.  You have given us a wonderful gift.  God bless you and your family.

  • Mannich

    Being a certified music therapist and a fan of Mr. Campbell, I was treated today to hear your show during my drive home.  Please encourage Mr. Campbell not to retire from performing.  The music will add life to his years.  There are many opportunities awaiting him in his home town.  Keep sharing the music and your payment will be your medicine.

  • Patrick

    I am on the far side of 16 but when I hear “If you go away” on my old tapes, I’m taken back to a special time and person in my life.  Thank you, Glen, for making that moment even more special.  Bless you and keep on singing til they tell you to “shut up.”  Hint: they won’t.

  • Johnandrechak

    thanks for this interview!  My heart was in my throat throughout; A life will lived (and living)!

  • Ckoren

    I purchased tickets for his April show at the Turning Stone. I have a special request that I’m know, for sure he would like to hear and honor this request. How can I get this message to him? We will be in the front row… can I send the request here?

  • Karen

    Glen you make me cry. It is so cool listening to you talk about your life.  By the time i get to Phoenix has always made me feel so much. Southern nights are just uplifting, and Rhinestone cowboy is just fun songs, but by the time i get to Phoenix it just hurts and i can feel it so much.  You are just such a fantastic man, i love ya bunches. I am so glad you made the come back, it is so awesome to see you perform. We always loved you and always will. 

  • Duncan

    This LIVING LEGEND !  The memories I have as a teen in the late 60′s and early 70′s,
    driving my beautiful 64 Ford 2-dr hdtp, and listening to this Legend’s Songs.
    Now, as a Husband, Father, Grandfather, and Professional (office), I Pick up my
    Guitar, and Play along with my hero’s, like Glenn Campbell……………..He sang too
    high for me, but I try.   If his voice were a guitar, he’d be a Fender Telecaster—High,
    and Twangy.    Thanks for the Memories Glenn.  The Lord has Blessed you, and we’ve
    been blessed to get to witness your life, and Music.   Keep Pickin Glenn.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/VCZ6JHIJM7AKURQCV4QOERVZ7E Mar

    I have a poster from Danceland Bandstand in Cedar Rapids, Iowa when Glen was a backup man in a band.  I would like to know if anyone is interested in buying it or if Glen Campbell wants it.  Thank you.                       mjfountain@yahoo.com  

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