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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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