We’re always good at celebrating the work of artists a day or a week too late. Nearly always immediately following their death. And a big part of that is the universally possessed frailty of “Don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” I’m writing this now because I’ve spent the last few days listening to Glen Campbell’s latest, and apparently last CD, “Ghost On The Canvas,” and I want to say this now..to anyone listening…while Glen’s still around.
I grew up on Glen Campbell. He had a tv show when I was a kid, and his records were played in constant rotation on the radio and on my family turntable. My parents loved him, my grandparents loved him, and so did I. It wasn’t until I became a professional musician that I not only found a true appreciation for his masterful guitar skills, but realized that his singing, which I took for granted, was out of this world amazing. I also learned about his dues paying background, and was further astounded. This guy played guitar on “Pet Sounds.” He played on “Strangers in the Night” by Frank Sinatra, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” by The Righteous Brothers, and “I’m a Believer” by The Monkees, among many others. He was a studio badass.
Then his solo career exploded in the 60s with songs like, “By The Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Galveston” and “Wichita Lineman,” followed by another huge wave of hits like “Southern NIghts” and “Rhinestone Cowboy.” But then, as will often happen with music careers, his success on the charts diminished. This didn’t stop him from continuing to tour, but by that time, I was one of the fans that sort of “moved on” and didn’t keep up with him. I’d hear about him in the tabloid press once in awhile when his private demons became public, but those headlines only bummed me out because I wanted to think of him as I remembered him from my childhood.
I was on a long concert tour about a dozen years ago and was flipping the dial on my hotel room tv when I spotted Glen singing live on a church stage somewhere. It was a Christian program and Glen was singing mostly gospel songs and hymns. It was live, and this was way before Autotune (not that Glen ever needed that) and I sat and watched and listened as my jaw fell further to the floor. His singing was sublime. It was deeply soulful, and true and yet vocally challenging. I’m not talking about “American Idol” style acrobatics that are designed to fake the listener into thinking you’re actually interpreting a song to get to the next round. I’m talking the “real shit.”
Witnessing this sparked a new interest in Glen that never waned. I kept up with what he was doing, even though much of the last decade there had been little to keep up with. When I started having some success as a writer-producer at Country radio I began asking various record company execs about me doing a new album with Glen. It became my pet dream project. I wanted to write songs for that voice which, even into his sixties then, was only, if anything, better. No one seemed to share my enthusiasm but many were eager to see if I had songs for their latest teen-pop-country-crossover act. If I’m honest, I could have knocked on more doors…and harder…to see if I could find someone interested in a new Glen Campbell album, but life and ongoing career got in the way. Besides, I didn’t even know the man. Had never met him and didn’t know anyone in his inner circle. It was simply a musical fantasy.
Within a couple years, another man who shared my fantasy turned it into reality. Julian Raymond got Capitol Records to release, “Meet Glen Campbell” in 2008. With Julian producing, he made an album with a much smarter concept than what I’d have done. Instead of original songs, he had Glen cover mostly hit songs by some of our finest contemporary and classic songwriters, but managed to turn them all into tracks that sounded like Glen invented them. Part of me wanted to hate the CD for my own insecure reasons, but I couldn’t. I loved it. And Glen was singing just as I wanted to hear him. In the now. How grateful I am to Mr. Raymond, envy and all.
Last year, Glen announced he was battling Alzheimer’s Disease and was releasing a farewell album, “Ghost On The Canvas” and doing his last round of concerts. The news made me so sad, and I found myself talking to people about Glen and listening to all his old catalog in my car whenever I was behind the wheel. I bought, “Ghost On The Canvas” the day it was released. But I kept finding excuses not to listen to it. It was hands down the most anticipated record in my world in ages, and I’d look at the cover and read the song titles, but I wouldn’t play it. And I didn’t give my unwillingness to do so much thought. “I want to really sit down and listen in my studio on great speakers and not have any distractions, and it’s too busy right now” was typical of the excuses I offered myself. So I didn’t listen…until last night.
Driving home from a gig I did about 2 hours away from my house, at around 10pm, I turned on my car iPod and let it play. The first song, “A Better Place,” had tears streaming down my face before the end of the first verse. I had to listen to that song 4 times before moving on to the others, and I listened to Glen Campbell all the way home. This morning I shared the record with my wife, who’s also a big fan of Glen’s voice. By the end of “A Better Place,” she was wiping away tears, too. I’m telling anyone and everyone I know to listen to Glen Campbell. I don’t even care which song or record. As long as it’s Glen.
I’ve never met Glen Campbell and likely never will. But I realized today that the reason I kept putting off listening to “Ghost On A Canvas” was because it appears to mark the end of Glen’s music. And that’s a reality I didn’t want to accept, and still don’t. It’s as if I do have a personal connection to him, but it’s all my own. So I’m spending some time celebrating the gift that is Glen Campbell’s talent…now…before it’s too late.