It's never been my intent to be a eulogist or an obit writer, but increasingly more of my writing space is being taken up by this endeavor. And
one might ask, why? Well as it turns out, most of the cultural, film, and musical icons that I have grown to revere are of my parents generation. And the actuarial tables being
what they are, and even with longer life expectancies, these revered figures are ...dying. And for the most part, artists of my generation suffer from a dearth of talent. We are
squarely in an era that respects public figures who are famous for being famous or infamous. Pick your poison.
But even William F. Buckley Jr., the great conservative
thinker, writer, and host of the PBS show Firing Line, found time to pay respects to the dearly departed. In his posthumous published collection of eulogies - A Torch Lit
demonstrates his ability "to conjure the departed, to savor them one last time as he had savored them", according to editor James Rosen.
Perhaps writer and
columnist Bob Greene sums up my sentiments about celebrity best, "The secret of great stardom, it's defining alchemy, is a mysterious ability to make hundreds of millions
of men and women believe they know a person they have, in fact, never met.
And so all of that leads me to the recent passing of musical great Glen Campbell. In his last
years, he became the public face of Alzheimer's. His and his family's willingness to do this, certainly will help speed a cure and bring awareness to this dreadful disease.
But in the end, I would like to memorialize his great talent. That's what should be remembered.
Glen Campbell Is Cool Again!
Shout it from the mountains - Glen Campbell is cool again! How cool is that? By cool, I mean hip, happening, and relevant. For the first time in a
long time there is a buzz concerning the man who has been at or near the center of pop and country music for almost 50 years. And all that talk and excitement revolves around his
new standout album Meet Glen Campbell.Campbell has had such a long and storied career, I deem it prudent to revisit that career and render a verdict on the
“coolness” or “uncoolness” of the different stages of his life.
Early 1960’s – Campbell began his professional career as a session musician in Los Angeles. He along with other session players became
known as “The Wrecking Crew”. Campbell would play as many as three recording sessions a day for the likes of Elvis, Ricky Nelson, Ray Charles, Righteous Brothers,
Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. Way cool!
1964 – Glen Campbell a Beach Boy? This sounds like one of those rumors you find listed on scopes.com. But this one is
definitely true, unlike the false one that claims that Frank Zappa is the son of Mr. Green Jeans of Captain Kangaroo fame.
Campbell toured with the Boys for a year and a half playing bass and singing harmony at a time when Brian Wilson was ill. It’s always cool to be a Beach Boy.
Mid to late 60’s – With a trio of Jimmy Webb penned hits (By The Time I Get To Phoenix, Galveston, and Wichita Lineman)
and one by John Hartford (Gentle On My Mind) Campbell was on the road to pop superstardom. The man from Billings,
Arkansas had arrived and in a big way. Campbell was competing with the Beatles, Stones, Elvis, and The Monkees on the pop
charts and more than held his own. This was a time when pop music was great and these songs stand the test of time. Cool indeed!
1969 – The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. Tommy Smothers was instrumental in launching Campbell’s television career as
the "aw-shuck"s good ol’ boy host of his own musical variety show. And while the controversial Smothers Brothers own
career went down in flames, Campbell’s flourished by being non-confrontational. To his credit, Campbell exposed many talented
, fledgling musical acts to millions of viewers, but his show lacked the biting humor and political satire of the Smothers. Semi-cool!
True Grit. Let me see, film legend and western icon John Wayne asks you to star in a western with him. How can you say no?
Campbell didn’t and turned in a respectable performance as Wayne’s sidekick. Definitely cool!
Mid 70’s – 1981. Do we really have to go there? Campbell would score hits with Rhinestone Cowboy and Southern Nights but his
personal life would take a tumble as drug addiction and a disastrous relationship with country starlet Tanya Tucker would take its toll on his career. Uncool!
1980’s – 90’s. Campbell would take control of his personal
demons. He would marry for the fourth time, undergo a religious conversion, put out some award winning gospel albums, write
his autobiography, and play Branson, Missouri. While Branson is a nice enough town (SinCity without the sin), it’s known as a
place where former country stars spend their golden years content to rest on their laurels; smile, say a few jokes and churn
out the old hits. That’s all that’s required of you. Nothing new and innovative can emanate from these stages. Campbell’s stint
in Branson alone makes this period of his career the antithesis of cool.
2003 – A much publicized DUI arrest and subsequent jail stint did nothing to help the Rhinestone Cowboy’s career or
reputation. And while some mug shots give off the look of cool defiance, Campbell’s is just plain ugly and only made uglier by
smokinggun.com that I assume will keep it posted for years. Again – uncool!
2008 – Meet Glen Campbell. This is an astounding recording,
not one of your father’s Glen Campbell vinyl records. This is not so much a comeback as it is a reemergence. Thus the title. 72
year old Campbell hasn’t looked and sounded this good since…the sixties. Producer Julian Raymond was instrumental in
the selection of the songs and what an amazing group of songs they are. This is a covers project, but Campbell breathes new life
into these “old” songs and makes them uniquely his own. He covers U2, Tom Petty, Jackson Browne, John Lennon, and the
Velvet Underground. Yes, that Velvet Underground. It’s hard to believe that one could utter Glen Campbell and the Velvet
Underground in the same sentence. But Campbell delivers the coolest version of the group’s Jesus that you ever heard.
Campbell also covers younger alternative rock artists such as Greenday, Travis, and Foo Fighters. While there is the
occasional mandolin and banjo, make no mistake about it – this is a pop record. Bonus tracks consist of classic Glen Campbell
hits remixed. This album will surely make the best of 2008 music lists. The coolest!
The Wichita lineman is still on the line and yes he’s doing fine.
He’s playing sold out concerts in cool clubs like LA’s Troubadour. Perhaps Glen’s next project would be “unplugged” – just him
and his guitar.
Now that would be cool!
The Dreaded “A” Word
Glen Campbell announced over the summer that he has "it". Women's basketball coaching legend Pat Summitt
announced she has "it". Most if not all of us have been touched by "it" directly or indirectly. My dad had "it". So what
is "it"? Well it's a word that you never want to roll off the tongue of your family physician. "It" is Alzheimer's disease. It
is such a dreadful progressive disease that one would rather have the diagnoses of cancer to deal with than the mind stealing disease of Alzheimer's. At
least with cancer, the odds get better with each succeeding year that you can beat it. With Alzheimer's there is no such hope.
And while many diseases have a public face associated with them (Parkinson's – Michael J. Fox, Muscular Dystrophy
– Jerry Lewis who does not have MD but whose name has been synonymous with MD research (until this year), arterial fibrillation – Barry Manilow),
Alzheimer's lacks such a spokesperson. Anyone afflicted with the disease would not have the mental acumen or clarity to testify before a congressional
committee or host a telethon in order to garner the millions of research dollars needed to combat it. Of course we all know the long list of beloved entertainers
and celebrities stricken with the disease – Peter Falk, Jack Lord, Charlton Heston, Arlene Francis, Rita Hayworth, artist Willem de Kooning, and President
It has been speculated that Rita Hayworth's chronic alcoholism masked the symptoms of Alzheimer's. This was also
noted in my father's case. The declining mental state, the rages, the incoherent outbursts were blamed on alcohol. Frustration and anger over the inability to
articulate one's thoughts and feelings could have very well been the result of early onset Alzheimer's. In any event, Alzheimer's eventually cures
alcoholism. It's a hell of a cure.
It was Ron Reagan Jr. in his book "My Father at 100" bringing to light what many have long suspected –
Alzheimer's afflicting the president while he was still in office. Reagan Jr., an avowed liberal, recounts how he would have lively arguments with his dad
over the issues of the day. But late into his first term, Reagan Jr. noticed a marked change in his dad's ability to follow and respond to discussions and
points he was trying to make. Reagan's mental deterioration was on full display in the first presidential debate with Walter Mondale in 1984. The stumbling,
the stammering, the blank stare, the inability to communicate was hard to watch. It seems The Great Communicator failed to make a connection. But all of
that didn't matter, he made a quip about Walter Mondale's age and inexperience in the next debate and all was forgotten. Reagan was reelected in a landslide.
And while Reagan gained the reputation as one who wasn't intellectually curious, it doesn't square with reality. In his pre-presidential era, Reagan was
lively, engaged, and more than held his own in any number of debates. He did have a habit of rolling out old movie lines, but to be able to use them at just the right
time reveals a high degree of mental functioning. The public saw less and less of that over the years of his presidency. Had a physician made a determination of
Alzheimer's during those years, then the course of history could have changed in a dramatic way. His admission of Alzheimer's came in 1994- five years
after he left the White House.
So far Glen Campbell and Pat Summitt have refused to go gently into that good night. Campbell is currently on tour with
family and promoting his final studio album called Ghost On The Canvas. Anyone wanting to revisit his long and storied career can read a previous article I wrote
concerning him. (archives nov. 2008) At 75 years old, Campbell looks remarkably fit and trim for a man of that age. Physically fine but in an interview with
ABC's Terry Moran, Campbell admitted to being 78. No one admits to being older than they are unless you're 18 trying to buy a beer or afflicted with a
The revered women's basketball coach Summitt has stated her intention to continue in her position at the University of
Tennessee. Known for her fighting spirit, she has won eight national championships while compiling 1,071 wins in the process (more than any other woman or man)
during her 38 year career. She survived an era in which women's sports weren't taken very seriously or as seriously as the men's but she almost
singlehandedly changed perceptions and garnered a newfound respect for women's collegiate athletics. Unbelievably, Summitt has been diagnosed with the
disease at a relatively young 59. She plans to rely on her staff as needed for input and coaching decisions. And while one admires her courage, how long
can she realistically stay on in the crazed, pressure packed atmosphere of college basketball? Stress has been known to make symptoms of the disease worse. Will
she simply become a figure head, leaving all coaching decisions to subordinates? Will fans and alumni tolerate television cameras broadcasting tight shots of her at
court side? These are all troublesome issues that will have to be addressed. But in the end, we don't want our Presidents, pop stars, acclaimed
basketball coaches, or your Uncle Fred's mental breakdowns on view for public display. We understand what final tour, the last public communication, and the
final goodbye entail. We also understand dignity.
While viewing a recent Campbell performance at Mission Viejo, California I unintentionally caught myself looking for flubs and
"mistakes" in light of the Alzheimer's admission. There was a point in his performance of Wichita Lineman in which Campbell seemed to be going one
way and his band comprised mainly of family were going another. Then something brilliant happened, Campbell performed a majestic guitar solo and propelled the song
which I'm sure I've heard hundreds of times over the years to a new level. Just like my dad was lucid enough to speak my name and recognize me after
months of incoherent babblings or complete silence. Just like Reagan late in his presidency told Mikhail Gorbachev "to tear down this wall". I was
never a Reagan fan, but I loved that speech and glad he was able to summon something within himself to deliver it. Those are golden moments I know.
Alzheimer's always wins. We only have the moment. And for the moment the Wichita Lineman is still on the line. And yes, he's doing fine.