(I have to admit, I forgot how incredible Glen Campbell was; how integral he was to the soundtrack of my childhood. I recently risked dropping “By The Time I Get to Phoenix” in the middle of a DJ set, and a young 20-something year old ran up and asked who it was, taking a picture of the album. Success.
A friend posted this heartfelt tribute on FaceBook, saying it better than I ever could.)
by Yusuf Lamont
Even when you see it coming, the blow is still brutal.
I KNEW, as many of you did that the we would soon be losing Glen Campbell to the ravages of Alzheimer’s Disease. I’ve posted about his art and his struggle a few times since his diagnosis was made public. I’m still a mess thinking about it.
His casual ease on a stool onstage, seeming to effortlessly pour those liquid notes out of his guitar as that smooth, creamy voice floated above, made ME want to make music.
I could go on and on about him and what his music meant to me—in fact, I have already. Today and before. I feel like hell today thinking about his loss, so I’ll go with what I’ve said before.
Finally got around to watching something I TIVO-ed this past Fall—CNN’s documentary “I’ll Be Me”, on the great Pop song stylist and session man Glen Campbell’s battle with Alzheimer’s Disease as he played dates on his “Goodbye Tour”.
I am in tears.
Whether the sufferer is an artist, or a bus driver, or whatever said person does, seeing the rolling ravages of Alzheimer’s march through a person’s mind, seeming to torch everything as it goes is just heartbreaking. Campbell in this doc is s revelation, and you realize how much music can keep a person going when other things fail. You see little bits of his psyche falling away, and THEN you see and hear him with a guitar in his hands—that lilting tenor and those flying fingers with all that music pouring out. Confusion reigning in his life—lost sometimes, but when he hits the stage, the shoulders straighten and the eyes flashing hot as he is as much himself as ever. But…the disease moves on, and as the tour dates roll by, there is a little bit less of him every day. At the end of the documentary, I found myself wet-faced and my heart LITERALLY heavy with sadness.
But I think back to my youth—where we watched “Hee-Haw” in our fifth-floor apartment in Harlem and watched “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour” variety show where he spooled out his stunning run of hits during this peak (one of a few) of his career. He had a run of three hits in particular, all penned by Pop Songwriting Genius Jimmy Webb.
These songs of the late, great Glen Campbell’s are what I call his ‘Great Interstate Trilogy’—all of them titled featuring a major American city and connected by a series of highways: From I-40 East into US-54 East, where you’d hit the interchange to I-35 South to I-45 South. With all that sound of open roads, wide skies and crashing surf.
This is the run from Phoenix, Arizona to Wichita, Kansas to Galveston, Texas.
And the songs themselves are Pop Perfection—The songwriter Jimmy Webb hit a magical creative stride and was extraordinarily lucky to have a peak-of-his-powers Glen Campbell performing them. As much as Marvin and James, Aretha and Jimi, Curtis, CCR and The Fab Four were part of the soundtrack of my youth, so too was Glen Campbell. Because Glen Campbell was no. Damn. Joke.
So, we’ll kick it off with the first leg of the drive, with the heartbreaking journey of his “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” at the I-40 East on-ramp.
Then we’ll ride I-40 East out a ways, a hair over four hundred miles where we hit the interchange to US-54 East to Wichita, Kansas. It’s sundown when you roll into town and you look off into the distance. An orange and purple sky seemingly held up by an endless row of high-tension electrical towers…and you think of her..
Finally, the last leg of the trip—a jog south to the interchange swinging you onto I-35 South and the switch off to I-45 South down to The Gulf. Every mile further and you can smell the sea air that much more. Maybe she’ll be there…maybe she won’t. But you’re there if not in body, at least in soul and heart.
Three songs. In three years. He could’ve stopped there and been GREAT. But he didn’t…and we’re the better for it.
Close your eyes and enjoy the playlist.