Alzheimer's is an insidious disease. At its worst, it can rob an individual of not only memories and faculties, but also a livelihood, relationships and a complete sense of self. At its best, with support of family and friends, it can be managed (to an extent), affording its victims opportunities to make the most of whatever time the disease might allow.
Glen Campbell is an inspiring opportunist in the way he and his family have chosen to confront this affliction.
Although unavailable to be interviewed for this story, Campbell and his wife, Kim Woolen, have given several interviews since last June, when they first publicly disclosed he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. In an interview with ABC last summer, Kim said, "Between 2003 and '05, after Glen was experiencing some short-term memory issues, we feared this might be the diagnosis."
But instead of playing victim, Campbell, with the full support of his family, laid out a master plan as to how he could turn this heartache into something positive. This plan, which includes a world farewell tour and the recording and release of his final album, Ghost on the Canvas, has come to full fruition.
In the ABC interview and others, Campbell, 75, made no attempt to cover for his lack of short-term memory. When Ellen DeGeneres asked about the European leg of his tour, he had no problem deferring to Kim in asking, "So, where are we going?" And with a healthy sense of self-deprecation in an August interview with USA Today, he offered quips like, "(Alzheimer's) doesn't bother me anymore, because there's lots of things I don't want to remember anyway."
Several of these reflections have been captured on the new album, released last year, which includes tunes from Jakob Dylan and Paul Westerberg (The Replacements), among others, and features special-guest guitarists Dick Dale and Chris Isaak. Opening the album with "A Better Place," co-written with his collaborator and producer Julian Raymond, Campbell sings, "One thing I know / the world's been good to me /a better place awaits, you'll see." And on the title song, written by Westerberg, he sings, "I know a place between life and death for you and me / Let's take hold on the threshold of eternity."
Videos shot for the new album make it clear that Campbell has not lost his effortless touch with the guitar, part of his package that often gets lost in the shadow of all those megahits such as "Rhinestone Cowboy," "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Wichita Lineman," "Southern Nights" and the tune that launched his career as a hit maker, "Gentle on My Mind."
One of 12 children born and raised in Arkansas, Campbell made his way to Los Angeles in 1958. After a short stint as a staff songwriter for a West Coast publishing firm, his prowess as a guitar-picker eventually landed him a contract with Capitol Records and a job as a member of the Wrecking Crew, a group of studio-session musicians that backed up many of the stars of the day on their hit recordings.
While it's not uncommon knowledge that Campbell played lead guitar licks on early Beach Boys tunes such as "Fun, Fun, Fun" and "Good Vibrations," and on the album Pet Sounds, it is not as widely known that he was the band's first replacement bass-player in 1964, when Brian Wilson retired from touring.
After recording John Hartford's "Gentle on My Mind" in 1967 and becoming an overnight sensation, Campbell landed a spot as a regular on the hugely popular Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Not long after that, CBS gave him his own prime-time variety show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, which featured music, sketch comedy and big-name special guests. The rest, as they say, is history.
Now, on the back end of a career that truly has seen it all, Campbell is giving his fans, and anyone else who might be interested, a hearty helping of both old and new. Flanked by daughters Shannon and Ashley, as well as his son Cal, the farewell tour is offering hits, selected favorites and, of course, tunes from the new CD.
When asked by USA Today how he wanted to be remembered, Campbell was clear and to the point: "I want to be remembered just for what I am. ... I believe in God and in treating other people the way you want to be treated."