Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Bryce Gonzales, Produced by Jonathan Wilson at Fivestar Studios, Los Angeles, Calif.
Glen Campbell walked down the steps that run along the residence - which belongs to Conor Oberst when he's in town -- that sits on the property of Fivestar Studios in Laurel Canyon. He looked healthy and dashing in a yellow Western shirt, slacks and boots. He leaned on his wife, Kim, for information and for deciphering the names offered with handshakes in introductions. He asked for a sparkling water and was overjoyed when someone brought him one, forgetting that he made the request, instead believing that someone had just read his mind - an outcome that could be considered exponentially better.
It was an extraordinarily beautiful and sunny early May day and Campbell, the 76-year-old country legend was relishing it, happy to be there for whatever reason it was. None of the above should be read or misconstrued as tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of his battle with Alzheimer's disease, but it's his reality - the forgetfulness, the difficulties with names and the constant reminding - all asked for and delivered with grace, humility, kindness and a smile. He immediately sensed that he'd been to that spot before - at a party with Jackson Browne back in the 70s or 80s - and everyone around him insisted that he was probably right, as those old memories are still mostly sharp and vivid. The outdoor grill and the rope swing dangling from a fat limb of a tree growing by the fire pit were likely new to the yard, but the general layout triggered something.
It might be a similar thing when he plays his guitar and sings his songs. He couldn't be sharper and he couldn't sound more at peace. He gives off a glow and an innocence when he sings - even when it's those songs that he's played thousands of times for millions of people over the years. It's incredible listening to the words to those classic hits that he cut as a solo artist, while still working mostly as a session artist with the Wrecking Crew and as a touring member of the Beach Boys - most of which were written by other men - and how they are so touching and relevant to his life today. John Hartford's "Gentle On My Mind" is particularly poignant as Campbell fights this disease. He sings about the long-gone, but not long-lost memories of an old love and an old face, as the rambling around the country took him to all the corners and backrooms. Those memories were saviors then and they must perform the same duties for him now, only all the more heroically. These memories are those flickering lights that stand out in the dimmed passageways. When he sings about his memory keeping a specific woman "ever gentle" on his mind, it tears you up a little bit more these days. It's almost like it hurts, but as he sings those words, you can tell that Campbell believes in them even more now than he ever did. The song's meaning has elevated itself to a place that's even more personal. He sings, "It's not clinging to the rocks and ivy planted on their columns now that bind me/Or something that somebody said because they thought we fit together walking/It's just knowing that the world will not be cursing or forgiving/When I walk along some railroad track and find/That you're moving on the back roads by the rivers of my memory and for hours you're just gentle on my mind," and you swell with the wonderful knowledge that he has all that and it's not going anywhere.
Glen Campbell Official Site