David Wild: Glen Campbell's work has enduring power
He says Campbell has said goodbye to public life with "great love, strength and redemption"
Like a lot of people around the world, I have been listening to and loving the extraordinary music of Glen Campbell all of my life. Yet it was only this week that I could emotionally bring myself to see “Glen Campbell … I’ll Be Me,” the very beautiful, very musical and even more moving documentary directed by James Keach that quite rightly received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song.
Truth be told, it has taken me a little while to seek out the film because the man who first introduced me to Glen Campbell’s music as a child was an unforgettable character, my late, great father Stanley Wild, a man who confronted Alzheimer’s with true grit and grace in the years before he passed away in 2009. Even when heard on my parents’ sonically limited old 8-track tape players back in the day, the enduring power and beauty of Campbell’s work came across loud and clear.
Watching “Glen Campbell … I’ll Be Me” proved to be a profoundly emotional experience for me, but frankly, I think the same will be true for everyone who takes the time to tune in and share this significant part of Glen Campbell’s ongoing journey. This is because this is a film not just about the life of Glen Campbell, the familiar public figure, or even an insightful look at Alzheimer’s, a disease that impacts millions, but ultimately an intimate and life-affirming exploration of life, of family and love in the face of an all too real challenge faced by all too many of us.
Like the vast majority of us, Glen Campbell has not lived a perfect life, but through it all, this extraordinary musical talent has brought great beauty and soul to our lives thanks to his singular skills as a guitarist, singer, actor and entertainer. To this day, I regularly listen to Glen Campbell’s early work with Jimmy Webb, as well as his recent recordings with producer and songwriter Julian Raymond.
Yet this is not a “Behind The Music” look at any of that, but instead, a look at how one man has said goodbye to public life with great love, strength and redemption with the help of those who love him the most – his family.
By coincidence, the same year that I lost my dad, I spent time producing a TV series called “The Chris Isaak Hour,” and while working with Chris on an episode starring Glen Campbell, I noticed that as magnificent as Glen Campbell continued to be as a performer, he struggled to answer some of our basic questions about his past.
In the years that followed, I felt honored to have worked on the CMA Awards and Grammy Awards that became part of Campbell’s extended public farewell – a process that not only allowed fans to celebrate this great entertainer, but also served to educate countless people about the complexities of human memory, and about how countless families cope with Alzheimer’s in many different ways. That process now continues with “Glen Campbell … I’ll Be Me,” a story that very much needed to be told and now has been told beautifully and lovingly here.
One way or another, we all have to say goodbye in the end, and we can learn a thing or two from one man’s truly unforgettable “Goodbye Tour.”
Because Campbell’s music means so much to me, here are 10 recordings by Glen Campbell that – to me – are among his most unforgettable.
“Wichita Lineman”: How does one of the most frequently heard songs of all-time retain a powerful sense of mystery after nearly half a century? Clearly, much of the credit goes to Jimmy Webb, whose composition is stunning, and to producer Al DeLory and the other studio musicians for the exquisite arrangement, but there is no denying that Glen Campbell gives the performance of a lifetime here as he perfectly inhabits Webb’s musical portrait of a solitary figure who’s “still on the line.”
“Guess I’m Dumb”: Campbell famously filled in for Brian Wilson on the road for the Beach Boys in late 1964 and 1965, but lesser known is this gem written by Wilson and Russ Titleman that Wilson gave to Campbell to record. Though the track was recorded during the sessions for the Beach Boys’$2 1965 “Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!)” album, it has some of the same yearning depth of “Pet Sounds,” an album to which Campbell would also contribute as a musician. Despite the song’s title, Campbell proves his brilliance here with a high-flying vocal that would make any of the Wilson brothers proud.
“Gentle On My Mind”: This masterpiece written by the late great John Hartford has been recorded by everyone from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Frank Sinatra to The Band Perry. (The popular country family trio did a rather lovely take on it for the soundtrack of “Glen Campbell … I’ll Be Me.”) Yet nobody ever sang it like Glen Campbell, who helped the song earn two Grammy Awards, two for Hartford and two more for Campbell, who recorded this perfect performance with his legendary Wrecking Crew buddies.
“By the Time I Get to Phoenix”: One of Campbell’s many gifts is his ability to tell a story, and here he tells Jimmy Webb’s classic break-up tale in 2:42 minutes that somehow have the emotional depth of a great movie. The song was originally recorded by Johnny Rivers, but Campbell made it his own – something he did time and time again with Webb’s work.
“Galveston”: A song that only grows more meaningful, “Galveston” takes us inside the head of a soldier getting ready to go off to war, and in the heated context of 1969 was interpreted differently by different people, including the song’s writer Jimmy Webb and Campbell. The song was actually first recorded by Don Ho with slightly different lyrics, but it is Campbell’s performance that best captures the song’s complex emotions – though Brad Paisley really did it justice at the CMA Awards in 2012 when he, Vince Gill, Keith Urban and Jimmy Webb performed to honor Campbell.
“Rhinestone Cowboy”: A huge pop smash for Campbell in 1975 written by Larry Weiss, “Rhinestone Cowboy” somehow captured some essential truths about the highs and lows of living a life in show business, and Campbell threw himself into the song, a significant factor in the song going No. 1 on the pop and country charts.
“Southern Nights”: Campbell connected deeply to his own Southern roots in Arkansas when he transformed the great Allen Toussaint’s gem about his own childhood memories in Louisiana into this tremendous and luminous pop smash in 1977 that featured an inspired guitar lick that Campbell had learned from his buddy Jerry Reed.
“Still Within the Sound of My Voice”: Glen Campbell’s commercial peak may have been past him in 1987, but he remained a masterful interpreter, as this cover of another soaring Jimmy Webb composition proved. The impressive result became a Top 5 hit on the country chart, while the song has gone on to be covered by Linda Ronstadt, as well as revisited in a memorable 2013 duet version by Webb and British singer Rumer.
“Walls”: 2008’s “Meet Glen Campbell” was an inspired reintroduction that found Campbell well served by new collaborators like Julian Raymond and covering a strong and thoughtful selection of songs, including “Times Like These” by Foo Fighters, “These Days” by Jackson Browne, “Sadly Beautiful” by Paul Westerberg,” and my personal favorite, “Walls” by Tom Petty, all of which somehow end up sounding like lost vintage Campbell classics.
“I’m Not Gonna Miss You”: Co-written by Campbell with Julian Raymond, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” is not just a great song – it’s a great philosophical testament to Glen Campbell and his family’s loving strength in confronting Alzheimer’s with amazing grace.