While covering a Jimmy Webb program some months ago, my attention was turned back to Glen Campbell, a figure who has not been in my radar since childhood. I would listen to "Dreams of the Everyday Housewife" in my parent's bedroom (kids did not have their own personal stereos yet) and dance around in one of those silly private moments that we all have. Although I had no understanding of what "Wichita Lineman" really meant, my young ear knew it was something special.
Upon delving into Campbell's body of work I found that I was aware of just a fraction of his brilliance. His beautiful voice and face would be enough to please the general public, but as I studied his live performances, I heard something more in his voice that any of his studio recordings could capture. A survey of concert performances of "Wichita Lineman" showed a growing artistry as his lustrous voice was used with a growing passion, range and depth. As many people have said of especially effective singers, he had a "tear" in his voice -- a way to bare his soul through his instrument.
Speaking of instruments, I was also surprised to find out that even if he had never sang a note, Campbell would have been a supremely successful commercial musician, due to his prodigious guitar playing. He played a supporting role in some of the most famous classic rock albums in history, including the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds. His mastery of the 12-string guitar is legendary, as he is respected as a "guitar players" player. Campbell even replaced Brain Wilson in a two-year tour. His "cred" is impeccable.
Not bad for a poor old country boy (one of an Arkansas sharecropper's 12 children). Working as an apprentice, (with the support of a couple of talented uncles) climbing up the rungs of showbiz, Campbell was delivered to the nation a fully developed performer and show-stopper.
I became obsessed with Campbell as I often do when performers are more than just a celebrity, but someone touched by something quite divine. So I am delighted that Campbell will be appearing at The Town Hall in New York City this Saturday, Jan. 7. This concert, part of his "Farewell Tour" (due to his Alzheimer's diagnosis) is something I anticipate with excitement and some trepidation.
Campbell has evolved in his 40-plus year career from an irresistibly beautiful and talented youth to a weathered, still powerfully effective artist -- his 2008 "Good Riddance" compliments Green Day's original. These days he looks like a figure in a Norman Rockwell painting, perhaps sitting on a porch smoking a corn-cob pipe and eating shoo-fly pie. His aging visage casts just as an iconic and purely American an impression as when he was a strapping young man.
For those interested in being surprised and delighted I urge you to peruse the large number of clips on YouTube, starting with his youngest earliest bits, where he wailed like a gospel singer, and follow the maturation of his style throughout the decades. Two of the biggest treats are his giddy "William Tell Overture" on guitar and his definitive version of Jimmy Webb's "The Moon's a Harsh Mistress." Happy Hunting.