Wednesday, August 09, 2017

"Well, I really don't mind the rain and a smile can hide all the pain..."

A lyric leapt to mind the moment it was finally confirmed tonight, as sadly long anticipated, that this world had lost Glen Campbell.

No, not the wonderful ones everyone's sharing, about needing more than wanting and wanting for all time. Not here in this head, anyway, heartaching as they are - but instead:

"You take a K, an E - you add an N and a T - a U and a C K Y: and that spells Kentucky, but it means Paradise..."

And how, with those innocuous words, a tape suggested by this kid to be played in the family car was abruptly stopped and hurled back by parents whose tastes had always seemed so fair and indulgent of, well, anyone who came to fame in the Fifties and Sixties.

Glen, then, a decade or so (and then) ago must have seemed too cheesy a choice - that parents could rebuke a teenage son for musical conservatism, somehow.

Perhaps it was his all-American entertainment-man appeal/image. The tan. The country-riffin' guitar-lickin'. Not the Christianity so much as the Republican religiosity. Or maybe, mind, that time he went off the rails with so-much-younger Tanya Tucker. Or off the roads, drink-driving.

Or simply that early song itself, a country hoedown extolling Kentucky fried chicken with everything but a white suit, bowtie and goatee.

(Ah, listen to that sound: "You take a chicken and you kill it and you put in a skillet and you fry it up a-golden brown - that's Southern cooking, and it's mighty nice..." Hm.)
But fun as I insisted the song could be heard, that abrupt cut-off - just as Glen was about to get enjoyably, enjoyingly going - denied us all, for that car trip at least, the far more heartful emotions ahead.

Why, the very next track on that compilation was "Gentle On My Mind", deftly misleadingly jaunty in his heartstrung strumalong and tugalong in a yearning way Dean Martin's tossed-off version entirely misses.
(Recently christened a new record player this way: "'re moving on the back roads, by the rivers of my memory, and for hours you're just..." else, say, "By The Time I Get To Phoenix", whose lyrics could these 21st-century days be decried as "ghosting" - while also feeling like the other side of The Beatles' "For No One".

"Where's The Playground, Susie?" Ardently pleading, if ultimately resigned.

"Try A Little Kindness"? Ardently somehow optimistic (and what riffing, again, Glen the guitar hero). An anthem for, alas, better days than these.

All were to come, on that particular collection - one of very very many, when it comes to Glen. But also all that lies behind. After all, "Kentucky Means Paradise" was near the start of Glen Campbell's singing career, jokily hokey as it launched him.

As a session man par excellence, he was lead guitarist to go to for the Wrecking Crew - splaying lines on the likes of Frank Sinatra's "Strangers In The Night" while also filling in live with the Beach Boys for a studio-bound Brian Wilson.

That Zelig of the US Sixties songwriting world PF Sloan wrote in his memoir, What's Exactly The Matter With Me?, published not long before his death in 2015:

"Glen Campbell didn't read music. He didn't need to. He was a 'feel' player, and he had liquid fingers. They would fly over the neck of the guitar and bring hoots and hollers from all the cats in the studio. When I first met him, he was being groomed as a recording artist, but nobody really took it seriously. He was on most of the Jan & Dean records, and he was an integral part of the Wrecking Crew. He was an easygoing guy and liked to crack jokes, though he was still somewhat shy. He liked people, though, and people liked him."

Cracking jokes, and cracking out riffs - thankfully there are so many examples both on record and now online that can testify both to Glen's guitar technique and affable interaction, with band and audience alike.

Capitol rereleased a few years ago his run of late-Sixties albums, combining the hits - "True Grit", "Wichita Lineman", "Honey Come Back" - with a few more countrified filler and recordings from some of his live shows.

And what live shows.

One hailed as "Live At Garden State Arts Center" - not just on the sleeve or Spotify listings, but a Tannoy-er off-stage - opens with a brass-parping medley of "More" dipping subtly into West Side Story's "Somewhere". His tenor hits every note with delicacy, except - alas - perhaps the very last one. But still - it's a raucous while sweepingly melodic joy, throughout.

Even before Glen welcomes the applause at the end with, well, this: "Thank you much. Thank you. Hey, thank you much. Feels good when you go like that. Kinda like warm hands on a cold morning. Feels real good, if you're a cow. Thank you much..."

(Cut quickly to plenty of "brrrr" and "hiccup" sound effects pockmarking a quickfire, quicksilver guitar rush through "White Lightning"...)

Much more such banter is essential to the all-round entertainer Glen Campbell  "Good Time" brand, that that got him primetime US TV showtime shows with guests from across the spectrum.

But how come every time, he switches...?

Listen to his delicate and cutting take on Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" - never mind Judy Collins, pure and clarion as her version is. And yet the version on a Glen Campbell record lacks a little something compared to his TV show duet with Leslie Uggams. Or maybe that's only because they introduce such a self-searching song with jocular back-and-forth about how young they were, starting out in this here entertainment industry.

"I was the only guitar player in Arkansas that got diaper rash!"

And then, seconds later, leading into this - Glen harmonising, brushing his acoustic, while ever watchful of his partner, while both in each moment...

"...I really don't know life at all..."

Whether they were his great friend Jimmy Webb's lyrics, or anyone's - US standards, hymns ancient or modern, popsters of the Seventies offering some knocked-off curio called "Southern Nights" - Glen Campbell's voice could imbue words and tune with, well, everything.

Soaring boasting, and hope - listen to "Galveston". Flattening dismay or at least despondency - listen again to "Galveston".
("Galveston, oh Galveston!
I am so afraid of dying...")

"Time" - ah, good good time (where did you go?) A lesser-played Glen Campbell ballad, but one in which he places before us life's simple divides, despairs of both extremes, but then also despairs about where we might just come to - that is, that sad bit in the middle (of nowhere).

"At sunset, I laugh
Sunrise, I cry
At midnight I'm in between, and I'm wondering why..."

Give those lyrics to anyone else and that might just work still. But it's Glen's leap and wail into "midnight" before dropping immediately down again that could just have anyone howling at the moon.

"Rocking" Bob Stanley, in his astoundingly encyclopaedic yet also lyrical history of pop music Yeah Yeah Yeah, described that lyric in "Wichita Lineman" ("and I need you more than want you - and I want you for all time...") as "one that makes me stop whatever I'm doing every single time I hear it".

Same here. And bravo, Jimmy Webb, the writer. But fine as it is, of course we all associate it with the singer - and how ideal, that sonorously yearning tenor of Glen Campbell.

He can break out a riff, and that's how he made his living for what at the time might have seemed so long.

But, oh, that voice. That honey'd sound of someone singing not only about but in itself: love and loss, sorrow and ... being sorry.

"How come every time I itch, I wind up scratching you...?"
("Every time I get ahead, I act like someone new
I waste the whole night talking big
- and spending money too...")

The good ol' Good Time boy having a fine old time of things. And, yes, being unfairly set upon by the women around him, at times. But always knowing that whatever he's done, he's doing it wrong...

Glen Campbell's Alzheimer's suffering has not only been revealed by him and his family in recent years, but exposed. He kept touring - strikingly having on-stage tantrums about his backing band but peeling off impeccable solos, memory there unimpaired at least. 

He kept putting out albums, Meet Glen Campbell and Ghost On The Canvas and this year's poignantly-titled Adios revisiting old favourites while also niftily covering the more modern likes of Green Day and Teddy Thompson. Gee, ain't it funny, how time slips away...
While even allowing the TV cameras into the hospital wards with him. Uncomfortably close, vulnerable, honest.

At one point in one of the documentaries, his last wife Ashley touchingly attests to the importance of their shared faith and his regrets about his past hard-drinking ways - only for Glen to interject, insisting he was really enjoying himself at the time...

Here's hoping he enjoys plenty more in whatever his Heaven offers.

After all, his card should have been marked in advance. Worked with them all? Why, Glen knew Jesus before he was a superstar...

"Hi, I'm Glen Campbell!"

("Bye, I'm Glen Campbell.")

I always wanted to be Glen Campbell. I always wanted to be this Glen Campbell, life at its happiest - sounds like it, doesn't it?

" there's not a day goes by that I don't look up to the sky

And humbly thank the good Lord up above

For bringing you to me in time, to make me realise

That all a poor man really needs is love..."

You've got to try a little kindness, just show a little kindness.

Shine your light for everyone to see.

You'd think. You'd hope.

So long, Glen. You helped plenty of people, well, "stand the strain".

Thank you much!

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