April 28th, 2012 at 9:17 am
More than once, Iâve heard someone remark how difficult it must be for musicians to remember the lyrics to the dozens of songs they sing every night. Similarly, how do they remember the chord structures, the intricate solos, the cadence, the rhythm, all of it?
Now, letâs complicate the matter. What would you do if your memories were fading away, stolen by Alzheimerâs?
A song, Glen Campbell proved on Friday (April 27) night, comes from somewhere a little deeper, and though the country icon is facing a very public battle with the disease, Alzheimerâs doesnât rob you of soul.
The answer to the first question is a rhetorical one, of course. I sometimes forget my debit card pin number, but I can belt out nearly every lyric to every song on a classic rock radio station. Ask me to write the lyrics down, and that might be another matter. But when the chords begin, the memories come back, and likewise, Glen Campbell treated a very full Walton Arts Center to a night of remembrances.
Campbell announced in June 2011 he was facing a battle against Alzheimerâs and had been for the six months prior, too. He then started booking farewell shows, including a pair in Fayetteville.
Anyone who saw Campbellâs performance during the Grammy Awards in February had a pretty good indicator of what theyâd see from Campbellâs local live performance. During his songs, he showed off his voice, kept time and played lead guitar throughout the night. It wasnât some sort of courtesy nod to his former powers; Campbell needed no help as a guitarist (he soloed often and well, in fact) and little as a vocalist. He did get some vocal assistance courtesy of son Shannon Campbell and daughter Ashley Campbell. That duo would also team up for a take on their fatherâs âHey, Little Oneâ and it wasnât a perfunctory offering – there is talent there.
Also joining those three onstage was another of Campbellâs sons, drummer Cal Campbell. Glen Campbell addressed his family members several times, smiling all the while. Campbell remarked several times how much fun he was having, but that was unnecessary, considering the expression on his face already told us the same.
Campbell, dressed for the occasion in boots and flower design-covered gray jacket, also received help from a pair of onstage teleprompters, and while he looked at them from time to time, it would be wrong to say he relied on them.
Thereâs the other side of what could be gleaned from the Grammy performance – away from the structure of the songs, Campbell seemed distant from the eveningâs activities. He told partial stories about John Wayne (his friend and co-star in the original filming of âTrue Gritâ) and the songwriter Jimmy Webb, but never found his conclusion for either.
Several times during the course of the night, Campbell, an Arkansas native, took cues from his daughter to further the proceedings, such as which fret he should capo for a specific song.
But this was not some rote, rehearsed recitation, either. One of the highlights of the night came courtesy of a duet with Ashley Campbell as the two traded licks during âDueling Banjosâ with the younger Campbell on banjo and her father on guitar.
The set list featured all of the songs a Campbell fan would come to expect, such as âWichita Linemanâ and the singalong special âRhinestone Cowboy,â which earned him one of several standing ovations.
But perhaps most striking were the songs he offered from his newest album, the 2011 release âGhost on the Canvas.â
Although Alzheimerâs disease never received an official mention onstage Friday night or in âGhost on the Canvas,â lyrically, it takes on Campbellâs condition fairly directly. He closed with one of those songs, the poignant âA Better Place,â which tells listeners âOne thing I know/The worldâs been good to me/A better place awaits, youâll see.â
Or how about the earlier offering âAny Trouble,â which begs âDonât go to any trouble/You know I wonât be here longâ â¦ âDonât go to any trouble/You know I must say so long.â
He may not be around long – Alzheimerâs is a fickle, disabling disease with a hard-to-determine timeline. During a particularly lucid interlude between songs late in the set, Campbell offered the crowd a thank you.
âIâm always amazed when I come out on stage, and you guys are so kind to me and my family,â he said.
There was no reason for any other reaction from the crowd. Campbell and company perform at a high level and the audience knew the full scope of the bargain – every handout given to patrons called the occasion Campbellâs Goodbye Tour.
There will eventually come a time when the Goodbye Tour must end, likely in some town far away from Fayetteville. Maybe those songs we know so well will finally depart from his memory, or his rich voice will finally betray him. That time is not now, however. The original Rhinestone Cowboy has a little bit of sparkle left yet.
Note: Glen Campbell performs again tonight (April 28) at the Walton Arts Center in a show that was added after the first sold out. Tickets remain to tonightâs performance and can be found through www.waltonartscenter.org.
Glen Campbell set list: 1) Gentle on My Mind; 2) Galveston; 3) By the Time I Get to Phoenix; 4) Try a Little Kindness; 5) Whereâs the Playground, Susie?; 6) Didnât We?; 7) I Canât Stop Loving You; 8) True Grit; 9) Lovesick Blues; 10) Dueling Banjos; 11) Hey Little One [sung by Ashley Campbell and Shannon Campbell]; 12) Any Trouble; 13) Itâs Your Amazing Grace; 14) The Moonâs a Harsh Mistress; 15) Country Boy (You Got Your Feet in L.A.); 16) Wichita Lineman; 17) Hadacol Boogie [vocals by Campbellâs brother] 18) Rhinestone Cowboy;
Encore: 19) Southern Nights; 20) A Better Place