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‘Campbell Goodbye Tour’ bittersweet

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

Through the storm we reach the shore; You give it all, but I want more. And I’m waiting for you.

— U2

I was listening to one of the area’s “oldies” radio stations the other day ... and since when are the songs that I grew up listening to called “oldies”? Can’t they just call them the greatest songs ever made and leave it at that? If “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Do You Know What I Mean?” and “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” are oldies, then ...

Sorry, didn’t mean to go off on a tangent.

Anyway, I was listening to one of the local stations that plays THE GREATEST SONGS EVER MADE recently, and “Rhinestone Cowboy” came on. Looking back now, I still can’t believe my involuntary reaction.

When I heard Glen Campbell’s familiar smooth tenor, I felt an overwhelming sadness, so much so I had to pull off Philema Road for a couple of moments to let the feeling pass.

The forever-in-my-mind boyish Campbell, creator of such hits as “Wichita Lineman,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” — both great, great songs that get better with age — and “Galveston,” is 75 now. And he’s been diagnosed with early-stages Alzheimer’s.

You’d probably have trouble finding very many Americans past the age of 40 who don’t remember Campbell. In addition to his own singing career, which included 21 songs in the Top 40 and just south of 50 million albums sold, he starred in a hit television show (Remember “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour”?) and had a memorable co-starring role in the 1969 classic Western film “True Grit” opposite John Wayne.

Campbell’s story was one of those feel-good tales of an underdog finally getting that one big break and taking advantage of it. A long-time studio musician, he appeared on such classic songs as the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations,” the Ronnette’s “Be My Baby,” the Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man” and Elvis’ “Viva Las Vegas.”

After years of playing on others’ hits — Campbell reportedly appeared on 586 songs released in 1963 alone — he finally moved out of the shadows and into the spotlight with the 1967 release of Jimmy Webb’s “Phoenix.”

Campbell’s life took a dark turn in the 1970s with his well-publicized descent into cocaine and alcohol addiction, but by 1987 he’d managed to kick his habits and settle into life with his fourth wife, Kim.

When news of Campbell’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis became public, there was an outpouring of love from some high-profile musicians he’d surprisingly inspired. With producer Julian Raymond, Campbell wrote and recorded the album “Ghost on the Canvas,” which the singer says will be his final work. Artists as diverse as Smashing Pumpkins mastermind Billy Corgan, Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielson, Wallflowers frontman — and Bob’s son — Jakob Dylan and the Replacements’ Paul Westerberg joined him for a work that is drawing praise from critics as both musically dynamic and touchingly personal.

Campbell’s even embarked on what he’s calling “The Glen Campbell Goodbye Tour,” backed by his four children.

Those who spend the most time around Campbell these days say he is mostly lucid, but some note uncharacteristically bizarre moments in recent years that may have been attributal to the Alzheimer’s. And they lament the increasingly common short-term memory lapses that are the hell of the disease.

We human beings, especially those of us who call ourselves Americans, are funny creatures. Anything that happens in this country has much more impact upon us if it happens to anyone who has a certain level of celebrity attached to his name.

And when we mourn life’s tragedies, deep down inside we’re mourning for ourselves more than we are the victims of those tragedies. I’m no different. I think of Glen Campbell’s sad future, and I’m reminded of my own mortality. And as much as I dread the pending loss of this man and his wonderful talents, I dread knowing another icon of my era has succumbed to the ravages of time.

Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.