One of the earliest record albums I can recall purchasing, with my own money saved from allowances and occasional lawnmowing gigs, was this one, by Glen Campbell. Glen was billed as a country artist, but he really wasn’t. He was a popster, and those syrupy string arrangements and smooth, non-twangy vocals ensured that housewives in Kalamazoo would purchase his records. Truck drivers on the road between Abilene and Wichita, too. Glen had that kind of appeal.But my parents approved of him, and when you were eleven years old and forced to play your musical purchases on the big Magnavox stereo in the living room, that was important. And, in truth, I liked Glen Campbell just fine. I didn’t know it at the time, but there were covers of Donovan and Roy Orbison and Harry Nillson on this album as well, and they were lovely things. But mostly I listened because of the title track, which was a John Hartford song, and told the tale of a guy on the road, one of those “I love ya, babe, but don’t tie me down” songs of the ‘60s that seemed to define the times. But there were such sweet lines in that song:
I dip my cup of soup back from the gurglin'
Cracklin' caldron in some train yard
My beard a roughenin’ coal pile
And a dirty hat pulled low across my face
Through cupped hands 'round a tin can
I pretend I hold you to my breast and find
That you're waving from the backroads
By the rivers of my mem'ry
Ever smilin' ever gentle on my mind
Oh, that was lovely, and still is, and although my eleven-year-old brain had no real reference points to understand such lines, already the nascent romantic in me was picking up on the poetry, and the longing and the yearning. That was a tender song, and Glen Campbell sang it beautifully.I bought Glen’s next few albums, too, and liked them a lot, and so did my parents, and we sat around on Sunday evenings and watched the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour on CBS, which was an old-fashioned variety show like they don’t make anymore. And so my late childhood and early adolescence is filled with memories of this man and his music. Some of it, in retrospect, was overwrought and corny. Much of it holds up just fine, and I still take pleasure in listening to it.
Today is his 78th birthday. He has Alzheimer’s now, and it’s unclear how much of this history he recalls. The mind is a tricky and sad thing sometimes. Mine is gentle with his memory, and I’m thankful for his music.