Glen Campbell's long goodbye
- 26 August 2011
- From the section Entertainment & Arts
Country music legend Glen Campbell, known for hits like Rhinestone Cowboy and Gentle On My Mind, lives in Malibu with his wife Kim.
Their home in the hills overlooking the Pacific is close to the singer's local golf course, where he plays every day.
After almost 30 years of marriage, Campbell's fourth wife has been by her husband's side during much of his hugely successful career. She has also endured some of the darker days caused by his Alzheimer's disease.
The 75-year-old singer is making final preparations for a farewell tour to say goodbye to his fans and release an album of new songs.
Sitting in their living room, Kim helps to fill in some the gaps of her husband's failing short-term memory.
"I haven't been marred with this thing at all," says Glen. "I accept that I got, what's it called?"
"Alzheimer's," says Kim Campbell.
"Alzheimer's," Campbell repeats firmly.
He tries to make a joke of it.
"When was I? I don't remember having that," he laughs. "I haven't felt any different. What's Alzheimer's? That means that you forget things? Well you do that."
"We want to keep a sense of humour about it," says his wife. "He'll tell a joke and then laughs and we'll all laugh and then he'll tell it again in a few more minutes. And we'll all laugh again."
"I like to joke and laugh," adds Campbell. "I've cried and I've laughed. Laughing is better."
Campbell was diagnosed with the degenerative disease, which involves a gradual loss of memory and judgment, nine months ago. But unlike some other well-known victims, notably Ronald Reagan and Charlton Heston, Campbell says he has no intention of retreating from public life. At least, not yet.
"Glen has always been open about who he is and his life. He enjoys making music and we want to keep doing it and we just wanted the fans to be aware that if he flubs a lyric or something that he's got this condition,' says Kim.
"It makes it a little more difficult for him - if he has to rely on a teleprompter a little bit more."
Campbell's new album, which he co-wrote, is a poignant look-back at a colourful life spent in the spotlight, and the singer's current state of mind.
The lyrics on Ghost On The Canvas reflect Campbell's strong religious faith and the twilight world into which he is slowly retreating.
They were co-written by Campbell's producer, Julian Raymond, who kept a journal of things that the singer would say while working on an earlier CD.
"They do reflect the place he is today and some of the feelings and emotions he has going through Alzheimer's disease," says Kim Campbell.
One track, In A Better Place, includes the line: "Some days I'm so confused Lord, my past gets in my way. I need the ones I love Lord, more and more each day."
Mention of the song prompts Campbell to start singing. He trails off and quips: "I really like that song, you know. I hope I don't forget it on the stage."
When the conversation turns to the good old times, Campbell is on firmer ground. His eyes light up as he talks about the big hits, like Wichita Lineman, which was written for him by his long-time collaborator Jimmy Webb.
Singing again, he struggles a little but eventually recalls the song's classic lyrics.
"I need you more than I want you and I want you for all time. And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line."
He played for a time as a member of the Beach Boys and took part in countless studio sessions with the music industry's biggest names - from Sinatra to Presley.
Campbell's career was marred in the 1970s through his addictions to cocaine and alcohol. He found sobriety but relapsed eight years ago and was convicted of extreme drunk-driving. He was sentenced to 10 days in jail.
Campbell refers now to the "stupid idiot stuff" he did in his wild days and counts himself as "blessed" to have survived.
"I can tell you one thing that I'd like to tell everybody," he says. "Don't be angry. I've been angry and anger is not good. If you stay that way I feel that you die young, if you've always got adrenaline running through your system about anger."
Today, life revolves around his family, music and golf, which he plays every day. His current band Instant People includes four of his children.
In rehearsal, Campbell sings and plays the guitar as if a light has been turned on in his head. He runs through the classics with relative ease, fluffing the odd line. He appears to be only mildly annoyed by his lapse in memory.
Siggy Sjursen, who plays bass guitar in the band, says he is in awe of Campbell's ability to perform.
"The style he's been playing does not sit in his memory, it sits in his muscles and his emotions which he will always remember. [It] is quite astonishing to see how deep music sits - it's not just your brain, it's emotions in your flesh and spirit," says Siggy.
Instant People will be the opening band on Campbell's forthcoming tour. He is scheduled to play dates in the US, and will spend much of October and November performing in the UK.
"He's always been such a great dad and we have never really known a day in our lives without music. It will be a terrible day when that isn't around any more," says Campbell's son, Cal, the band's drummer.
"The best we can do is always pick up guitars and instruments with him and play and have fun because that's how we know everything is okay."
Campbell has a strict medication regime. In recent months, according to his family, the drugs have greatly improved his state of mind.
While Campbell is reluctant to acknowledge the finality of The Goodbye Tour, it will be his last.
"We try not to worry about tomorrow," says Kim Campbell. "We just want to enjoy each day as it comes.
"Oh gosh, yes, one day at a time, that's an old country song," chirps Campbell, as he starts to sing again.
"One day at a time, sweet Jesus…."