[Taking another break from my usual fare (politics and religion), I thought I’d share some personal thoughts, brought on by Glen Campbell’s appearance on the Grammys.]
Last night, before going to bed, I took a peek at the Grammys just in time to see Glen Campbell performing Rhinestone Cowboy. They announced that although he suffers from Alzheimer’s, he finished another album last year and is currently doing a farewell tour. His performance was exhilarating, with all the celebration of a victory lap. He kept pointing his mike at the audience as they sang along with him, blurring the difference between those on stage and those no longer seated in the audience. Everyone there seemed truly connected, more like a party than a performance.
Glen showed no sign of being affected by his disease until the number was over, the lights dimmed and his voice could be heard asking someone where he should go now. But at 75 years of age, that kind of temporary disorientation isn’t at all unusual.
75 years old? The idea is a bit shocking. The older I get, the faster the world seems to change. I remember Glen Campbell as being so young. That’s how I think of him. This whole process of aging still amazes me. I don’t think of myself as old. But everyone around me is getting so old. Why is that? Paul McCartney was in the audience (with his young wife #?) and he’s really old, too.
Glen Campbell is an incredible musician. During his career he has played with a who’s who list of super stars. But the biggest emotional impact he had on my life didn’t have anything to do with his music. In 1969 he just happened to be in the movie, “True Grit” with John Wayne. I had just gotten out of the Army. As soon as I saw it, I wanted my 60 year old father to see it. Something about the character of Rooster Cogburn made me think of my father. He drank too much, smoked too much and had the rough edges of someone who, though educated, never lost the tough, country character of his youth.
When my sister and I were kids, he’d tell us stories about summers he and his twin brother spent on his grandfather’s ranch. What he and his brother learned was a mixture of the “wisdom” of his grandfather’s hired hands and how to survive in a world of rattle snakes, mountain lions and wasps. It all sounded idyllic to a child of the suburbs.
I phoned my father and told him I wanted to take him to a movie. I was sure he’d like it. “Go to a movie?” he asked, with the same intonation he would have used if I had suggested he take up knitting. He was real uncomfortable with the idea. His voice squirmed. He cited not being able to smoke or drink as proof of how distressing it would be for him — sort of like having to go to church. He definitely wasn’t a church goer. So, I suggested going to a drive-in theater, and he gave in. It was one of the few times I convinced him to do anything.
Drive-in theaters are pretty much a thing of the past. But 43 years ago they were still a big deal. This was long before Netflix. There were no movie rentals, no DVDs, no DVRs, no VCRs, no video streaming. Cable TV was in its infancy. The only movies on TV were old re-runs. The only place you could watch a current movie was in a theater, and drive-ins provided the “privacy” option for those not wanting to sit around a bunch of other folks.
I was the designated driver. We found a spot, hooked up the speaker, Dad opened his bottle and started to relax. Almost halfway through the film there was a sweeping panorama of the countryside. My father exclaimed, “God! That’s beautiful. Looks like good fishing country.” I don’t think either of us realized True Grit was filmed near Bishop, CA, not far from where we had gone on several fishing trips.
When I was 18, my father and I spent a week fishing the lakes and streams above the McGee Creek Pack Station, north of Bishop on the eastern slopes of the Sierras. We rode in on horseback, packing our gear on mules. It took half a day to ride up there. The guide dropped us off at a camp site, and came back a week later to pick us up. It was the only time in my life that I got to spend exclusively with my dad. Something about that trip seemed to stir in both of us as we watched True Grit.
My father didn’t know who Glen Campbell was. I explained that he was a popular singer, and that he sang the movie’s theme song. His one comment was, “He’s a nice clean-cut kid. Not like those hippies.”
That was the only time I can ever remember seeing a movie with my father. My sister tells me our whole family saw Song of the South together when I was two, but my memories of that is pretty sketchy. It’s when I think of Glen Campbell that I remember watching True Grit with my father and a fishing trip we made north of Bishop.
I pray for the Lord’s continued blessings and mercy on Mr. Campbell and his family as they deal with his progressing disease.