I watched the moving documentary on Glen Campbell’s descent into the hopelessness of Alzheimer’s, and his last tour, as it dramatically progressed (“Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me”), on CNN Sunday night. Campbell and his family (three of his grown kids play in his band) together decided to put together a true farewell tour after he was diagnosed.
It included a stop in D.C. to testify before Congress and lobby top leaders. It will take a major shift in government funding priorities to keep up with this terrible plague that will be riding the Baby Boomer tsunami.
This film takes you through a period of his decline and the heartbreaking effects it had on everyone in his circle. Late in the movie someone remarked, “With all Glen has accomplished in his life, this tour and film may well be what he is most remembered for.” It was a courageous act, to risk such a reputation, to jolt public awareness for solutions.
I am going to admit that in his heyday, I was no fan. I thought his songs were too pop, lacking substance, with bland arrangements, and I didn’t care for his tenor vocals. But we had some connections. He was, like me, an Albuquerque boy.
As the seventh of 12kids, he must have wanted to split that loving but crowded sharecropper’s home near Delight, Arkansas, ASAP, to swap cotton-picking for guitar-picking. So at 16 he dropped out of school and played tough bars out West until at 18 he moved in with his musician uncle Dick Bills in Albuquerque, and played in his country band, the Sandia Mountain Boys. Bills also had a very popular TV kiddie show, and it’s very likely young Glen was playing in the band when I celebrated one of my single-digit birthdays on that show.
Years later, when I was my college newspaper’s arts editor and wound up hanging with Buck Owens after his concert in the Duke City, we all went afterward to a notorious Albuquerque country music dive, and who should climb up on the stage to jam but Glen? Buck was beside himself. I was … eh. Until he started playing that guitar.
I always knew the man could pick. He toured with the Kingston Trio, took Brian Wilson’s place on Beach Boys tours and played on “Pet Sounds,” on Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night,” was part of the legendary session group the Wrecking Crew, played with Elvis, Phil Spector, the Monkees, Merle Haggard — not your average hired gun, by any means.
I learned a lesson when I interviewed Brian Wilson in the late ’80s, as he was putting the finishing touches on his first solo album. If a slew of top musicians praise to the skies someone you don’t see as quite that special, maybe there’s things you don’t know or understand.
In the movie you had McCartney, Springsteen, the Edge, Sheryl Crow, Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, composer Jimmy Webb, Vince Gill and other top country artists weighing in, passionately and some profoundly, on Campbell’s iconic and valued contributions to music, and his influence on their careers.
The local connection? His longtime home is next door, in Malibu, and the Aero Theatrehosted an advance screening of the movie a month or so ago, with a Q&A afterwards.
I WAS AT THE FRIENDS’ MEETING HALL here two nights before that, for the monthly get together of the Activist Support Circle, because their guest speaker was actor/activist Ed Asner.
Now there’s another guy with a resume. Nominated for 20 Emmys, he won seven, more than any other male actor. Only person to win an Emmy for both drama and comedy — and for the same role. Two-time president of the Screen Actors Guild, and later received their Lifetime Achievement Award. His credits could fill a column.
But I didn’t go to hear an actor speak, nor is that why he was invited. Asner is also famous as a social activist. Many feel his popular “Lou Grant” show was canceled because it took on social issues, like gun control, rape, alcoholism, toxic waste, pornography and U.S. military involvement in Central America.
He has long been an animal rights activist, fought for artistic freedom (he backed saving our “Chain Reaction” sculpture), single payer health care, and is especially passionate about finding a cure for autism, which directly affects his family.
You’d think the enthusiastic but clueless guy who identified himself, during the question period, “with embarrassment” as a cousin of our state senator Ben Allen (who co-sponsored the bill now on the governor’s desk which would require almost all school children to be vaccinated against childhood diseases), might have done a little research. Just a little. He went on and on about how terrible this law was, what a violation of freedom and parental rights, and expected Asner to back him up.
But Asner’s deep involvement meant he knew the case against vaccinations as a cause of autism is clearly based on false science, and Ed gently schooled the man about the one doctor “who used faulty methods to come to his conclusions, and in fact falsified his research,” and reminded him what a scourge these childhood diseases were before vaccines eliminated them. He pointed to our recent outbreak of measles here as a clear sign that this law is necessary, to protect families.
I have always been a proud lefty, but this crowd included some fellow travelers hard to love. Like the woman who asked Asner if he didn’t think the President’s historic, risky, obviously heartfelt eulogy for slain Charleston minister Clementa Pinckney wasn’t just “an advertisement” for his gun control agenda? Asner seemed to stumble a bit for a response, then basically said, “No.”
Then there was the big burly bearded guy who gave a polished, very funny (Asner laughed) presentation of his “We” society concept. I went up to him afterwards and offered a lame joke, suggesting this would go over well in France where they are used to saying “oui.”
“Hey man,” he reacted with great annoyance, if not anger. “This is not a joke, you know.” I guess he gets to joke, but no one else does.
Proving again that idealogues usually lack a sense of humor. I’d rather hang with Glen Campbell, even now.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “What matters most is how well you can walk through fire.” —Bukowski
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for almost 30 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.