A Rhinestone Cowboy who gave himself over completely to God
Posted in , Aug 9, 2017
Glen Campbell died Tuesday, August 8, at the age of 81 in Nashville.
When I met Glen Campbell he was sprawled on a couch in his condo in Branson, Missouri, a Martin guitar at his side and a Titleist putter waggling in his hands. The night before, I’d attended a concert at his Branson theater. It had been an interesting show. The first half was a spirited romp through his greatest hits—Wichita Lineman, Galveston, Gentle On My Mind, By the Time I Get to Phoenix—played with such gusto that it was clear he still loved every note of Jimmy Webb’s classic compositions. It’s a wonderful thing to see a great artist who never tires of his material. It was decades after these hits had charted, decades filled with Glen’s alcohol and cocaine abuse, a broken marriage, a declining career, but Glen was still the Rhinestone Cowboy glittering under the stage lights, with that Martin slung over his shoulder. He was more than a great artist. He was a great entertainer.
The second half of the show took an unexpected turn. I didn’t quite know what to think of it. It was Webb’s impressionistic Christian allegory based loosely on the Book of Revelation featuring modern dance, sound and lighting effects, and not too much Glen Campbell. It lasted about a half hour and seemed weirdly incongruous for a place like Branson.
So when Glen’s wife, Kim, welcomed me into their condo which overlooked a slightly burned-out golf course, I meant to ask Glen about the second act quasi-religious extravaganza. I never really got the chance. We discussed his wild days and his subsequent sobriety, his re-baptism in a creek near his boyhood home of Delight, Arkansas. Just as I got around to asking him about the strange second act of his show I noticed Glen staring longingly out his picture window at the golf course. He had grown increasingly distracted, pacing and practicing his putting while he talked.
“I think I’ve taken up enough of your day off, Glen,” I said, putting away my notes.
He smiled and said, “Pleasure to talk with you. Kim and I are real fans of Guideposts and Dr. Peale.” And with that he pulled his clubs from a closet and was out the door.
“He’s a little ADD after six days of performing and eight shows,” Kim said with a laugh. “And golf is the one addiction he’ll never kick.”
Kim and I talked over coffee for another hour or so. She told me how incredibly hard it was for Glen to kick cocaine and booze. “Addiction had a stranglehold on his life,” she said, “until he gave himself completely to God. It was a miracle.”
Branson was part of the road back. It wasn’t always a straight road. Glen stumbled along the way but Kim was always with him just like the songs of Jimmy Webb.
Now Kim’s Rhinestone Cowboy has left us after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s. I never got to ask about that strange interpretation of Revelation that I saw in Branson or why Glen performed it. I remember it ended with a violent storm that shook the theater to its rafters followed by a sunrise and a last number by Glen. I don’t remember the song. It wasn’t one of his hits. But I remember him standing alone in the center of the stage as the spotlight ever-so-slowly faded. There was a long silence before the audience rose to its feet and applauded. The applause lasted far longer than the silence.