Dean Martin, Glen Campbell and I
OK, the headline is a bald-faced lie. Dean Martin, Glen Campbell and I have never ever hung out together, at least in person. Plus, Deano is dead now these 16 years come Christmas Day. And the 75-year-old Campbell, who performs this Sunday in a Marshall Artist Series performance at Huntington’s Keith-Albee Theater, is on a final ‘Goodbye Tour.’ So, the chance for us to head out for a beer or more likely a Scotch (for Martin) has long passed me by, alas. (BTW, this fascinatingly Obsessive Compulsive website of favorite drinks of celebrities and historical figures has Martin’s favorite drink as just Scotch. But his son, Ricci Martin, wrote in “That’s Amore: A Son Remembers Dean Martin” that his Dad usually had a J&B scotch and soda he nursed through the performance on his old TV show and sometimes it was just apple juice.)
What got me to thinking about Campbell and Martin was this clip above. I came upon it when I got tapped to write a short Charleston Gazette art section item about Campbell’s upcoming show in Huntington. There’s pathos in this Farewell Tour as Campbell was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s earlier this year. I’ve written about my mom’s difficult exit out of this life from the same disease, so my heart was doubly touched by some of the tales I came upon while Googling for background on Campbell’s condition.
For instance, in the 06.22.11 People magazine article in which Campbell and his wife, Kim, revealed his diagnosis, she said they did so because they wanted his fans to be aware of the musician’s condition when he takes the stage on this tour:
“Glen is still an awesome guitar player and singer,” says Kim. “But if he flubs a lyric or gets confused on stage, I wouldn’t want people to think, ‘What’s the matter with him? Is he drunk?'”
This was no idle concern. Perhaps their going public had something to do with a review of a concert earlier this summer before he revealed the diagnosis, as this 06.24.11 L.A. Time editorial described:
According to the People article, Campbell “repeats himself frequently, struggles to recall details of his life and is unsure of his age.” Earlier this month — before he made his condition known — a sold-out concert he gave in Indiana was panned by a critic who called the singer “unprepared at best and disoriented at worst.”
Yet as difficult as it is to see how age has weathered and worn-down his once apple-cheeked face, it was a pleasure looking back through Campbell’s career via the time machine of YouTube. Campbell has that same quality of soaring, silvery voice and heart that John Denver had. Much hipness and bad attitude has taken pop singers far into successful careers. But Campbell won out on vaulting voice, cowboy good looks and capable guitar playing alone, even while — in retrospect — having long stretches of looking quite the square with his goofy neck scarves and helmet hair. But they are only goofy seen in retrospect, viewed from the vantage point of a post-hip age where snarkiness, camp and attitude are the defining lingua franca of the popular world. Campbell’s voice still gets to me, through all the neck scarves.
I still get tossed by hearing the eerie lonesomeness of “Wichita Lineman” even despite violin strings so syrupy you could pour them over pancakes. “By the Time I Get To Phoenix” — same syrup, but same haunting effect. (Of course, one must share the kudos with the songwriter of these and many other classic songs, the great Jimmy Webb.)
Then I come to this video of Dean Martin and Glen Campbell, pulling off a ridiculously fun duet. In the popular music pantheon of the day, it was like mixing cream soda and, well, J&B scotch. Upon reflection, it came to me that this kind of TV ballad singing and pop dueting was where I first checked the hat of my attention when it came to the singing I loved. My first albums would come along — Neil Young, Elton John, and then later Talking Heads, the Ramones, etc. But it was my mom’s Glen Campbell records and Dean Martin, cigarette in hand, on “Johnny Carson” and countless TV specials, where I first got hooked by big, showy singers who came out on stage with the sole purpose of trying to blow you away with a song and their voice. And, yes, often a dozen massed violins sweet as Karo Syrup.
So, Glen Campbell is so uncool that he is beyond cool. Dean Martin was always cool, but pairing him with Glenn Campbell is beyond Beyond Cool. Even though the aspect ratio of this old TV clip is off, I have one thing to say: Enjoy. Two pop masters at the top of their game. And may Glen move as gently through his illness as his singing was as gentle on so many minds.
Glen Campbell’s “Goodbye Tour” show starts 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11, at Huntington’s Keith Albee Performing Arts Center. Tickets, $25, $40, $69. Call 304-696-6656 or get tickets online at Ticketmaster.com.