Last Night: Glen Campbell At Stafford Centre
Thursday night may have been the most profoundly uncomfortable Aftermath has ever been watching a live performance.
In the past year, we have seen many artists of advanced years in concert, from Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson to Texas Johnny Brown and Little Joe Washington. Age has taken its toll on their physical abilities to varying degrees, but all of them had their wits about them. Glen Campbell did not, at least not completely.
Campbell, 75, and his wife Kim announced he had Alzheimer's Disease this past June. It was a preemptive strike, they told People magazine, so that "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?" Kim said.
How long he has had it is anyone's guess, but Aftermath has had enough Alzheimer's experience within our own family to know that once the symptoms manifest themselves enough for a proper diagnosis, the condition is already pretty advanced.
The Campbells should be commended for their candor, and even for wanting to give the singer one more chance to say thank you - and goodbye - to his fans. But at what cost? He did flub lyrics, and get confused, and more. Besides making several quips about not remembering things, Campbell asked several times what key a song was in, couldn't remember the name of perhaps his biggest hit, "Wichita Lineman," and had to stop one song completely and start over. Painfully.
On top of that, Campbell is touring with several of his children in his band. It's reassuring to know that he's no doubt being well looked-after on the road, but it has to be heartbreaking for them to watch their dad go through this night after night. In public. It was heartbreaking enough to watch. Whether he was joking or not, when Campbell introduced his guitarist son Shannon, he said, "What's your name again?" Ouch.
The essence of the evening can be boiled down to what happened in the early moments of one song, "Dueling Banjos." On guitar, Campbell flubbed several notes before something clicked and he and daughter Ashley on banjo were both off to the races, picking to beat the band as the crowd at the sold-out theater clapped along with glee. (His apples didn't fall very far from the tree at all, as Ashley and Shannon demonstrated on a haunting bluegrass tune called "Birds" that made Aftermath wish we'd seen Allison Krauss at ACL last weekend.)
It was fascinating to watch, evidence that music can light up areas of the brain otherwise dimmed by Alzheimer's, advanced age or any number of other maladies. It happened several other times, too: A nearly perfect jazz solo on "Wichita," ditto on "True Grit," and the melancholy croon of a lesser-known Webb song, "The Moon's a Harsh Mistress," that could have melted stone. Campbell nailed it, then said to his pianist and longtime musical director T.J. Kuenster, "I really like that song... have we been doing that one lately?"