It had been a long day. Testy emails, summer heat so intense you felt like your shoes would melt to the pavement, tricky problems with an advertising campaign. And then I saw it. The notice that one of my musical heroes was touring and would soon be in our area was all I needed. We were going and that was that. Funny how the mere thought of something to look forward to can change your day so quickly.
My respect for this man was not wrapped around his numerous and evident talents. That would be easy. His long successful career had created a household name most of us easily recognize. I love his music and I love his voice.
Yet what I admired was his soul. I was impressed with him. In addition to struggling with addictions, failed marriages and relapses, he publicly announced that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The wretched disease that takes away your spirit, bit by bit, day by day. Within the same year of this announcement, he produced a new album (Ghost on the Canvas) and went on tour. Now that takes some gumption.
As we arrived for the concert, I wondered what he would play. Would he share stories with us about some of his past experiences? Would he play some of his new songs? Luckily, he was performing at The Birchmere, a little gem of a listening club located in Northern Virginia. It’s acoustically sound and intimate. Perfect.
A few songs played by a small opening act started the evening – they were good and there was a reason – these were his children. As Glen Campbell was led to the stage the enormity of the evening swept me. Here he was, embracing his disease, keeping on with life as he grabbed his guitar to play for us.
Looking down our table, the audience was filled with us middle-agers, some who had seen him perform live when we were much younger, many who had canes and walkers, and the soft spot for me – a gentleman with cerebral palsy sitting front and center, ready to enjoy the evening.
Glen started with an obvious determination, sometimes missing words or getting a bit confused. It didn’t phase any of us, we were just happy to see him out and about. His kids, who are also part of his band, and his longtime musical conductor and keyboard player, T.J. Kuenster, were incredible as they watched over him carefully to help guide him through a song, nudging the evening along its path. They would smile, joke, do what they needed to keep Glen and the audience engaged and comfortable.
It’s hard to capture and share the beauty of the human spirit in action. Small gestures always work for me, someone standing up to open a door for someone else, sharing a smile with a homeless man while shuffling into a metro car, hugging a coworker who just lost a pet. We are all connected and when we let our guard down, when we give to others, it becomes so incredibly beautiful; it can be hard to take in.
That’s how this night was for me. I was so moved by the love that was shared among the band, by the bravery Glen Campbell showed, by the excited movements of the handicapped visitor front and center, that I couldn’t keep it in. I cried from the first song to the last and the entire way home. There is an undeniable power when we open up, when let our guards down, when we are simply and most perfectly, human.
Standing in front of us, showing us who he is, how he is loved and how his children will carry his talents along, was a treat that put my frustrating days, and the petty people and insignificant frustrations in place.
We are here for a quick blink, this time goes fast and it’s evenings like these that remind me of this: if you are fully and completely and unequivocally you, you are giving the rest of us a gift. This provides us a connection, and when shared, when we are exposed and loving, there is nothing greater.
Glen said it best in an interview last year when asked how would he like to be remembered? His reply, ‘just for what I am. I’m Glen Campbell, I believe in God, I believe in treating other people the way you want to be treated, and to help others less fortunate.’ He then followed up with ‘music is really incredible, it’s a gift and I’m thankful.’
So are we Glen, so are we. Thank you for being you.