Glen Campbell performs at Hollywood Bowl on June 24 as part of his farewell tour. / Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times
Written by Randall Roberts
By the time Glen Campbell waved farewell to the crowd at the Hollywood Bowl in his final L.A. performance Sunday night, he’d traveled a lot of ground. He’d cleaned his gun in Galveston, pondered Phoenix and what would be awaiting him there. He’d imagined greeting a crowd “riding out on a horse in a star-spangled rodeo,” and climbed electric poles on “Wichita Lineman.”
But Wichita is a long way from Hollywood, and the closest thing to rodeo riders in Los Angeles are celebrity wranglers. That didn’t stop Campbell, 76, from offering glistening solos that spotlighted why he was one of the premier session guitarists in 1960s Los Angeles, or how he became a superstar in the early 1970s.
Campbell is in the home stretch on his worldwide farewell tour, which has taken him across America to deliver one more sparkling smile, one more genuine Arkansas thank you. It’s one final chance to play his string of country pop hits of the ’60s and ’70s, among them the sing-along classics “Southern Nights,” “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Wichita Lineman,” and tip his hat to those whose music influenced him.
He did it at the Bowl with an effortless grace, and had he not announced in 2011 that he was living with Alzheimer’s disease, few in the crowd would have been the wiser. In fact, he was sharper and more precise during this gig than he was last year at Club Nokia, where he kicked off the farewell tour.
Campbell, wearing a blue suit and his best Sunday cowboy boots, walked onstage to a standing ovation. He’s a man who learned harmony as a kid by singing with his brothers in rural Arkansas, who taught himself guitar and fathered his first child while still a teenager, who spent his 50-plus-year career in L.A.
Truth be told, though, the most amazing thing about Campbell’s set, which kicked off with “Gentle on My Mind,” continued with “Galveston” and featured all of his hits, was how curiously inspiring his deficiencies were.
A kind of grace resided within the disconnect between Campbell the man and Campbell the singer.
His Alzheimer’s revealed itself most obviously between each song, when after a little banter he would be told what he was to play next. When that happened, this look of pure joy appeared on his face, as though he were playing the song for the first time.
That reality of a mind gradually abandoning its body is tough to watch, but as the first notes of, for example, “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” began, Campbell’s face grew soft and you could almost see the biology of his brain matter accede to the power of his muse. There was no question which was winning. His muse reigned supreme with each glorious solo. Were they more ragged and stumbly than in his prime? Yes. But that didn’t matter.
All that mattered was the spirit at those moments, and the truth of the adoration that filled the Bowl, both of which Campbell seemed to allude to in his final song of his final set of his final Los Angeles concert, “A Better Place.” “Some days I’m so confused, Lord/My past gets in my way/I need the ones I love, Lord/more and more each day.”
Those words never felt more accurate than as he left the stage. The ovation at the Bowl confirmed he’s got a lot of support.