Those lyrics are the first words to one of my favorite songs.
“I know every crack in these dirty sidewalks of Broadway.”
I know every crackle and pop in the album I played over and over as a kid. “Rhinestone Cowboy” was a theme song of my youth. It still makes my heart swell when I hear it. Today my heart breaks as Glen Campbell, the singer who made the song famous, has passed away at the age of 81 from a battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
Campbell and his music touched my life in many ways. As a kid growing up in the 1970s in rural Colorado, his music was common on the AM radio stations we listened to. I loved his hits and could relate to them in many ways. I took great pride in being a country boy, so naturally the song “Country Boy” connected with me. His “Southern Nights” was also a natural selection in the soundtrack of my youth. “Have you ever felt a Southern night?” Yeah, I have. Every night is a Southern night with me.
Although I’ve always liked songs like “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” it wasn’t until I visited those places as an adult that I really learned to appreciate them. Other songs of his just made me happy. “It’s Only Make Believe,” “Gentle On My Mind,” and “Try a Little Kindness” are just a few that I could never get tired of listening to.
I remember watching “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour” on TV (yeah, I’m that old) and really enjoying the music, the guest stars and the laughter. I remember watching it with my dad. There are not many TV shows that we share a common interest in but that was one of them.
Looking back, I was a die-hard country and western music fan as a kid. I listened to a lot of Willie and Waylon, George and Tammy, Conway and Loretta, Moe and Joe, and tons of other classic legends. The ones that I liked most, however, were the balladeers. You’ve heard of power ballads and anthem rock, well Glen Campbell, John Denver, Eddie Rabbitt and the like were the country anthem singers and the original power balladeers that in many ways paved the way for the rock-n-rollers.
Their genre of country music changed the game for the industry and led to many pop crossovers. There are some who say their type of music was the beginning of the end of classic country and western music. Others credit them as the leaders of country music who took it from honky-tonks to stadiums and arenas. However you look at them, their mark on country music and in my life are indelible.
I moved away from country music in the 1980s. I came back in the early 1990s aboard the Garth Brooks bandwagon. I left it again at the end of the ’90s for contemporary Christian music. Today I like listening to a wide variety of old favorites, as the new music just doesn’t appeal to me. Glen Campbell is pretty prominent in the play list on my iPhone.
I only got to see him in concert one time. He was playing at a church in Denver in 1998. I bought a pair of tickets and emailed a bunch of friends to see if anyone was interested in joining me. I got one reply. It was a snowy evening and we went down, only to find the concert was oversold and seats were hard to come by. We sat on the backs of folding metal chairs against the back wall of the sanctuary. It was uncomfortable but the only way we could see short of standing for the whole show.
Campbell’s daughter performed with him and he sang many of the songs I loved. He did not, however, sing “Rhinestone Cowboy” and that has always disappointed me. Still, I had a great time and thoroughly enjoyed the company. You see, the friend who responded to my email is someone who will always be gentle on my mind. I hope that I will always be her country boy and rhinestone cowboy. My date that evening is now my wife of nearly 18 years. It was our first date and a very memorable time.
We were both crushed by the news of Campbell’s passing. He will always have a special place in our hearts and lives. Little did we know at the time that his concert would be the beginning of a lifetime together. Thank you Glen Campbell for the good memories and good times.
Speaking of country music legends
Last week I had the honor of doing a phone interview with Michael Martin Murphey. He is another of the many country artists I grew up listening to. I had “Wildfire” on a 45 and wore it out. I took advantage of the opportunity to thank him for the song and all the wonderful memories it gave me while I was growing up. His reply to me was to not grow up and keep listening. That was timely, as my birthday had just recently passed and I was really feeling my age.
If he can still be a kid at 72 I can certainly continue to do the same 20 years his junior. All I need to do is put on some good old fashioned country and western music and let the good times roll!