Gentle on My Mind

I remember him like this.

Why am I sobbing? Like, hard, ugly sobbing? Like, can’t catch my breath sobbing? Like, my heart is resting on the pulse of the fragility of what it is to be a human on this earth, our very short moments of doing whatever it is we came to do, to be, to shout, to cry, to struggle, to sing, to wail? It’s not like I was a huge Glen Campbell fan, although I did love some of his music a very long time ago. I watch the old video of him and John Hartford on the Smothers Brothers so very long ago, and I peer at his young, innocent face, and I know the way his story turned out — alcoholism, and marriages, and children, and then the scouring horror of Alzheimer’s — and I see that young face filled with the happiness of making his music and my heart just breaks for us all and I don’t honestly even know why.

If you haven’t watched the documentary about Glen Campbell’s long, hard fight with Alzheimer’s, on Netflix (I’ll Be Me), I recommend it. If you have loved someone who fought that demon, it might be too familiar to you, but it was a moving documentary; Marc and I both cried while we watched it. I think I was more of a Glen Campbell fan than Marc was (and it’s not like I knew much of his music), but we both cried while we watched it, and when I texted him to let him know that Glen Campbell died today, he was very upset, too. (You might also enjoy another documentary on Netflix called The Wrecking Crew, about studio musicians in the 1960s — Campbell was part of that group too, and it’s an astonishing movie.)

For some superficial reason, both young Glen Campbell and Gentle On My Mind remind me of another song I love so much, Jon Voigt in Midnight Cowboy — that great opening song by Harry Nilsson, Everybody’s Talking At Me.

Campbell and Voigt both had the same kind of open, earnest face when they were young men, and the two songs share some kind of forward-moving beat, and general sensibility. Everybody’s Talking always makes me think of my dad, and as I cry so uncontrollably for Glen Campbell’s death, I wonder if in some way I’m crying for my dad. Who knows . . . but I do know that I can’t stop crying.

We are just brief thoughts on this earth. We appear and flash like fireflies, and it all seems so important, so big, so true, and we fight so hard and we get sick and addicted and we fail and we try and we lose and we love and are loved and we make and we create and then it’s gone. And it matters so very much, and it doesn’t matter at all, and still an older woman sits alone in her empty living room in the mountains crying so hard because a complete stranger has died, and he touched her life.

Here’s a YouTube mix of his songs, if you want to just stroll through his more popular songs. I hope he finally rests in peace, and I hope his family finds the peace they need after that horrible fight. Thanks for everything, Mr. Campbell. <3

4 thoughts on “Gentle on My Mind”

  1. Oh dear Lori. I’m crying from what you wrote. Yes, we appear and flash like fireflies…
    I saw the title and knew what it was referring to and so went and listened to Gentle on my Mind before I even read your post, and the lyrics are really wonderful. I don’t think I ever realized that before. Why do we only appreciate some things, some people, after they are gone?
    Haven’t seen the film but I will.

    1. The documentary is heartbreaking — and in every way, including the hard, hard ways that Alzheimer’s can be, where the person becomes kind of angry, scary, out of control, lost. It’s beautiful and sad and hard, and now that he has finally died I want to watch it again. When I watched it the first time, I didn’t think I could bear to see it again because I knew he was continuing to live in the finishing stages, so hard to imagine, but now that he’s gone, maybe I can linger in the moments of the film where he was still able to be himself — which was always when he was playing his guitar. It’s really lovely.

      And I still can’t stop crying, and I honestly don’t know why. But thank you for sharing the moment with me, and for appreciating the poetry of those lyrics. The “gurglin’ cracklin’ cauldron in some train yard” phrase always ALWAYS makes me smile with the music of those words. Johnny Hartford was such a gift, too — I saw him perform on Prairie Home Companion once, back in the early 1990s, and he sang this song (which he wrote) and did a soft shoe dance on a large piece of plywood to make the sound and rhythm of a train, and I will never forget the wonder of that performance. That one performance, I only saw it once and have not been able to find it online, has stayed with me for more than twenty years, and I marvel at that. You create art. You have no idea, it’s entirely possible that your work lives on in people just like that. xoxoxo

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