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