Perhaps this is so heartbreaking to write because when I met Glen we were both aware this day loomed somewhere not too far down the road. Perhaps because it dredges up memories of my own mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s that I subconsciously suppress in an effort to remember her as she lived. Today not only marks the day that Glen Campbell passed at the age of 81 but also the day my mother would have turned 83.
I was attending the NAMM show in San Diego a few years ago and bumped into my friend Julian Raymond. Julian is an accomplished musician that I worked with extensively when he was fronting his own popular L.A. rock band. Julian became a record executive and a very successful producer and writer. As we were catching-up he mentioned that he was working with Glen on his new project. A few days later I got a call from Glen’s label to arrange the session.
Glen had just recorded his final album and the artwork had been completed. I was told this was to be his last formal session although I’m sure he was photographed extensively after that while on tour and for the documentary, I'll Be Me on which Julian served as executive producer and was nominated for an Academy Award for penning the title track.
Alzheimer’s was definitely the “elephant in the room”. It was assumed by his inner-circle that the tests he was scheduled to undergo the following week would confirm that he, in fact, was experiencing the onset of the disease. Our goal was to get enough images to satisfy press and publicity not only to promote the album and tour but also in preparation for the news outlets once the word of his test results were made public.
Upon meeting Glen I was confident he had Alzheimer's as interfacing with him was very reminiscent of dealing with my mother at a certain stage. It was as if all social filters had been removed, the essence of the person is on the surface and every thought gets verbalized. Glen was extremely energetic, witty, playful, upbeat and polite. He enjoyed talking in a “Donald Duck” voice. He had amazing stories which he had no problem recounting in great detail and was eager to tell from using a pencil and rubber band as a capo as a child to working with some of the greats. He had no memory of more recent events. He was very formal when he introduced himself - he would square himself in front of you, make eye contact and say “Hello, I’m Glen” as he extend a handshake. He introduced himself to me about every 15 minutes. I only worked with Glen Campbell once but I met him many times.
Julian had a selection of guitars from his collection delivered to my studio and Glen was effortlessly amazing on any guitar he was handed. It was clear that his hands hadn’t gotten the memo as his guitar skills absolutely blew me away. He played complex tunes using a variety of styles virtually non-stop, even while carrying on conversations, never missing a note. When I asked him to set the guitar aside for a photo you could feel his discomfort and separation anxiety. I realized in that moment that the guitar was the only tool he still possessed for clear, linear communication.
Glen Campbell’s life was an impressive one. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame for his solo career with hits such as Rhinestone Cowboy, Galveston and Wichita Lineman. The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour was a successful variety show. He starred along side John Wayne in True Grit and was a member of the legendary Wrecking Crew. His unique guitar abilities can be heard on countless hit songs by The Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Elvis Presley, The Monkees, The Everly Brothers, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Joe Cocker, Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash, Randy Newman, Kenny Rogers, Dean Martin, Sam Cooke…the list goes on.
I photographed Glen on May 12th in Los Angeles. I awoke the morning of June 21st while on location in Utah to breaking news that Glen Campbell had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Immediately there was an outpouring of support while Glen and his family did the difficult, noble thing and worked to educate and expose people to this epidemic that is too often hidden as if it is something of which to be ashamed. Glen continued to tour with his band and family and enjoyed their support for as long as he found comfort in playing. I would highly recommend the amazing documentary, I'll Be Me, filmed during that tour from the makers of the Johnny Cash biopic Walk The Line. Given the gravity of the subject, the film is surprisingly entertaining and uplifting while celebrating the many talents of Glen Campbell.
The way that Glen and his family chose to handle his diagnosis did an immense amount to move the disease out of the shadows and into public discourse. Awareness leads to funding. Glen Campbell will be remembered fondly not only for the way he lived but, perhaps more poignantly, for the way he died.