Ghost on the Canvas
By Al Kaufman
Upon first listen, hearing Glen Campbell sing the line, “People don’t know when they’re looking at soul,” evokes outright laughter. There are many who would argue that, next to Pat Boone, Glen Campbell is probably the biggest American singer with the least amount of soul. Sure, he’s the “Rhinestone Cowboy,” and he has had a a glorious career, with country crossover hits like the Jimmy Webb penned “By the Time I get to Phoenix” and “Wichita Lineman.” He even had The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour on CBS in the early ’70s.
But while most people today may know him best for his infamous grumpy old man mug shot from drunk driving taken back in 2003, many do not know Campbell was a Beach Boy for a brief time after Brian Wilson stopped touring with the band. And many may not remember that he was part of the legendary Wrecking Crew, a group of studio musicians who played on albums by everyone from Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra to Elvis Presley and the Monkees. He got those gigs because the man knows his way around a guitar.
Campbell is now 75 and has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. He has declared Ghost on the Canvas his farewell album, which he is supporting with a world-wide tour. As would be expected, the album has a somewhat maudlin feel to it. Lines like “I won’t be here long,” on the love song, “Any Trouble” take on new meaning. Other times, Campbell openly sings of how much he has enjoyed his life, most notably on the upbeat, “A Thousand Lifetimes.” The first line of the CD are “I’ve tried but I have failed, Lord,” on “A Better Place.” But he goes on to say, “The world’s been good to me.” Death looms here, but life is revered all the more.
When Warren Zevon and Johnny Cash put out their final albums, death was close. Zevon sounded winded and tired and Cash could hardly sing at all. Yet those albums were full of passion and urgency; this need to say one last thing. Campbell has that urgency, but also still has all his skills. His voice is as sweet and crystalline as ever. It is a voice of hope and sunshine. And the guitar on here (Brian Setzer, Jason Falkner, Dick Dale, and Billy Corgan are just a few of the guitarists that help out) is stellar. “In My Arms” and “There’s No Me . . . Without You” are basically guitar showcases like the kind songs had in the ’70s. “There’s No Me” especially has an early Clapton feel to it.
So the question we need to return to is “Does Glen Campbell have soul?” The line he sings is from the title track, written for him especially by fan Paul Westerberg, a man who knows a thing or two about soul. He is a man who enjoys life, has battled his demons, and still wants to go out there and play his guitar upon his impending death. He may be more comfortable in a tie and sweater than a leather jacket. He may not have any tattoos or piercings, but, as Paul Westerberg knows, the man has soul.