Sunday, 13 August 2017

Thank you, Glen Campbell

Sorry this post is late.  I'm on holiday in Ireland with a dodgy internet connection.

At school, we all loved ‘Wichita Lineman’, even though we didn’t know what a ‘lineman’ was.  It must be one of those intriguing American things, we thought.  When I found out what it really was, I looked upon GPO engineers (as they were in those days) in a different light.

As everyone will have read in their newspapers over the last few days, Glen Campbell, who had a hit with ‘Wichita Lineman’ in 1968, died, at eighty one, last Tuesday (8 August), after a long battle with Alzheimer’s.  He was singing to the end, bringing out a new album Adios, with the support of his family. 

His voice, simultaneously sexy and wholesome in that Country and Western way, ringing out from the transistor radio in my bedroom in Leicester, bared no hint of the man underneath, a womaniser and a substance abuser.  His songs were (are) all about ‘lurve’.  His lyrics have an emotional impact that all writers can learn from, an uumpth factor that makes all listeners’ hearts somersault inside them (especially teenagers, like me when I first heard it).  Listen to the lyrics of Wichita Lineman:

And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line

A hunky telephone engineer, clambering up tall telegraph poles and working in a hanging cage up in the air, offering his heart and eternal devotion – what is not to like?

In his tribute in Rolling Stone, Jimmy Webb, who created the music and lyrics for many of Campbell’s songs, wrote a moving tribute to him in Rolling Stone.  He tells us that Campbell wanted ‘to bring every suffering soul within the sound of his voice up a peg or two.  Leave them feeling just a little tad better about themselves; even though he might have to make them cry a couple of times to get 'em there.”

Cambell does the ‘making them cry’ in By The Time I Get to Phoenix in which he lets us into the agony of a breaking relationship, he travelling around the southern United States and she picking up notes and laughing in disbelief because it’s all happened before.  Much to learn here, from his use of the small actions, and the use of place names which would be familiar to his Country and Western listeners.  Me, the teenager in Leicester, didn’t know much about Country and Western, or that Glen Campbell was regarded as a Country and Western artist.  Country and Western blares out in every gas station and supermarket in the southern and western United States, the sound of the American white working class, music of resignation and acceptance.  Gospel music also has a part in it, but, although Campbell grew up in the Bible Belt, where ‘Jesus Saves’ banners hang from every church, every few yards, and punctuate the freeways more frequently than signposts, he didn’t start off singing Gospel, as Elvis did.  In 1980, he turned his back on his rackety lifestyle and became a Christian.  (I have no details.)  In 1981, Momentarily single and unattached and on a first date, to a restaurant, with Radio City presenter, Kim Woolen, he bowed his head to say a private grace before starting to eat.  That was the moment Kim decided she wanted to marry him.

Now, I hear something else in Campbell’s lyrics, even though they were written before Campbell found Christ, but bearing it in mind that Jim Webb (who also composed psychedelic hits like MacArthur Park) is also a Christian.  I discern a longing for God, running away from God in By the Time I Get to Phoenix and connecting with Him in Dream, ‘needing more than wanting’ in Wichita Lineman.  I don’t think this is what Campbell and Webb intended, but it’s there.

Thank you, Glen Campbell, for all your music and thoughtful lyrics.

Rosemary Johnson has had many short stories published, in print and online, amongst other places, in Alfie Dog Fiction, The Copperfield Review, Circa and Every Day Fiction.  In real life, she is a part-time IT tutor, living in Suffolk with her husband and cat.  Her cat supports her writing by sitting on her keyboard and deleting large portions of text.


  1. I didn't know anything about Glen Campbell! An intriguing post. Thank you Rosemary 🙂

  2. Thanks, Deborah. Listen to his music. It still brings a lump to my throat.