And he did it more than once, on one occasion delighting the audience by rapidly flexing and relaxing his right, uh, breast--a boyhood talent, he told us.
I was surprised when we entered the building. Not much had changed. Yes, they were selling beer at the old concession stand, but the men's restroom in the lobby seemed to have been declared a historic site because not much has changed since the last time I was in it. Nuff said. The seats in the auditorium also seemed to be the same. The ambiance. Kent Stage has done--at least visibly--no major renovation at all. You could have taken me in there blindfolded, removed the cloth, asked me where I was, and I could have told you--in seconds.
Then out came Glen Campbell with three of his children (Victoria Ghost + son Cal on drums) and a few others. Cowboy boots, jeans, cowboy shirt (think Roy Rogers) that swelled a bit in the middle. (I can relate.) They launched immediately into "Gentle on My Mind" (tears were leaping into my eyes already)--and he forgot the words. This happened several times throughout the evening. Sometimes he stopped; sometimes he kept singing the words he'd just sung. On other occasions ("Rhinestone Cowboy") he stopped everyone and started over. On another ("Foggy Mountain Breakdown") he started playing "Dueling Banjos" again, the song they had just finished.
Glen Campbell, you see, is suffering from Alzheimer's and is on his "farewell tour." Several times his daughter had to whisper to him where he was (so that he could thank "Kent, Ohio"); he had to be led in and out; he had to be reminded what they were playing--and in what key. It was profoundly sad.
Because Joyce's mother suffered through the entire course of Alzheimer's, I was alert to what was going on up there. He showed other signs of stage one, too. Confusion. Anger. Throughout the evening he evinced a great unhappiness about what he was hearing around him--barking at his sidemen, his sons, his daughter. All of whom smiled resolutely.
His nonverbal was pure disapprobation, too. Rolling eyes. Frowns of varied density. He would whirl around, back to the audience, gesturing vigorously at a sideman. He would stalk over to stage right, where his son was playing a competent guitar and say--with his face, with his body--I could play that better than you. And, of course, he could.
What was he hearing--or not hearing--that was making him so unhappy? The ghosts of sidemen gone? (In his day he played with some of the greatest in the world.) The distant echoes of the perfect music in his head? The certain knowledge that he surely has, even in his advancing disease, that he is losing it? All of the above? And more?
But what moved me to tears, over and over, was not just the music, the sounds of my own past reverberating around the room where I'd been so many times. But it was the tenderness his children showed him, even when he quipped (?)--several times--that he was going to fire them all. They smiled; they encouraged him ("C'mon, Dad. We can do it."); they manifested their love in the face of something dreary, something ugly, something frightening and fatal. They knew that they had learned from their father whatever magic and music exist in their own fingers and voices and souls. And they were grateful. And compassionate.
At the end, the audience stood and applauded for a long, long time ... and remembered the words that he no longer could:
It's knowing that your door is always open
And your path is free to walk
That makes me tend to leave my sleeping bag
Rolled up and stashed behind your couch.
And it's knowing I'm not shackled
By forgotten words and bonds
And the ink stains that have dried upon some line
That keeps you in the backroads
By the rivers of my mem'ry
That keeps you ever gentle on my mind.