Magazine article The American Conservative

I Clean My Gun and Dream of Galveston

Magazine article The American Conservative

I Clean My Gun and Dream of Galveston

Article excerpt

Is there a better antiwar pop song than "Galveston," which Jimmy Webb wrote and Glen Campbell sang in the Vietnam-hued year of 1969? Therein, a young soldier daydreams of his Texas home by the Gulf and the girl he left behind. He describes the things he misses-- "seawaves crashing," "seabirds flying in the sun"--and confesses, "I am so afraid of dying" without seeing girl or Galveston again.

There is not a single note of preachiness or abstraction in the song. Yet in elevating home over foreign crusades, "Galveston" borders on sedition. It really ought to be banned under the Patriot Act.

I had hoped that Glen Campbell would sing "Galveston" when I saw him in concert at the University of Buffalo in the waning days of his morbidly (and accurately) titled "Goodbye Tour" He did not disappoint--though he did forget the name of the composer, turning to his banjo-playing daughter (who looks like a young Laura Dern) and asking, "Who wrote this?"

Such are the spontaneities when live performance intersects with Alzheimer's disease.

There's been a load of compromisin' on the road to Glen's horizon. It's a long, long trail a-winding from Delight, Arkansas, to the Malibu Country Club. Aside from his signature song, the John Hartford-penned "Gentle on My Mind," and those achingly lonesome Webb-Campbell collaborations-- "Wichita Lineman," "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Galveston" (Jimmy Webb understood location, location, location)--Glen Campbell churned out his share of schlock. He also made the worst acting debut in the history of cinema in the John Wayne version of his fellow Arkansan Charles Portis's True Grit. (Portis, Campbell, Johnny Cash, Levon Helm, Senator Fulbright--Arkansas gave America a lot more than America ever gave Arkansas. A priapic president excepted, of course.)

In his daily life, by all accounts, Glen Campbell could be ungentle and mindless. But hey, "Wichita Lineman" is, as Creem declared, "one of the most perfect pop records ever made," and Campbell cut a beautiful Christmas album which my mom played throughout all my childhood Decembers. That's worth something; it's worth more than something.

The mood of the milling preconcert crowd was somber, even funereal. The world is fading out of focus for Glen Campbell, a little more each day, and there was a hint of voyeurism about the whole enterprise. …

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