Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Gentle on My Mind

My mother was the one to hit me with the news the other night when I called her for my weekly check-in.  Having moved out into my own apartment last year, I still call home every Wednesday night.  Usually I just nod and say my usual "uh-huh" as my mother excitedly talks about her week, from going to Curves to the latest scuttlebutt at the American Legion Post.  Instead she opened with  "did you see the news this evening?"

"No," I said.  Her voice didn't sound worried; usually when it's bad news, her register lowers.  "Why?"

"You know that concert you just went to?  In Indiana?"

I rolled my eyes upward.  In my 25 years, I'd only been to three concerts.  Of course I knew which one I had just gone to that also happened to be a plane ride away.  I had gotten tickets to see one of the only singers I love who is still alive - Glen Campbell - and only three weeks ago had cheered him onstage in Carmel, just north of Indianapolis.  It was a part of my 25 list after all, as most people my age haven't even heard of him, let alone wanted to go to his concert.   

"Yeah, Glen.  Why?"

"It's going to be his last tour."

I had already counted on that, since he was getting older and had seemed a bit disoriented onstage, even forgetting that it was actually a theater in the round (at one point he looked behind him and seemed a bit surprised to see people back there - which is where I was sitting, of course!).  But I mean, the man is 75, he's entitled to be a little forgetful.  However, I wasn't ready to hear the rest of the story -

"He's been diagnosed with Alzheimer's," my mother said flatly.  "I just saw it on the news crawl."

Alzheimer's has been a bit of a big deal in my family; my grandfather had suffered from severe dementia in his last year or so and it took a toll on my mom and grandmother.  Now my grandmother had been showing similar early signs and my dad's father can't even remember who we are anymore.  I had also spent one summer working at a retirement/nursing home and helping some of the residents who didn't remember me from one day to the next.  Whenever I think of Alzheimer's now, I remember the woman in her wheelchair who would start screaming at thin air - it took me two months before I realized she was yelling at a young man she thought she saw, who never answered her.  I couldn't even respond to my mother.  I tried not to think about what Glen's family might be going through or how he will be in a few more years; I can't imagine him winding up like one of the residents I used to work with all those summers ago, shouting nonsense into an empty room.  Luckily my mother changed the subject of our conversation and once I was alone later that night I started playing my collection of Glen's songs on my computer. 

I had harbored a bit of a crush on Glen Campbell since I was a teenager.  I had found one of his old vinyl albums tucked away in my mother's record collection and thought that the song titles appealed to my somewhat cockeyed view of romance, like "Take My Hand for Awhile", "If This is Love", and "Where's the Playground, Susie?" (which truth be told, I still don't really understand).  This was the Galveston album and the title track intrigued me, even if the cover art was pretty garish.  I remember going home and looking him up on the computer and buying a few CDs after sampling them.  I started with the Greatest Hits and soon learned all his biggest songs - "Gentle on My Mind", "By the Time I Get to Phoenix", "Witchita Lineman" and of course, "Rhinestone Cowboy."  The summer before college, I remember driving through my hometown in the last bit of evening light, the windows rolled down and the humid summer air of Maryland just drifting through the car as I blared "Southern Nights" from my VW's little speakers, and later I know I had some of his lesser-known tracks like "Old Hometown" on repeat in my room.  If Frank Sinatra is the singer I rely on when I feel completely heartbroken, Glen Campbell is the singer I rely on for all those wistful long summer afternoons or lazy winter nights.

I'm not sure how much I believe in fate, but I think it was no coincidence that I was able to see Glen Campbell in concert when I did.  Who knows how long or how expensive his last few performances will be; if people know he's retiring for good, it might be even harder to get tickets.  If it hadn't been for this 25 at 25 list and my goal of seeing a concert I've always wanted to attend this year, I may never have gotten the chance to see Glen.    
It's taken me awhile to write this post, or any others for that matter, not because I haven't been working on my list, but because I've just been so swept up in living.  Aside from the concert, I've been spending time with friends, singing karaoke (post on that to come!), gone roller skating, started planning for Ireland, and taken some chances on new adventures.  I can tell that I've been changing and growing as a person.  I know I still have a bit of writing ahead of me, but for now I'm looking forward to some peace and quiet.  Here's what I'm listening to at the moment, and I think it sums up my attitude right now.  It's Glen's duet with Bobbie Gentry on the song "Gentle on My Mind."  This is Bobbie's verse: "The shutters creek in autumn winds that make me draw inside myself in silence / cross-legged now I sit and watch the endless chase of leaves across my yard. / And layin' down my hairbrush, I lean back within my windowseat and find / that you're moving through the backroads by the rivers of my memory / ever smilin', ever gentle on my mind."