Glen Campbell’s new album — his true farewell record, despite an earlier recording that was billed as such — is Adios, a collection of songs he secretly recorded shortly after his final tour came to a close at the end of 2012. It opens with his version of a song it’s hard to believe he never recorded before: “Everybody’s Talkin’,” the Fred Neil tune made into a smash hit by Nilsson in the early 1970s. Surely, you think, it was chosen because, without having been written to, it seems to describe the condition of Alzheimer’s.
In fact, Adios seems to be a concept album of sorts, with most of the tracks making at least a passing reference to remembering, forgetting, being stuck inside one’s head, or just saying so long — all the way down to, obviously, the Jimmy Webb-penned title track. A line like “Maybe someday I believe we’ll forget”? Titles like “Am I All Alone (Or Is It Only Me)” or “Funny How Time Slips Away”? You’ve got to commend Campbell’s associates for how cleverly they managed to find existing songs whose metaphors would seem to allude to his very literal condition.
Except friends and family members all insist this “concept” was coincidental. His family just wanted a farewell record that skewed toward the singer’s classic style of gentle, lyrical country, leaning on tunes already familiar enough to the Alzheimer’s-stricken singer that they wouldn’t involve an impossible learning curve. If those tunes mostly happen to bring up issues of memory, that was a bittersweet kismet.
“I promise you, it wasn’t pre-planned,” says producer Carl Jackson, in the midst of agreeing that the songs on the album seem to be thematically grouped. “Even with the title of the album being Adios, we didn’t think about that at the time. That was just one of Glen’s favorite Jimmy Webb songs. It wasn’t like ‘We need to do ‘Adios’ because this is gonna be your last record, or ‘Oh, man, we need to do “Everybody’s Talkin’” because that has this underlying message. We were just cutting songs.”
The singer’s wife of 35 years, Kim Campbell, concurs. “The lyrics — ‘Everybody’s talkin’ at me, I can’t hear a word they’re saying, only the echoes of my mind’ — when I listen to that now and I think about our journey with Alzheimer’s, that’s kind of where we are today. So that song has an eerie edge to me now. Because Glen has complete aphasia. He doesn’t understand anything anyone says to him, and he can’t communicate verbally, although he’s content and in his own world. These were all just songs that Glen had always loved and had been singing ever since I’ve known him. You’re right, somehow they magically take on kind of a different edge, knowing that he has Alzheimer’s. Like ‘It Won’t Bring Her Back’ — there’s nothing I can do to bring Glen back to me now, so I just have to accept it. It’s really sad.”
Glen’s daughter, Ashley Campbell, who plays banjo and sings on the album, says that although any running theme is “kind of coincidental, because these are all songs that he’s loved and played for so many years, way before the Alzheimer’s, but it’s also very fitting. I think life is about that — about remembering, and about cherishing things, and sometimes having to say goodbye and move on. So it’s kind of poignant for every stage in life.”
Not that Adios is just a beautiful bummer. “Am I All Alone (Or Is It Only Me),” for one, is a moment of classic country levity, and includes an introductory snippet of its late writer, the great country humorist Roger Miller, playing the tune to Glen at his home, as captured by Kim on a microcassette recorder, before we get Campbell’s studio version with an added vocal part by Vince Gill. Other less melancholy tunes include the George Jones evergreen “She Thinks I Still Care,” which Campbell previously cut for 1972’s Glen Travis Campbell album. Virtually the entire album sounds like a time capsule lifted from the singer’s late ‘60s/early ‘70s golden age, when he formed an unbeatable team with Webb, who’s responsible for four of the songs on this goodbye collection.
Speaking of memories, fans will recall that 2011’s Ghost on the Canvas was billed as Campbell’s farewell effort in the time. There was no ruse involved: It just seemed like he might have one left in him when the singer came off the road from his goodbye tour at the end of 2012. There was no career strategizing involved in keeping the fact that he’d cut an additional album under wraps until now.