I was 4 when the song Rhinestone Cowboy was released, and it caught my imagination in a big way. We had a car with a fold-down booster-seat type thing, and I clearly remember riding between my parents, in those heady days before seat belts and car seats, and singing along.
[Take a minute to imagine, if you will, how much my brother must have enjoyed my singing. Who wouldn’t want an incessant concert, featuring such classics as the entire “Free to Be You and Me” soundtrack and Captain & Tennille’s classic “Muskrat Love,” delivered by their little sister at top volume? You’re welcome, Snarky Assbadger!]*
As soon as I heard the opening notes, I was no longer a tangle-haired, skinned-knee kid, but rather the Rhinestone Cowboy (cowgirl? cowperson?) himself, riding out on my horse in a star-spangled rodeo to wild applause and tremendous personal satisfaction.
As you already know, Glen Campbell died earlier this week. He didn’t write Rhinestone Cowboy – a gentleman named Larry Weiss did – but he certainly brought it to life.
Fast forward some decades later, and Wichita Lineman replaced Rhinestone Cowboy as my personal Glen Campbell favorite, largely for its line, “And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time.” Was there ever a more sweeping and poignant statement of love?
Jimmy Webb, who wrote Lineman, summed up his intentions with the song in an interview with American Songwriter: “What I was really trying to say was, you can see someone working in construction or working in a field, a migrant worker or a truck driver, and you may think you know what’s going on inside him, but you don’t. You can’t assume that just because someone’s in a menial job that they don’t have dreams … or extraordinary concepts going around in their head, like ‘I need you more than want you; and I want you for all time.’ You can’t assume that a man isn’t a poet. And that’s really what the song is about.”
I like that — “you can’t assume that a man isn’t a poet.” I think there’s a poet inside all of us, and by that I don’t mean an actual poet (although maybe that is your bent, and if so, by all means, go for it), but an urge towards something bigger, something that marks the world in a way that says to future generations, “I was here. My life mattered.” Maybe it’s that divine spark that Rabbi Nachman was always on about. [Schechinah & Pointe du Hoc]
The problem is, on the way to making your mark, there is (as the Rhinestone Cowboy so aptly laments) “a load of compromising.” The poetry of your life, in whatever form it takes, can get lost in quotidian concerns. Or swallowed up by fear. Or sacrificed to other people’s agendas.
Or, in my case, lost to hours sitting in the ER waiting room.
In the past two weeks, I managed to use a carpet-tacking hammer thing (I don’t know what it’s called, but you slam it down into the carpet to tack the edges) to drive the surgical pins into my finger sideways, got hit by a tree so hard across the head that I actually saw stars, and — just about an hour ago — slid on a wet cobblestone and landed on landscape edging with my right knee. (If you’re in the area and would like to see an exposed human patella, come by! But bring drinks. And call first, since I decided that getting back into a nightgown was the best plan for today).
In my defense, the carpet tacking incident was a one-off error that could have happened to anyone with surgical pins in her hand crawling around an outdoor deck laying astroturf for the first time ever.
And the tree slap was because we were using a chipper, and to amuse myself, I’d named it “Igor” and was pretending to feed it. As I slid a holly tree into Igor’s steel maw, Igor got so excited that he twisted the trunk like an oversized toothpick, and caught me square across the left-side of my face. Igor’s fault, obviously, but you can’t really blame him, seeing as how he’s a machine and all that.
And this morning’s fall was due to rain and having my hands full, and I take pride in the fact that, while everything in my hands went flying, nothing broke. Talent, yes?!
In any event, whatever poetry I might have had inside me this morning was severely compromised by my need to address my latest injury. This is all that was left:
Gauze and Neosporin,
Peroxide to pour in,
Is that my kneecap
Shining through the blood?
Where are all the Bandaids?
I sure hope this scar fades.
Is it wrong of me
To just go back to bed?
A shower and a cold drink
Will help, I do think.
Plus a suit made of Bubblewrap,
and a helmet for my head.
Back to the point.
Alzheimer’s, which Glen Campbell had, is an insidious disease. It steals everything from its victims: life skills, relationships, memories. As Nancy Reagan said, it’s “the long, long goodbye.” When someone who’s had an extraordinarily life, like Glen Campbell or Ronald Reagan — full of memorable events, the likes of which most of us will never know — gets an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, you realize what a truly cruel thief this disease is.
But there are currently over 5 million Americans with this disease, and over 40 million people worldwide.
And as Jimmy Webb so beautifully expressed, each of those people has dreams, and moments of poetry in their lives — all 40 million of them, not just the people whose lives are lived in the spotlight. All 40 million of them want to matter, and no doubt do, to the people who loved them.
So I’ll take the memories of all these ridiculous injuries, and of all the heartbreaks, loss, and anguish in life that accompany the good times. And I’ll keep battling to make a mark on the world somehow, even though far too much of my time is spent rifling through the medicine cabinet.
Because the alternative — having no memories at all, and allowing this one trip through life to be wholly absent the poetry — is simply unimaginable.
RIP, Glen Campbell. Thanks for the memories. I’m still on the wire. I can still hear you through the whine.
*The Snarky Assbadger and I recently took a road trip and, after 8 hours in the car, realized we’d had the radio on the Sirius Preview channel the entire time. Either we talk too much, or we’re both going deaf.
Here’s a link to the interview with Jimmy Webb, if you’re interested: American Songwriter/Jimmy Webb
And, if you’re like me and you’re still loving the Lineman, here’s Glen Campbell on The Smothers Brothers Hour: The Wichita Lineman