Glen Campbell

I’ve never been much of a country music fan, but I was saddened to read this today:

Glen Travis Campbell brought country music to new audiences. He found success as a session musician before embarking on a solo career that included smashes Gentle On My Mind, Galveston, Wichita Lineman and Rhinestone Cowboy and that landed him in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Campbell died Tuesday at 81, according to his Universal Music publicist Tim Plumley.

‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ Glen Campbell dies at 81 after Alzheimer’s battle

Lone soldier on guard, Vietnam, 1967

PFC John Sizemore, Co C, 1st Bn, 8th Inf, 1st Bde, 4th Inf Div, stands guard on Hill 742 as the sun sets in the background. Nov., 1967. Image credit: U.S. Army/Wikimedia

For me, Campbell’s hit Galveston will be the one I remember him by. It starts out sounding like a song about a man missing the place he grew up and a girl he used to know there. It’s not until the second verse:

While I watch the cannon flashing
And I clean my gun
And I dream of Galveston

Jimmy Webb – Galveston lyrics

that you realize it’s about a man who has gone away to war. Released in 1969, the song spoke to a generation of young men and women who were either involved in the Vietnam War, or worried they were going to be there soon. Unlike America’s recent wars, Vietnam was fought by draftees, men who were sometimes there because they had no choice.

According to the Wikipedia entry Galveston was meant as an anti-war song by its writer, Jimmy Webb. Even as Campbell sang it, though, Galveston was about the price of war on a personal level, and clearly from the point of view of a man who didn’t want to be there. For some of us, Galveston was about what it meant to fight for your country in a far-off place. For others, like me, it was a reminder that there is a terrible cost to war, and that we ought to be sure it’s worth that price before we send our young people to fight one.

Decades later, I still don’t think we’ve learned that lesson.

But we should thank Glen Campbell for trying to teach it to us, anyway. For that song and all the others he sang, he will be missed.