Glen Campbell played Warren, Michigan. This was on his farewell tour—so called because the singer announced he had Alzheimer’s disease and was looking, no doubt, into a future when he could not remember lyrics, follow arrangements, or know for what purpose these tiered faces were arranged around him in a human horseshoe.
There were secrets to be known. She learned them later than everyone else.
“Galveston” was a secret.
A trumpet accompanies Glen Campbell singing “While I watch the cannons flashing.” The effect is exhilarating: bright brass, the branching fire of a nighttime battle.
It is twinned in another verse by the line “I am so afraid of dying.” Just before it, he reaches in a higher register for the name of the Texas coastline home. Punctuating words are strings stroking descending notes.
The soldier’s exuberance has peaked; his spirit is pulled along the arc of a realization that bravery is limited or never existed. Fear is magnetic. She learned this when she was fifty, some forty years after the song was released and she recalled first hearing it, wind tumbling through the cranked-down window of a Plymouth Satellite, scattering the voice so it came from no single direction.
One by one her children had gone. Applications, licenses, deposits of funds were points of transaction after which they disappeared.
When she was sure her house was empty, she took a class.
In the classroom at night the blinds were cinched up. The windows were black and the lights blazing from the rooms and hallways rinsed the tips of the pine trees outside. All she could see was their movement, and that reminded her of rubbing.
Topics that would never be announced in the daytime context of a classroom swarmed around peoples’ mouths in night school: widower-hood, the possibility that unemployment would be permanent.
There is something
I have to say to you
and you alone
but it must wait
while I drink in
the joy of your approach,
perhaps for the last time.
The poet had cheated on his wife. He was putting off telling her and ended up speaking about other things: war, the atomic bomb, joy radiating around a final reunion that may not happen.
“It’s possible to avoid secrets, and say many things, even profound things. A great many insights have been achieved in holding back. I would be surprised if holding back were not responsible for scientific discoveries, new theories. How many Eurekas! are manufactured from evading the point? And beautiful art, like the poem.” This was what she had to say about the poem. So she kept quiet.
“Galveston” was one of Glen Campbell’s collaborations with the songwriter, Jimmy Webb. In “By the Time I get to Phoenix”, a man leaves a woman and, in the reverse order of pioneers, goes East. He synchronizes his flight to her habits: “By the time I get to Phoenix she’ll be rising.”
At first she laughs at the note in which he tells her he’s leaving. He presses on—Albuquerque, Oklahoma. At the point where the path of her realization that his departure is real, perhaps final, intersects his journey, the song must end. It lives as long as its revelation is unrealized. The singer arrives and dissolves at once.
She attended the show in Warren with friends.
Glen Campbell’s eyes fixed on a stage prop that didn’t exist, or where one had been removed: an emptiness that was a focal point on which to concentrate and withdraw lyrics and cues, which emerged in an orderly way, appropriately sequential, were utilized, and then, perhaps, lost. It was the negative site of secrets that he knew that, once forgotten, became un-kept, though never told.
She took his hand after the show. “’Galveston’ was one of the best recording sessions,” he said, when she told him how much she loved the song, but he went no further by way of example or anecdote. The layers below the first statement were unavailable.
He rendition-ed it that night, accompanied only by himself on guitar.
On the record, the player was clearly influenced by the heavily-reverbed guitar sound of Duane Eddy. The low notes wobbled across space, Texas itself, rolling from the coastline, along flatlands, unobstructed by rises—hills or mountains—echoing only in air. Geography permitted the sound to decay slowly, allowed by time to slip from one identity and acquire another: silence. And maybe if you waited long enough, the sound would return out of silence, having reached a limit somewhere, and come back slowly, audible just beneath the wind in your ears.
In this night’s version, the final notes of the song were thin and picked-out.
“A pleasure, Mr. Campbell,” she said, never telling her name and walking back through the theater, into the darkened restaurant section of the venue. The chairs had all been put away and the tables, draped with fresh tablecloths for the following day, glowed softly in the red light above the Exit sign, which suggested warning or guidance, depending on how you interpreted red.