The Librarian and the Rhinestone Cowboy

It is unlikely that musical icons Glen Campbell and Barbara Cook would ever be featured together on stage, in the studio or in the news. Although, truth be told, stranger things have happened. In September, 1977 Bing Crosby, was doing a Christmas television special and somebody connected to the shindig opined that David Bowie was just what the show needed to spice up the affair. To many, the idea of pairing Father O’Malley with Ziggy Stardust must have been a sure signal at the dawn of the age of disco that the world as we knew it was surely in end times. It turned out to be an idea borne of true genius. Their recording of Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth remains a staple of the yearly Christmas soundtrack.

They both checked out for greener pastures on this past Tuesday, August 8th. Glen Campbell and Barbara Cook that is. David Bowie passed away at the start of 2016 and Bing Crosby died a mere five weeks after their famous duet. The only stage Glen and Barbara will be sharing, to the dismay of music lovers like myself, are the news pages filled with tributes and obituaries as well as the typical unhappy fodder of the day. And that to me is a shame, because in contrast to such persistent nonsense, they both brought us such joy.

Barbara Cook was a Broadway legend from a time when Broadway stars appeared regularly on television. Ed Sullivan on an almost weekly basis featured scenes from Broadway plays and musicals. New York stage actors appearing on the various popular quiz shows of the day such as What’s My Line?, I’ve Got a Secret and To Tell the Truth were almost as well known as the movie stars of the day. Many of today’s biggest Broadway stars, with a few exceptions are not well known outside of the theater world.

Barbara Cook was Marion the Librarian in the original Broadway production of The Music Man opposite Robert Preston. It was a role for which she received a Tony Award. The movie role went to Shirley Jones, who later became Mrs. Partridge.

Like Glen Campbell she fought the demons of success in the form of addiction. After a few years away from the stage she returned as a noted cabaret artist playing to sold out audiences, totally reinventing herself as a singer in the process. In 2006 she became the first female pop singer to ever be presented by the Metropolitan Opera.

Glen Campbell was the 7th of 12 children who was taught the guitar by his uncle and in 1954 at the age of 18 he joined his uncle’s band in Albuquerque, New Mexico and by 1960 he was part of the legendary Wrecking Crew in Los Angeles doing session work for some of the biggest stars of various genres of the music industry.

They took wildly different paths to their celebrity and their politics were even more divergent. Yet they both struggled with too many of fame’s demons.

Glen Campbell’s struggles were more public as his fame came from popular country music, television and movies as well as a very tempestuous affair, ripe for paparazzi types, with Tanya Tucker, a much younger country star with a few hit records of her own.

Barbara Cook’s battles were more private. Yet surely her pain and the price paid in terms of her career were just as bad. Alcohol, food and its resultant obesity contributed to a depression which drove her away from the footlights and into isolation.

Yet both of them came out of the other end renewed and reinvented. Barbara Cook’s recovery took place in cabarets around the country and led to her ultimate recognition as a Kennedy Center honoree in 2011. Glen Campbell’s struggles with cocaine followed him through a good part of the 1980’s and although he eventually pushed out that particular demon his use of alcohol persisted ultimately resulting in an embarrassing and very public arrest in 2003 for drunken driving and leaving the scene of an accident resulting in a ten day jailing and a very disturbing mug shot that quickly went viral. Eventually with the love and help of his wife and family, some of whom later played in his band, he became clean and sober for the remainder of his life. In 2005 he was fittingly inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Glen Campbell’s life ended at the age of 81 from the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. He said goodbye to his fans through a farewell tour and album before spending his last days in a care facility. Through the tour and the recording it was said that even in his most confused moments the one thing he could still do flawlessly was pick up a guitar and play music. His final studio album Adios was released on June 9th of this year.

Barbara Cook died of respiratory failure at 89. In recent years she had been teaching singing at the esteemed Julliard School. In fact she didn’t even get around to announcing her retirement until this year but she left us with her autobiography “Then and Now: A Memoir”

They were both products of the south, she from Atlanta and he from Arkansas. They were as different as night and day yet the commonalities in the power of their music should remind us all in a day and age of such utter division that there is more to us as individuals and as a nation than the fractional headlines they had to share space with in newspapers, the net and other outlets around the country this past Tuesday, August 8, 2017.  The heavenly choir’s next album should be very, very intriguing. I wonder if Father O’Malley and Mr. Stardust are looking for a guitar player and a lyric soprano. Imagine what that Christmas soundtrack would be like.

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