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Rhinestone Cowboy: An Autobiography

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In Rhinestone Cowboy: An Autobiography, Glen Campbell devotes eight full pages to his golf game, another eight to his staunch anti-abortion beliefs-and four brief paragraphs to recording the yearning and timeless folk- rock hits ”Wichita Lineman” and ”Galveston.” That proportion speaks volumes about Campbell’s frustrating memoir, cowritten with Tom Carter (who served a similar function on Ralph Emery’s autobiography). From his days as a heartland-wholesome ’60s hit maker and TV star to his current status as a Branson, Mo., mainstay, Campbell must have a head full of showbiz anecdotes. But Rhinestone Cowboy is so padded with superfluous details and born-again philosophizing that Campbell makes his own music career seem superfluous.

That career has had more interesting nooks and crannies than anyone might assume. Rhinestone Cowboy starts as just another up-from-Arkansas-poverty tale, with Campbell recalling the time he had to drown kittens because the family couldn’t afford to feed them. He whips through his years playing lurid honky-tonks and then as a hot L.A. session guitarist. He describes the time he stared in awe at Frank Sinatra as he recorded ”Strangers in the Night,” only to discover that Sinatra later asked who the ”fag guitar player” was. Yet most of these snippets are told in prose so flat Campbell could use it as a guitar pick. When he chronicles his slide into bad marriages, drugs, and alcohol, he writes of his third wife, ”We would get so high for so long that we thought we couldn’t get any higher.” Yep, Glen Campbell makes getting stoned sound boring.

The inevitable happy ending arrives with Campbell’s recovery and spiritual rebirth, but for a reborn Christian, he has plenty of scores to settle. He complains about the tabloids, record executives who led him astray, and what he sees as the sad state of ’90s country songwriting (inexplicably citing Lucinda Williams’ ”Passionate Kisses” as an example). Campbell saves most of his spite, though, for former flame Tanya Tucker, who comes off as a cocaine-snorting opportunist. For all his debunking of the media, Campbell gives a pretty trashy account of ”our sick slavery to things of the flesh.” Highlights include a zonked-out Tucker walking through a plate-glass window and Campbell’s own near overdose from freebasing. ”Dating Tanya to escape cocaine was like jumping into a lake to avoid getting wet,” Campbell writes, delivering a final kick with, ”I respect her efforts to recover, but wonder if they worked.” Better to buy a CD of The Very Best of Glen Campbell: The way his voice cracks forlornly on a line from ”Wichita Lineman”-”I know I need a small va-ca-tion”-is a more fitting legacy than Rhinestone Cowboy. C

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