Glen Campbell and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Country Weekly recently ran a cover story about my old employer Glen Campbell and his ongoing battle with Alzheimer’s. It sounds like the disease is really starting to take an emotional toll. As some of you know, I was Glen’s video director when he had his own music theater in Branson, Missouri in the 1990s. I was around him and sometimes his wife Kim (who occasionally came to the theater) almost every day for three years. So I find it quite sad to read things like this: “Kim shares that Glen suffers side effects such as anxiety, agitation and depression. ‘One time, he couldn’t use the television remote,’ Kim says. ‘He knew what it was but couldn’t figure out how to use it. And he got so agitated that he threw the remote at the television.'”
If you’re among the large portion of this blog’s audience that’s interested in apocalyptic matters, you might be interested to learn that in 1991 Glen recorded a really fine song about the biblical Four Horsemen. Titled, appropriately, “The Four Horsemen,” and appearing as the final track on his Dove Award-winning album Show Me Your Way, it was written by legendary songwriter Jimmy Webb, whom I’ve talked about here previously, and who wrote many of Glen’s most popular songs from his 1960s-70s musical heyday, including “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman,” and “Galveston” (the last of which, interestingly, is a song whose interpretation by Glen as a patriotic anthem Webb strongly disputes).
At his Branson theater “The Four Horsemen” was always presented as the finale of the show, complete with a pretty stupendous live performance by the Matthew Dickens Dancers in full costume portraying the end of the world at the hands of the horsemen, who were portrayed by the dancers as a cosmic warrior figure, a Grim Reaper-type figure, and more. The performance also included animations that were created by artists from Don Bluth Productions — you know, the big Disney rival that produced The Land Before Time, All Dogs Go to Heaven, and more — and projected onto the big I-MAG screens to show scary-looking horsemen galloping down from a starry night sky.
These days, I’m gripped by a kind of existential vertigo whenever I think back to my mid-twenties and remember that I used to be immersed in that apocalyptic extravaganza ten times per week as I directed its live video portion. That was also during a period of my life when I was independently studying comparative religious philosophy, Greek tragedy, existentialism, Zen Buddhism, H. P. Lovecraft, weird supernatural horror fiction, ancient Middle Eastern and European history, and evangelical Christian theology with a truly obsessive fervor. It was also the same period when my sleep paralysis assaults began to occur, and when I was foraging through the first few years of marriage and post-college life in search of a direction. In retrospect, the fact that my job required me to witness and help produce a musical-theatrical interpretation of the biblical apocalypse from the Book of Revelation multiple times per week seems almost impossibly perfect. You don’t have to be Carl Jung to pick up on the synchronistic symbolism there.
A few times in the past I’ve looked to see if anybody has posted Glen’s “Four Horsemen” to YouTube so that I could share it here at The Teeming Brain, but the answer was always no. Today, however, I’ve happily discovered that this has changed. Somebody uploaded the song three years ago, set to a nice (if thematically divergent) montage of images of Glen himself from throughout his career. So here it is for your listening pleasure. I urge you to turn up your speakers and enjoy the experience, which may not be as personally meaningful to you as it is, for obvious reasons, to me, but which I think you’ll probably dig anyway. Somewhere I still have a few VHS tapes of those Glen Campbell Goodtime Theater performances. Maybe some day I’ll get around to digitizing one of them so that I can show you what that Four Horsemen stage show looked like.
In any case, here’s wishing the best to Glen as he lives through his own personal apocalypse. I don’t say that flippantly. In the Christian and Jewish traditions, an apocalypse is not all about destruction but about revelation, about the unveiling of the divine cosmic and extra-cosmic truth. It’s ultimately a wonderful thing, no matter how horrifying its seems during its unfolding, because it means the clearing away of falsehood and the emergence of God’s unobscured, unhindered reign. (Of course, in the Lovecraftian and Ligottian vein of the supernatural horror fiction that I have read and written for so long, the unveiling of reality as it really is turns out to be quite problematic. But that’s an issue for another time.) May something like that be true for Glen and Kim and their family as they all navigate through the painful unpleasantness of their current circumstance.
Postscript: This has turned into a day for me to learn sad news from my show business past on more than one front. After typing the above paragraphs and mentioning the Matthew Dickens Dancers, I decided to do a Web search for current news about Matthew himself. I only had the pleasure of meeting him a handful of times at Glen’s theater in Branson, and I, like everybody else, found him to be was a very nice and approachable guy. As his Wikipedia entry makes clear, he was also an amazingly talented guy who did great work on Broadway, television, and elsewhere (doing extensive work, for example, with Debbie Allen). And it turns out that he died six months ago, on January 8 of this year, after a battle with cancer. Suddenly, I’m starting to feel sort of old.
Here’s a demo reel that I just discovered on YouTube. It showcases some of his choreography work, some of which was quite high-profile. Also note that that the man himself appears onscreen at the 15-second mark. Rest in peace, Matthew.