PHOENIX — It had been years since Glen Campbell made news, yet all it took to wrangle the singer back into the limelight was a mug shot -- albeit a startlingly unflattering one.
Now, after a series of humiliations that began with his arrest for extreme drunk driving in November, leading to a month in rehab and a short stint in jail, the singer reclines in the overstuffed den of his 10,000-square-foot Italianate manse, the television tuned to weather, his wife, Kim, right next to him, smoothing his rough edges, filling in the blanks of his memory.
Campbell is genial but absent-minded, his sentences often fractured. When the conversation moves to the murky depths of alcoholism, Campbell squirms and sighs as if trying to shake off the last few months of trouble.
But his demeanor instantly calms when he talks about music and, guitar in hand, he sings readily, his voice as clear and poignant as ever.
Despite his travails, Campbell looks tanned, fit and younger than his 68 years, if a bit exhausted. It's been quite a month. Days before his release, he obliged Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and performed his greatest hits for the imprisoned multitudes of the so-called Tent City jail, a gig that resulted in a lot of press but no leniency. The weekend after his release, he flew to Green Bay, Wis., for a show, and he's got another gig Saturday night in Cleveland.
On this day, Campbell has spent the morning golfing with "Dateline NBC's" Stone Phillips, the first of several press interviews that he hopes will motivate other struggling addicts to get sober.
"I'd hate to see what happened to me happen to anybody else," he says. "It's tough to go through. It is tough to go through."
And yet, in today's fame-crazed America, notoriety is sometimes just the thing to kick-start a career -- a "defining moment," his publicist Sandy Brokaw called it. Reporters lobbied hard for the post-arrest interview, among them Larry King of CNN and Diana Sullivan of Phoenix's CBS affiliate, who plied Brokaw with chocolate-covered berries and a note that read: "I would be so berry happy if I could finally have that interview with Glen Campbell."
"There was a lot of interest in this story," Brokaw says. "It's made him hot."
Indeed, but at a steep price, one that cost Campbell -- now an evangelical Christian who sings gospel as much as pop and country -- a good portion of his pride.
The now-famous mug shot was taken after a round of golf, two "tall" rum and Cokes and one very energetic struggle in the back of a police car. Campbell's hair leapt from his head in furious swirls and he glared into the camera, his eyes bloodshot and watery, his mouth fixed in a menacing grimace, more Jesse James than Rhinestone Cowboy.
Suddenly, Campbell -- the all-American pop star, Middle America's answer to the subversive longhairs of the 60s -- was now just another disgraced celebrity. After Jay Leno used it as a punch line in his monologue (after a clip of a devastating blimp accident, Leno says, "We have a picture of the pilot"), Brokaw spotted the mug shot in a parking attendant's booth, alongside that of James Brown.
Campbell's friends, even those who had lived through his first bout with addiction in the '70s, were shocked by his arrest.
"I know he must be very embarrassed about this," says Tommy Smothers, co-host of the '60s variety show that helped launch Campbell's career. "You know he's very righteous. And ... the fall is much greater when you're righteous." Still, he added, "This man is like a rubber ball. He bounces good."
Songwriter Jimmy Webb, one of Campbell's closest friends and longtime collaborator (he wrote "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Galveston" and "Wichita Lineman," among others), says the arrest and embarrassing publicity could inspire "a real renaissance" for Campbell.
"In quite the most base and ludicrous way possible, it has really brought him back to the attention of the American people," he says.
Campbell is philosophical about the photo now. He says he wasn't surprised that his troubles became a national joke, although he says he wouldn't have treated Leno so callously if their places had been reversed.
"I expected the worst," he says. "And I got the worst."
Saying it with lyrics
Campbell isn't much for detail these days. Names and dates seem to be just out of his reach, and when Kim does much of the talking, he quips, "I'm glad I brought my mouth with me."
So much of what he's trying to explain now -- his first arrest, first jail stay and first time in rehab -- is emotional anyway. A more appropriate medium seems to be Webb's lyrics.
They're working on a new album, tentatively titled "Going Back to the Country," and recording is set to start in September, aimed at a summer 2005 release.
Campbell sings his favorite track from that upcoming record, "Postcard From Paris," a song about a lovesick traveler, filled with romantic longing. He smiles and pauses at the end.