MALIBU, California (Reuters) - Glen Campbell’s new home in Malibu probably resembles the residences of many other successful musicians in the wealthy beach resort.
Grammys in a cabinet? Check.
Movie theater? Check.
Jewish artifacts? Check.
Back up. The Baptist-raised country star, who says he once confused “menorah” with “manure,” displays a Jewish candelabrum on the mantel, and a Hebrew book sits on the coffee table.
Adding to the cross-cultural confusion, the Rhinestone Cowboy soon breaks into a plaintive cry, “Jeee-esus ... Help me find my special place.” His German Shepherd joins in on the last bit.
It’s not a hymn or a prayer. It’s a line from an old song by the 1960s rock band the Velvet Underground. “Jesus” appears on the semi-retired singer’s first album in 15 years for Capitol Records, the wryly titled “Meet Glen Campbell” (August 19), in which the 72-year-old singer covers tunes by the likes of U2, Green Day, John Lennon and the Foo Fighters.
Amid the jarring juxtapositions, Campbell reveals that he and his wife, Kim, attend the local synagogue every Saturday and celebrate Jewish holidays such as Passover, Rosh Hashanah and Hanukkah, as well as Christmas. Kim cooks a mean brisket but is still working on her matzo balls. And grape juice subs for Manischewitz in the alcohol-free household.
For two decades, the Campbells have been adherents of Messianic Judaism, a religious movement whose members regard themselves as committed Jews but are rejected by mainstream Jewish denominations as following an essentially evangelical Christian theology.
“It’s Jews who believe that Christ is the risen savior,” Campbell said. “I think it will all come around to that.”
It’s a long way from the Church of Christ, the little Baptist church where his family worshipped in rural Arkansas.
Musical instruments were banned and the singing was awful, so young Glen and his pals would sneak over to the black church “and they’d let us look in through the window. They were incredible. I really miss that.”
At his new house of worship, they sing all sorts of songs, even ones in Hebrew, which like the matzo balls pose a new kind of challenge for the Campbells.
Rocking out to Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life”), the Foo Fighters’ “Times Likes These” and U2’s “All I Want Is You” is much easier.
“This was a piece of cake,” he said of the new album, which was recorded in just three weeks.
The heavy lifting was done by the album’s producer, Julian Raymond, who came up with the concept at Capitol’s behest, pitched it to Campbell and his manager, and chose the songs.
Campbell would come in after his golf game, smoke a cigar, record a song and go home, Raymond recalled.
“And that’s the way it should be for a guy like that,” Raymond said. “He doesn’t need to do this, but I think his family was a big part of this. They really wanted him to make one more record that was part of his legacy.”
Campbell’s favorite is Lennon’s posthumous release “Grow Old With Me,” and he serenades his wife with its romantic sentiments.
“And late at night, I’ll be singing Jerry (Lee) Lewis’ ‘C‘mon baby, a whole lotta shakin’ going on!”’ he joked with a boyish twinkle in his eyes.
At first glance, the project smacks a little of Johnny Cash’s resurrection in the 1990s. Producer Rick Rubin introduced the faded country icon to a hip, young audience with a series of dark albums featuring stripped-down versions of songs by rock bands like Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden.
Raymond, who has produced Cash’s eldest daughter, Rosanne, says those acclaimed albums were at odds both with Cash’s inherently upbeat personality and with the work that Cash did in the ‘1950s and ‘60s.
“With Glen, we didn’t reinvent the wheel,” Raymond said. “We paid homage to that style that he did in the ‘60s, and just brought it back in a more modern way with contemporary players.”
At any rate, most of Campbell’s signature hits, such as “Gentle on My Mind,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Rhinestone Cowboy,” had been recorded by other artists before Campbell made them his own. So the new album isn’t that much of a leap, Raymond said.
One song that did not make it past the demo stage was R.E.M.’s appropriately titled “Losing My Religion,” because they could not reconstruct it to give it a ‘60s vibe, Raymond said.
Neither had any intention of pandering to the Abercrombie & Fitch crowd, and Campbell is not looking to make a comeback anyway. He is doing a handful of interviews, and maybe a few special shows. But God forbid anything gets in the way of his daily 8 a.m. tee-off at the Malibu Country Club.
As for making a new album? “Quite frankly, I don’t even want to bug him to do anything else,” Raymond said.
Editing by Steve Gorman