By the Time I Get to Phoenix

spritle_chim-chim_trunk2On Sunday night, I went to a Cabaret open mike. I love a piano bar. That’s been documented before. At one point a duo sang a very bluesy cover of Glen Campbell’s By the Time I Get to Phoenix. I enjoyed it, but to me, it did not compare to his version, which is a song I remember listening to from the back seat of my parents’ car when we’d go on road trips. I have a soft spot for old Glen Campbell or Ray Price or Merle Haggard songs. When I hear one, I’m five or six and it’s late at night and we’re driving from Independence to Colorado and I’m half awake, but listening to my parents’ adult conversation in the front seat and I feel really safe and cozy. And I probably have about 3 or 4 stuffed animals huddled close, mostly definitely my #1 stuffed animal, Chim-Chim whose wardrobe was sewn or knitted by my mother and grandmother.

So, that is one of the things that I thought about when these two were singing By the Time I Get to Phoenix on Sunday night. And when I listened to the words of the song this time, it broke my heart a little because it’s a real tearjerker. Maybe it was the first time I really heard it.

And then an elderly bespectacled gentleman got up to sing a song about hoping to find love. (I wish I could remember what song it was.) He was probably in his 70s and quite spry for his age, and the way he plaintively toyed with the hem of his shirt, there was something very youthful about him. I got the feeling he probably looks in the mirror and thinks, my goodness, just yesterday, I was 18. I’m 45 and I do that, and I’m realizing I’ll probably always do that. Time flies.

And then on my way home, I listened to the Glen Campbell original (I know, it isn’t THE original) and I thought about love, my own loves, my heartbreaks. How it’s sometimes tricky to navigate relationships. And yet, there’s a line in the song where Glen says that he’s tried to break up with his girl “so many times before” and I’m left with a little hope for them that maybe he’ll turn the car around and head back to LA. (He is driving from LA, right?) There’s always hope.

I don’t know very much about my old friend on stage singing wistfully about finding love. Obviously, I hope that he has a lifelong partner that he goes home to and they watch Gloria Swanson movies and drink Manhattans and talk about their trips through Europe together. Maybe he has that, I hope he does.

And as I write this, I think about how I want to tie every thing up in a neat bow. Maybe Glen should keep driving, maybe his true love is in Oklahoma and they haven’t even met yet. And maybe my friend is single and likes being single. And maybe the truth is messier, sadder than that. I don’t know.

These are the days that I want to be six again, whispering secrets to Chim-Chim, my Dad expertly commanding our ’73 Buick as it sails across the plains of Kansas, Glen Campbell in the background, singing about a road trip of his own.

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2 thoughts on “By the Time I Get to Phoenix

  1. Images, much the same as yours, come flooding back to me when I also hear this song. I’m a little older though, but like you, sitting in the back of my parents’ car (Ford Cortina – originally gun metal grey but my father had it sprayed bright yellow and from then onwards it became the Yellow Peril). It’s sounds system was right up to the minute with a 8 track cassette and radio. Glen Campbell along with Johnny Cash were played relentlessly with Simon & Garfunkel coming in a very close third.

    My Father was an engineer in the army and we had been posted out to Malta. My life from that moment to the time we left became enchanted and Glen Campbell (along with Johnny Cash) the sound track to that period of my life.

    Thank you for bringing that all back to me along with the smells and sounds too. I’d almost let it go but also didn’t realise how much I miss that time.

    God Bless.

    • Fran,

      First of all, I’d never heard of a Ford Cortina and after a google search, I was interested to learn it was the U.K.’s best selling car of the 1970’s (thank you Wikipedia!)

      Secondly, THANK YOU for sharing your own childhood memories of Glen Campbell and Johnny Cash and Simon and Garfunkel! I can just see Little Fran in the backseat, looking out the windows of the Yellow Peril, singing along to I Walk the Line. One of music’s gifts is it’s ability to take us on a journey, isnt it?

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