Glen Campbell : I’ll Be Me


I was immediately attracted to this 2014 DVD when I spotted it a distance away from the library shelves because Glen Campbell is one of my all-time fvourites. I of course did not want to miss this film. The legendary Glen Campbell, who has sold 15 million records worldwide, was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s deisease. He set out on an unprecedented tour across America in 2011. It was supposed to be for five weeks, but it went for 151 spectacular sold out shows over a triumphant year and a half. This film documents the amazing journey that Glen and his family navigates the wildly umpredictable nature of the progressive disease using love, laughter and music as their medicine of choice.

The film opens with an interview between Glen and his doctor at the Mayo Clinic where he was asked to recall four words (apple, Mr Johnson, charity, tunnel), which he couldn’t because “I don’t care for such things”. The camera moves on to interview his wife and daughter Ashley and his publicist, Bobby Gale. At The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, he sang with three of his children but it would be hard to do a tour.

The first stop on The Tour was at Club Nokia with his family including his sons who said they want to celebrate their father’s life “while he’s still around, and enjoying it together is actually very nice”. There are also interviews with musicians like Jimmy Webb (Glen’s longtime collaborator), Vince Gill, Brad Paisley and the Edge (from U2).

On the road, the couple in charge of transportation and security, Clancy and Jill Fraser, with their son Aaron (the chief morale officer) are like Glen’s tour family. Plagued by Alzheimer’s, Glen obssesses over every little thing, but acknowledges that “I have cried, and I have laughed”. During a performance, he forgot the lyrics to Gentle On My Mind and the band helped him to re-start. But he could still play a mean guitar while performing the song Try A Little Kindness. There were no lapse in his rendition of Whichita Lineman or Duelling Banjo, a duet with Ashley (on banjo). Those who witnessed the performance were touched; Larry Gatlin, a musician, said, ” I saw it last night. I laughed. And I cried.” Other comments from fans include, “He amazed me”, “Incredible” and ” This man is just so strong and happy and big. It’s heart-breaking, knowing that he’s going to shrink.” For Glen, however, every second was a challenge to him but he understands that “it’s just something in your system”. He became disoriented in the middle of the night, for eg peeing in the corner of the bedroom or in the trash can. However, he had a good time on stage. He was bright, alert, and interacted and communicated well and surprised everyone how able he was to perform. That was because he was doing the stuff he loved to do. Working seemed to stimulate his mind and he seemed to enjoy it, especially when he got the adrenaline from the audience.

“Musicians like Glen – it’s magical,” declared Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. For Keith Urba, Glen’s music is “memories”. He said of By The Time I Get To Phoenix – “His crying voice just totally affected me”. Musicians like Brad Paisley grew up listening to Glen, and Willie Nelson thought musicians think Glen is extraordinary, diversely talented and humbling.

When told that he would be given the Grammy Award for Life Time Achievement, Glen’s reaction was, “What for? Life time? I haven’t done that.” But for Blake Shelton, “It’s a big deal to sing for him and with him”. When Glen sang Rhinstone Cowboy, I teared. Paul McCartney went back stage just to tell Glen that “I love you”.

Glen was entering the stage where his memory was getting worse yet he was still able to pull it off and entertain the public because he really loved singing. He said, “With Alzheimer’s, that’s probably one of the worst things for people to have. It will be an incredible lesson if we can get people to understand people who have Alzheimer’s.”

Glen has inspired people with Alzheimer’s. The more the public is aware, the better and healthier the people will be. When his daughter Ashley talked about her realization that someday her dad would look at her and she means absolutely nothing to him, I teared again.

Alzheimer’s affect people differently: memory loss, emotive skills, conversation and behaviour. It is very upsetting for his wife to see Glen an invalid and degenerating. (Here, there is a video footage showing Glen in a wheelchair.)

The family reunion with his brother (Gerald), sisters (Jane, Sandy and Barbara) and older daughters  (Kelli and Debby) in Arkansas is just beautiful.

In Oct 2012, Glen performed at the Carneige Hall in New York; then he went to Chicago to do a dinner show when he found it hard to do anything. Every day was a challenge for his wife who had to fight depression as she was intensely sad to see someone she loved struggle. She was his safety blanket and he wanted her around all the time. He became paranoid; thinking that people were stealing his golf clubs. It hurt for her to see him so frustrated.

The frequency of shows increased till Nov 2012 as she wanted to protect what Glen wanted. He didn’t know it was going to be his last show. Everybody was afraid everything was going to fall apart. Nov 30 was a different day: stressful – that night was really hard. The audience was completely with him even though he had many lapses. It’s something Glen wanted to do and his family thought it was healthy for him. The fans had been so supportive and they loved him and didn’t care if he messed up so the family decided to do the shows for as long as they could. Like his son said, all they could do was to cherish every moment; his daughter said she would never forget it as it was the best time of her life.

Two months later, Glen co-wrote a new song. He understood music though his memory and soul and spirit were deteriorating. He joined members of the Wrecking Crew (Joe Osborne, Hal Blaine, Don Randi) to record the song I’m Not Gonna Miss You, which was nominated by the Academy Awards as the Best Original Song. (The Working Crew was considered the most successful group of studio musicians in music history.) Glen knew “I’ve been a lot better. It doesn’t bother me”.

Other than the numereous interviews, there are plenty of video footage of Glen’s family life and past performances, and the songs featured include his many collaborations with Jimmy Webb, like MacArthur Park, Wichita Lineman, by The Time I Get To Phoenix and The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, those written by Glen himself including A Better Place, and other hits such as I Remember You, Valley Of The Son, Hold On Hope, Any Trouble, It’s Your Amazing Grace, In My Arms, Lovesick Blues, Nothing But The Whole Wide World, Gentle On My Mind, Columbus Stockade Blues, Freeborn Man, Southern Nights, Finally Found, Remembering and Home Again, and his guitar solo of Classical Gas.

I wish this film was shown in a cinema here as it would been a better experience. It definitely deserves its two Grammy Awards!

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