Thoughts After Watching the Glen Campbell Documentary “I’ll Be Me”
Folks, I just watched the documentary on Glen Campbell’s life, I’ll Be Me. And I need to talk about this, because what Glen Campbell is going through is important.
You see, Campbell has Alzheimer’s disease. He was diagnosed in 2011 at the age of 75.
But rather than quietly go into a nursing home, he, his family, and his doctors agreed that Campbell’s music was still with him. So they decided on one, final tour…with I’ll Be Me recording every step of that tour, along with the decline in Campbell’s memories and mentation.
Bluntly, to do something like this with what remains of your mind and talent is extraordinary. It shows fearlessness, a bit of humility, and maybe even compassion for the self, while it also showcases glimpses of still-brilliant musicianship and excellent vocal control.
Campbell in some senses was very fortunate, you see. He didn’t lose his vocal quality in his age — at least, he didn’t lose much. (Some smoothness, maybe. But it’s recognizably the same voice and he still has much the same range in I’ll Be Me.) He was always an excellent musician, and knew exactly how to sing his songs…and that’s still there, up until his final song, “I’m Not Going to Miss You.”
As a musician myself, I don’t know if I could do what Campbell did. I don’t think I could’ve walked on stage and not known if I could play my clarinet or my saxophone as well as I wanted. (Much less what the clarinet or saxophone even was until I started playing.) I don’t think I could’ve risked going on stage and not knowing what the songs were, or losing track of the music as I went…I think it would’ve been too difficult to even contemplate.
Yet Campbell could still play his guitar at times with a fire and passion that was astonishing.
The last thing that went for him was his music. It was imprinted on his brain and soul in such a way that while he started to lose language, he could still sing — and sing with feeling.
His youngest three children joined him on that tour, as did his wife. They all did their best to support their father, and helped to create some magical memories for not only themselves and their family, but for the concertgoers as well.
I’ll Be Me is both a heartwarming story of courage and redemption along with extraordinary musicianship, and a heartbreaking story as Campbell starts to fumble and lose control of his final gift.
I was very moved by I’ll Be Me. And I hope that this movie, now that it’s been shown on CNN, will somehow help to spur research into Alzheimer’s disease.
Because not everyone will be as lucky as Glen Campbell, and still be able to make beautiful music into the twilight of his life, nor will they be as fortunate to have an understanding and empathetic family around them.
We need to find a cure for this terrible disease. So our musicians, like Glen Campbell, can keep doing what they love until the day they die — rather than be placed in an extended-care memory facility (as Campbell apparently now is, no doubt because that’s where he needs to be).