Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Documentary Review: Glen Campbell's Life and Music in I'll Be Me

“That keeps you in the backroads by the rivers of my memory. That keeps you ever gentle on my mind.” Gentle On My Mind (John Hartford)

My dad died from complications due to Alzheimer’s disease. He battled the disease in its full frontal assault for twelve years, but he had the disease before the more obvious signs of the disease took place. I’m not a doctor and no one in my immediate family has had formal medical training. Had we known earlier that personality changes are part of the earliest stages of the disease we would have known the disease was approaching. My dad’s illness most likely started some four to five years before he began the course of what would become a slow descent to death. My father lived long enough to display almost every aspect of the disease, except he never got mean and he never tried to get away. If anything, my father became near angelic and he wouldn’t dream of leaving the woman he loved and liked for his near entire life.

His love for his family was vividly present until his final breath. I could write multiple long pieces on nearly every aspect of his disease that included a brief period where everyone with a beard was assumed to be Santa Claus or someone who looked just like the main resident of the North Pole. He spent his last four years shuffling like Tim Conway’s Mr. Tudball (that will take you back). The last couple of years were spent in a hospital bed, in a reclining chair, behind a silver walker, but never behind the wheel of a car. He loved his cars. He loved to drive, but once the keys were not accessible he never thought about it again. The final two years were also spent in diapers and the last year he consumed pureed food. He never even dreamed of asking for any of his favorite meals. He spent the final full day before he passed into his eternal life singing songs (from memory) from his all-time favorite movie, hugging and kissing his wife and children (he never forgot any of us) and taking that final breath. I miss my dad. I respected my dad. I loved my dad.

It was with this as part of my own life’s background and story and my love of music that led me to want to see the documentary, I’ll Be Me. I’ll Be Me is a poignant and profound story of country/pop singer-songwriter-musician Glen Campbell and his own battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Campbell is a defining member of pop culture going back to his brilliant career as a member of the now famed Wrecking Crew. He would find tremendous success as a country singer who had multiple cross-over hits. He sold more than 50 million records and you would find it easy to enter almost any home in America with someone over the age of 50 that would readily admit to loving Campbell’s work. If they didn’t love his work, they certainly would say they liked his work. He was appealing as a music artist and as a man. Campbell was the recipient of five Grammy Awards and he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Campbell’s discography includes some of the best known songs of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Gentle on My Mind, Galveston, Wichita Lineman, By the Time I Get To Phoenix, Rhinestone Cowboy, Southern Nights. His final song, I’m Not Gonna Miss You is a heartbreaker. One of the best songs of Campbell’s recording career is his cover of Jackson Browne’s These Days. As soon you conclude reading this, find a location to view this documentary and download Campbell’s version of These Days. I assume I will be receiving some thank you notes for that find. What Campbell does with that stunning piece of lyrical poetry may very well be the definer of his stellar career. These Days appears on Meet Glen Campbell which is the title of his second from last studio album (Ghost on the Canvas was his last studio album); and it seems fitting that at the end of a career we are still capable of being introduced to soul-searching music. These Days is a song about loss and regret. Simple and we all can relate on some level.

“These days I seem to think a lot about the things that I forgot to do.” These Days (Jackson Browne)

The real trigger to this near perfect documentary is the way it handles and defines Alzheimer’s disease. We are taken on a tour (literally) with Campbell as he is transported on a cross-country journey for one last go-round of live performances. The “goodbye tour” places the spotlight on his battle with this disease. Back in 2011 as he was preparing to do the final tour of his lifetime his family revealed Glen Campbell had been diagnosed with the disease. Heartbreaking for all involved, but the family decided that the show would definitely go on. Director James Keach was hired to document Glen’s tour and the progression of a disease. We witness how this dreadful diagnosis was changing his life, his work and the lives of his beloved family.

I’ll Be Me provides an intimacy with the subjects like few documentaries are able to achieve. There is no blinking here. Close-ups, medium close-ups, quick cutaways. No camera placement escapes the life of the man who poetically uttered in perfect pitch Gentle on My Mind. The viewer is presented with medical specifics from doctors and hospital staffers, but we also are gifted with inspiring and at times, even edifying powerful performance footage. Keach lays it all on the line and we revel in Campbell’s illustrious musical history via archival material and the even more in-depth interviews with some fellow famous musicians. The medical team tells Glen and his wife Kim that Alzheimer’s is a progressive type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior as the hippocampus shrinks and atrophies. Even the doctors seem amazed that Campbell was still capable at that point to continue performing complicated guitar solos and sing with perfect pitch even while he suffers from the various symptoms of the disease.

The “goodbye tour” included 151 concerts and as the tour progressed so did Campbell’s mental and physical abilities. His deterioration was recorded, photographed and lived through. The tour gave people that proverbial final shot at seeing Campbell do what he loved to do, but it also gives the viewer an opportunity to witness Glen being Glen. We see the lucid moments, the confusion, the forgetfulness, but we also get to see the superb artistry. Campbell has long been considered one of the great guitarists in popular music and he doesn’t disappoint.

A whole host of famous people make non-standard statements which elevates this documentary to a level of sincerity and truth you sometimes don’t see in tribute pieces. Jay Leno, songwriter and good friend Jimmy Webb, Brad Paisley, the Edge, Kathy Mattea, Keith Urban, Steve Martin, Bill Clinton and Bruce Springsteen are among the people featured discussing the life and career of Glen Campbell. One of the most touching moments is when Paul McCartney visits Campbell backstage at the 2013 Grammy Awards only to realize Campbell has no idea who the former Beatle is. McCartney had genuine compassion in his words and eyes. The aging process isn’t particularly friendly, but old acquaintances remain steadfast.

Campbell’s fourth wife, Kim displays great love; and his three children with Kim were on tour with their dad throughout the finale of his musical touring life. Campbell was the dad to three other children from a previous marriage and their comments are included.

Glen Campbell was admitted to a treatment facility and nursing home in March, 2014 shortly after his last “gig” as a musician. I’ll Be Me is a deeply emotional 90 minute plus documentary. As a creative piece of film, there is nothing out of the ordinary in the documentary. It looks no different than the typical cable reality series, but the joyfulness presented here of the concert footage keeps the music alive. The story of Glen Campbell’s struggle with something so heartbreaking embeds us in this film. You laugh. You cry. It’s life in 90 minutes.

This is a rare and deeply personal look at a man struggling with a disease that has no cure. Whether you know someone or harder yet, love someone with Alzheimer’s disease this film is a must view. If you have yet to be attached to the life of someone with this disease screen it now before your own personal life takes you down the path of a shared experience you will not enjoy, but you will find yourself loving more, loving harder, loving more deeply. Life is brief and fragile.

“And I need you more than want you. And I want you for all time.” Wichita Lineman (Jimmy Webb)

In Memory of Jack Paul

Copyright The Flaming Nose 2015

Friday, July 17, 2015

Friday, July 10, 2015


What can possibly be said about Frank Sinatra’s career that hasn’t already been said or written about over the course of the last 76 years? Nothing. Sinatra had a monumental career in music, radio and film, but his recording career is equaled by no other act in recorded music outside of the Beatles. I am not looking for arguments or agreements.

The only recording act to match Frank Sinatra’s catalog would be the Beatles. One could argue, even though I am arguing with self that the Beatles may have one-upped Sinatra’s career catalog based on the fact that they accomplished what they accomplished in seven years of recording where Sinatra’s recording career encompassed a near fifty year period. One could also argue that the Beatles never would have recorded together for 50 years at the same level of their original seven year period of recorded music. Obviously, we will never know that for multiple reasons.

Having written that, Frank Sinatra is an act unto himself. Just yesterday, I saw a commercial for an airline featuring Sinatra’s original Capitol Records recording of his famed and oft-used song, Come Fly With Me. His music has continued to be used and is highly valued for commercial entities. If he were alive today he would soon be celebrating his 100th birthday. Sinatra was born on December 12, 1915. There are many specials being prepped to commemorate this historic day in entertainment industry history. Sinatra, of course had a huge career in films. His concert touring career which included years of stints in Las Vegas is near unequaled and he managed to have some of the finest entertainment specials produced in the medium we celebrate here on this site.

 The HBO documentary All Or Nothing At All is a four hour look at the life and career of Francis Albert Sinatra. I may be a young baby boomer, but I treasure and regard Sinatra’s music as highly as any act from the rock era. When I list my all-time favorite music acts he sits in the top three no matter what mood I’m. His presence on my own personal list has never moved in my entire adult life. The first two hours of the documentary (Part 1) is so watchable I ended up viewing it a second time within seven days. The proverbial ups/downs, highs/lows are all here in the superb first part of the documentary.

Sinatra’s personal life is explored through some insightful and bluntly honest voice narrations from multiple people in his life. None of these remembrances are as powerful as the ones from his first wife; and mother of his three children. Nancy Barbato Sinatra put up with a lot of “stuff” from ‘Ol Blue Eyes. The pain and loss is deeply felt via her own descriptive words. Part 1 also delivers the lustful relationship he wrapped himself in with one-time femme fatale, Ava Gardner. It’s politically incorrect to say what I’m about to write, but I don’t care. All the men who fell for her on some level were obviously simply naive or plain out dumb. She was as sleazy as one could have been in 1940’s-1950’s Hollywood. I say this with no judgment attached to it, since she would have been complimented by the term. No one with any intellectual truth could possibly believe Gardner loved Sinatra. He may have felt some dizzying moment of supposed love, but it seems more than obvious this was about lust.

 Frank Sinatra's music is what has endeared him to me the entire scope of my own life. My mom was one of the original bobby-soxer's back in the early 1940's and his music was played as the background to my household life. The 1964 album, It Might As Well Be Swing was a staple on the playlist. This documentary exposes us to the near limitless talents of Frank Sinatra. He was the best singer, vocalist, stylist, phraser and interpreter of song - of all-time. Period. Period. Period. No one and I mean no one comes close to what Sinatra delivered in his lengthy career. His stunning near angelic vocals from the 1940's Columbia Records period are just hauntingly beautiful. Does it get any better than Sinatra's original recording of Time After Time? Answer: No, it doesn't.

Sinatra's career had come to a death halt by 1949 and it stayed that way until 1953. When he couldn't get along with Mitch Miller and his handling of Columbia Records he departed. Think about this - Sinatra couldn't land a record deal. Stop. Think. Sinatra couldn't land a record deal. When his agent finally pitched him to Capitol Records a couple of years later a wise sage of a VP level executive said yes. The documentary's high point comes right here. We are immediately swept up in the burst of Nelson Riddles' fabulous arrangement of I've Got the World on a String. I sat there with complete near joy on my face. Sinatra worked with the finest arrangers in music history. Some of those men were Nelson Riddle, Gordon Jenkins, Billy May, Don Costa, Quincy Jones and a few others. A big complaint on this front is that they are hardly mentioned. Also, how is it possible that not one single reference to Ella Fitzgerald is made in this documentary? They enjoyed an enduring professional relationship that yielded some of the best knockout duets ever.

Sinatra's Capitol years are arguably his finest overall. This is the period of so many songs that I would take up an entire post just naming all of those iconic and not so iconic songs. Even Sinatra's unknown tracks are always worth listening to. I've Got You Under My Skin (probably, Nelson Riddle's greatest career moment) came from this period. When Sinatra leaves Capitol Records he starts up his own record label and his Reprise years collection just continues with the laurels we can heap on his career. Fly Me to the Moon, Summer Wind, My Way... Yes, it goes on and on.

 Part 2 isn't nearly as intriguing nor as entertaining. You just had to know he was going through some weird mid-life crisis to fall for Mia Farrow, although whenever you get a chance to hear Robert Evans say anything it is worth your time. Evans is nearly as interesting as Sinatra.(Evans is a former film studio executive and producer) I'll leave the details to your viewing. We are told repeatedly what a civil rights activist Frank Sinatra was and I do mean repeatedly. We know this and we appreciate what he did, but it becomes overkill.

There is also a tremendous contradiction between Part 1 and Part 2 regarding Sinatra's supposed connections to organized crime. We know most performers of this era knew members of the "mafia," so why wouldn't Sinatra know them. First we're told he had basically no relationship with them and then in Part 2 we get all kinds of references to these relationships. What is it? Although, who cares? Sinatra clearly didn't need any help from anyone to make it in show business.

The other faux pas is when we get to hear how much Sinatra loathed rock music. Well, at one point he did, but by the time Elvis Presley returned from his service in the U.S. Army Sinatra learned to enjoy time with the King of Rock and Roll. Also, it should be noted that Sinatra voiced on more than one occasion that he felt the greatest love song of the latter half of the 20th century was George Harrison's composition of Something. Sinatra did frequently credit that lovely song to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, so there was a goof on his part. Harrison was so thrilled with Sinatra's recording of his ode to his first wife Pattie Boyd that Harrison and Boyd were invited to the recording studio to hear and see Sinatra record My Way. That was an interesting fact that could have made the documentary.

Why not include Bono's tribute to Sinatra at the Grammys? What a moment of love from the rock world. Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan opened and closed Sinatra's ABC television special celebrating his 80th birthday. Do you think rock had embraced Frank? Yes, but did he secretly still loathe rock? Probably and then again maybe not. Obviously, there is so much to Sinatra that you could have had a ten hour documentary and not included it all. All Or Nothing At All is an excellent documentary, but if you can only watch half of it, watch Part 1. Oh yeah, I've Got the World on a String. To my mom, who still loves her Frankie! As I'm writing these final sentences I'm listening to Sinatra's recording of From This Moment On. May generations continue to enjoy the man and his music.