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


Lisa said...

Completely wonderful review and particularly so because of your personal connection and the lovely words about your beloved father. I know this was well-viewed on CNN earlier this month and I believe runs again on them in November, evidently, but now is in screenings at least. More info: http://glencampbellmovie.com/

Jane said...

What an absolutely stunning piece Judith. I think this is your finest post, it brought tears to my eyes. I was lucky to catch this documentary and think it was the best Doc I've seen all year. I've seen other pieces about Altzheimers and it is fascinating that often musical recognition and ability is one of the last things to go. Music keeps us human in the end, whether it's your Dad's final songs or Glen Campbell's. Thank you for this post, it's magnificent.