To say that Glen Campbell is an American institution is a vast understatement. So vast, most people would not realize the pit for the forest.
It is easy to ‘clump’ musicians into a generic concert.
Rock ‘n Roll fans would pick out Waylon Jennings from a police line-up when asked to choose Kris Kristofferson. Country music fans can easily mistake Steven Tyler for Michael Phillip Jagger. Among thousands of singers, guitarists and songwriters spanning one hundred years in genres as diverse as the globe itself, forgiveness is given for the uneducated music fan.
Glen Campbell, in a nutshell, was the man who brought Country music to the mainstream.
While Johnny Cash made Johnny Cash – watching fashionable, there was always a ‘taboo’ attached to the man in black. He was dangerous. A pre-cursor to the Rolling Stones in Rock music as ‘the bad boy’ of Country music. The ‘bad boy’ of music.
Then – along came Glen Campbell.
The Arkansa born singer / musician / songwriter was clean, crisp and good looking. Everyone has their demons ( which surfaced in later years with Campbell via drug and alcohol abuse) yet Campbell appeared pure and not prone to paparazzi – driven investigations. Glen Campbell ( along with The Beach Boys) was music’s American Pie. If John Kennedy was the first television President – Campbell was the first television Country music star.
Glen Campbell released more than 70 albums. He has sold 45 million records and accumulated 12 Gold albums, 4 Platinum albums and 1 Double-Platinum album.
He has placed a total of 80 different songs on either the Billboard Country Chart, Billboard Hot 100, and/or the Adult Contemporary Chart, of which 29 made the Top 10 and of which nine reached number one on at least one of those charts.
Campbell made history in 1967 by winning four Grammys total, in the country and pop categories and in 2012 Campbell won the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award . In 1969 actor John Wayne picked Campbell to play alongside him in the film True Grit, which gave Campbell a Golden Globe nomination for Most Promising Newcomer. Campbell sang the title song which was nominated for an Academy Award.
In 2015, Glen Campbell does not remember any of these accomplishments. Glen Campbell is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
This is where the 2014 documentary ‘ I’ll Be Me’ comes into play. It chronicles Glen Campbell’s final recording ( I’m Not Gonna Miss You) and subsequent final tour. An opportunity for his family, friends and fans to say goodbye to a man who is sadly, half the man he once was.
Director James Keach and his crew follow Glen, his wife Kim and his three kids Ashley, Shannon and Cal ( part of Campbell’s touring band ) through the trials and tribulations of dealing with Alzheimer’s. A rare glimpse into the disease along with a rare glimpse into a man, a musician and a family dynamic. Director Keach supplies the cameras, Kim Campbell supplies the memories and Glen delivers the music. The one element of Campbell’s psyche which refuses to be locked away in a dwindling section of his brain.
This absorbing and fascinating film is akin to driving by a car wreck on the side of the highway. In fact, tour manager Bill Maclay informs the viewer of that element being a huge concern as the family and band planned the farewell tour. The film may be a curiosity yet the concerts (151) which take place within the documentary; a pure love – in between artist, fan and family.
As the film spins it’s tales of reality, images of doctor’s visits, home life, bus life and stage life, it takes the viewer on an interesting journey. Amid Campbell’s vacant memories of recent and past events, lies a loving and supporting family and great songs. Campbell may not remember yesterday’s date yet he belts out thirty-year old tunes just as fresh as daisies in Spring. Just like those flowers, mistakes are made and the petals fall. Just like those flowers – the songs are a gift given to us by way of an unseen force.
Aside from a devout ‘who-is-who’ parade of performers praising Campbell’s influence (Keith Urban, Vince Gill, Brad Paisley, John Carter Cash, Sheryl Crow, Blake Shelton, Taylor Swift, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney and U2 guitarist The Edge), it is Campbell’s guitar playing and singing which are most astonishing. The man is sick yet aside from sometimes talking too much during a performance, playing songs twice and once or twice forgetting words, Glen Campbell delivered the goods night after night. With a smile on his face.
Campbell’s guitar playing alone – wrought with conviction, facility and ease. Men or woman in full health would be hard up to compete with Campbell on the Alzheimer twelve string.
Other poignant moments within the film is what Campbell’s disease may do to help people in the future. Campbell and entourage stop in Washington, D.C. They testify before Congress, lobbying for more research funding for a cure and meeting with House Speaker John Boehner, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health. Campbell’s daughter explaining the pain as her Father cannot remember her name, a particularly heart-wrenching moment.
Thankfully, despite the upbeat messages of Campbell’s personality and musical abilities within the film, the reality of the disease remains a focal point throughout. The harsh reality of the disease becomes front and center near the end of the tour as everyone becomes aware;
‘Glen can no longer perform .
Campbell’s final recording, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” won a Grammy for Best Country Song earlier this year. Campbell and the song’s co-writer, Julian Raymond, were also nominated for an Oscar.
Mr. Campbell currently is in a memory care facility in Nashville. He is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s and is suffering from aphasia. He can no longer communicate and can only comprehend hugs and certain movements.
The film; ‘I’ll Be Me ‘ – is a must watch experience to reintroduce or discover Glen Campbell’s music, his legacy and his story of hope within despair.
Glen Campbell is an American Institution after all.