One of my favorite albums while growing up and learning to play guitar was “The Astounding 12-String Guitar of Glen Campbell“. Beyond the obvious virtuosity displayed in Glen’s guitar playing on songs like Green Green, The Ballad of Jed Clampett, and La Bamba, as well as the same by supporting musicians, such as Hal Blaine (drums), Roy Clark (banjo), and Earl Palmer (drums), I was also inspired by the financial possibilities for a guitar player and singer in stories about, and interviews with, Glen, in which it was revealed that he had been earning $75,000 a year as a studio musician. No small feat in 1964!
That Glen Campbell provided inspiration and motivation to a fledgling guitarist (not that I even yet possess his level of guitar skills) made the fairly recent revelation of his Alzheimer’s Disease diagnosis all the more disturbing and sad. “How could such a vibrant, accomplished, and successful musical artist be dealt such a fate?” I naively asked myself.
However, as troubling as the news of Glen’s diagnosis and prognosis was, watching “I’ll Be Me“, the documentary that tracks his, his wife Kim’s, and his children’s (daughter Ashley [Banjo, Guitar, Keyboard & Vocals] and sons Cal [Drums & Vocals] and Shannon [Guitar & Vocals], who respectively lead and play in the band backing Glen on the farewell tour-de-force) response to the diagnosis provides hope and a deep appreciation for the musical spirit that Mr. Campbell possesses.
While “I’ll Be Me” documents the increasing incursion of Alzheimer’s on Glen’s cognitive awareness, it also touchingly portrays how the superlative musical and performance skills he crafted refuse to bow to the ill-effects of this insidious disease. As the film demonstrates, time and time again, Glen’s guitar prowess and deeply emotional vocal expression trump the predictable debilitation of his illness.
What is equally moving and inspiring is the devotion shown to Glen by his family and friends during his troublesome episodes of forgetfulness and confusion, as well as when they share personal memories and pay tribute to his courage and fortitude. Transparently directed by James Keach, “I’ll Be Me” intersperses concert footage (The Glen Campbell Goodbye Tour spanned two years and 151 dates) depicting Mr. Campbell’s noteworthy musicality with footage of his interplay with family, friends, and the medical professionals who monitored, tracked, and rendered a prognosis on the course of the illness.
When Glen was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2011, he was essentially told to retire and live out his life as best he could, given the usual course of the illness. However, to the benefit of anyone interested in playing guitar and performing, or anyone who has been directly affected by Alzheimer’s, he did no such thing instead choosing to historically and bravely announce to the public the presence of his illness, while simultaneously announcing that he would go on an epic and soulful tour to bring his music to his fans one last time. According to James Keach: “Here was a man that was told to hang up his guitar, go home and enjoy what life he had left. But he wanted to sing, laugh, make love, play music and celebrate life until it was taken from him. Glen always had a joke on hand, and was the most brilliant, country boy I had ever met. He called his disease “part timers,” and he always maintained a strong sense of humor and spirit. Glen defied all odds and performed 151 shows over a two-year period. We shot over 1,300 hours of footage of the tour. There were ups and downs, but the highs far outweighed the lows. Glen was full of love and light, and even in the darkest times of his confusion, he always showed signs of his true self.”
As a guitarist, guitar teacher, and a member of the FindAGuitarTeacher team, I’m deeply grateful that Glen and his family took such a brave and inspirational approach to dealing with what fate handed them, as well as opting to capture and share it, and I highly recommend “I’ll Be Me” to guitar players of all levels, guitar teachers and their students, and to anyone who believes in the redemptive and healing power of music. “I’ll Be Me” fully possesses the capability to empower, instill dedication, inspire musical exploration, and lift the human spirit. To find out more about “I’ll Be Me”, please click here.