“This Wichita lineman is still on the line. And I’m doing fine.”
I wrote an essay several years back on autobiographies by people with dementia. The bulk of them at that time were chronologically told – and hid evidence of the condition in seamlessly told narratives. Could you make a statement about the strength of people with dementia if you didn’t actually perform or show dementia itself?
Well. I saw the Glen Campbell show tonight.
I didn’t take notes. And honestly (and ironically), I’ve forgotten a couple of the most poignant moments – lines from songs, or quips that he rattled off that were spot on – performing both strength and his condition at the same time. But the overall evening will be with me forever.
I brought my 6 (soon to be 7) year old son Will and my 10 year old son Ben. Both are musicians. And I brought my 74 (soon to be 75) year old mom and dad. I can see the Glen Campbell album covers in my dad’s collection. I can hear them. I can hear dad playing guitar. And I play – still – and aspire to the velvet tones and agile fingers of Mr. Campbell.
The show is clearly billed. This is a farewell. He has made his Alzheimer’s public. The Alzheimer’s Association walked through the aisles with buckets for donations. There are no surprises. There is no hiding anything.
On the contrary, it is quite visible. Glen gets hung up on things that he can’t let go of. The sound levels were a particular distraction at tonight’s show. He mentioned them, during songs, multiple times. Too loud. It’s too loud here. He seeks out the monitor with the lyrics. He skips a line here or there. But just as you get used to the skips, he bursts into a guitar solo that takes your breath away. And you feel the strength amidst the loss. Just as you get used to his daughter Ashley (one of three Campbell children on stage) explaining that he is borrowing her guitar because his keeps shorting out (and if you know Alzheimer’s you think…oh – something out of the routine is the LAST thing they need…), Glen goes into a solo (acappella) of the Moon is a Harsh Mistress that blows your heart, mind, and soul.
For me, it was a thick night. Visions of the musicians my children will become (if I’m strong enough to make them practice). Memories of the music my dad played (vinyl and live). And the music inside me. It was also the antidote to so, so many public message/images/stories of Alzheimer’s that I’ve spent some 15 years complaining about. “Alzheimer’s is more than tragedy,” I say. People are still living. And here it is. An unapologetic performance of dementia, combined with inexorable beauty — in the music and in the powerful scaffolding of a family that embraces and supports him through it all.
The gorgeous new songs with spot-on lyrics – Ghost on the Canvas and A Better Place.
The dueling banjo/guitar.
I Can’t Stop Loving You.
Glen turning the microphone toward the audience for an exuberant sing along of “There’ll be a load of compromising, on the road to my horizon, but I’m gonna be where the lights are shining on me!”
So many moments made richer by the open and unapologetic embrace of vulnerability, mortality, and memory loss — of Glen, and eventually, of all of us.
Thank you Glen and Kim and family — for your enormous generosity and bravery. I wish you more of both as you continue on your journey. And may the lights shine on everyone with dementia.
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