Monday, June 27, 2011

Glen Campbell Shows True Grit After Alzheimer’s Diagnosis

During a People magazine interview, Glen Campbell and his wife, Kim, revealed that he has Alzheimer’s. Seventy-five year old Campbell plans a Goodbye Tour when his new album is released this summer. It takes courage and grit, true grit, to make this announcement to his fans before the tour.

How forgiving will fans be? Some fans are going to notice the mistakes, as will the critics. David Lindquist’s titled his June 5 review of Campbell’s performance at the Palladium concert hall, Carmel, IN, “Glen Campbell gives mystifyingly bad show.” In his review Lindquist said, “Facing a sold-out audience nestled in a world-class room, Campbell came across as unprepared at best and disoriented at worst.”

Perhaps this concert was the wake-up call for Glen and Kim Campbell to set the record straight. Kim said, “Glen is still an awesome guitar player and singer, but if he flubs a lyric or gets confused on stage, I wouldn’t want people to think, ‘What’s the matter with him? Is he drunk?’”

I’m sure Alzheimer’s caregivers know what Kim is feeling. Each person has talents that are lost in the labyrinth of Alzheimer’s. Dementia is relentless and unforgiving as it takes away a lifetime of talent and achievement.

Glen Campbell has played the guitar since he was four years old. His talent was his ticket out of poverty to stardom. He has accomplished heights that most musicians just dream about—Gold, Platinum, double-Platinum albums, CMA Male Vocalist of the Year and Entertainer of the Year, four Grammys, and induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Campbell’s music crossed over to top both country and pop charts. “Rhinestone Cowboy and “Southern Nights” were both No. 1 hits. Campbell co-starred in True Grit with John Wayne and Kim Darby, and he sang the title song.

Lindquist goes on to describe Campbell’s performance, “He mangled lyrics (despite unabashed use of video prompts on three onstage monitors), clanged countless off-key guitar notes and generated zero rapport with the crowd.”

I can imagine how Kim’s heart must have sunk. I remember sitting at a family reunion watching Jim struggle to play music with his relatives and some family friends while he was still in the early stages. I remember a mediocre guitar player (one of the invited “friends”) telling Jim he was in the wrong key. This man who had no talent kept criticizing Jim’s playing. Jim just seemed to be in his own little world, but it made me angry. Jim wasn’t playing a concert hall where people had paid dearly for tickets—he was playing at a small park for people that loved him and were forgiving of the occasional mistake. Sometimes Jim forgot lyrics to songs he had sung hundreds of times, or he might play the wrong song in response to a request. Other times, he would play “Buckaroo” from beginning to end without an error. It was always worth the false starts to hear our favorites.

“Campbell struggled to even communicate with long-running band leader T. J. Keunster,” Linquist wrote. “‘What key? . . . Who wrote it? . . . I like this song,” served as an evening-long mantra . . .’”

These are classic communication mistakes of people with Alzheimer’s. These phrases are familiar to Glen from his years of playing music. When words failed him, he fell back on them.

Will Glen Campbell go through with the Goodbye Tour? If he does, will it be successful? Now that people know why he did not perform to his usual standards, will they be forgiving?

Jayling, a fan who attended the concert, posted a response on the Lindquist review: “It was a flawed show, yes. But overall I enjoyed the show.”

To perform this Goodbye Tour, both Glen and Kim Campbell will need to show more True Grit than Rooster Cogburn had in the movie. Glenn’s witty repartee may be gone and he may stumble on the words to some of his own top 10 hits, but for those who love him these flashes of brilliance that made Glen Campbell a legend in his lifetime will be worth the wait. Those fans will listen with love and applaud Campbell for what he can do, and forgive what he can’t.

Copyright L. S. Fisher, June 2011
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