Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

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Rhinestone Cowboy‘s final ride. The announcement of country music legend Glen Campbell 2011 Alzheimers diagnosis was shocking both because of the decades of affection he had built with people across America and around the world and because it reminded us all how undiscriminating the disease is.  The new documentary Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me chronicles how faith in God, the love of his wife Kim and their family and loved ones and the positive power of  music all helped see him through his 151-date farewell tour. The film, which opens in New York, Nashville and other select cities today (10/24) before expanding to other locales throughout the nation is produced by James Keach (Walk The Line) and Trevor Albert (Groundhog Day). James Keach also directed. 
Synopsis (from the film’s website): In 2011, music legend Glen Campbell set out on an unprecedented tour across America. They thought it would last 5 weeks instead it went for 151 spectacular sold out shows over a triumphant year and a half across America.

What made this tour extraordinary was that Glen had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He was told to hang up his guitar and prepare for the inevitable. Instead, Glen and his wife went public with his diagnosis and announced that he and his family would set out on a “Goodbye Tour.”

The film documents this amazing journey as he and his family attempt to navigate the wildly unpredictable nature of Glen’s progressing disease using love, laughter and music as their medicine of choice.

Special appearances include Bruce Springsteen, The Edge, Paul McCartney, Blake Shelton, Sheryl Crow, Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, Taylor Swift, Steve Martin, Chad Smith and Bill Clinton among many others.

Review: Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me may just be the bravest and most revealing celebrity concert documentary ever. It’s sad, for sure, but it’s also uplifting as we see a man who, the film admits wasn’t perfect. His wife Kim suggests that his bouts with alcohol may have been the result of the guilt he felt over his previous failed marriages and that, perhaps, he wasn’t always there for his kids the way he would have wanted to be.  But, when all is laid bare, what we see is an essentially gentle and kind man. It’s also a testament to his life that Kim, his children and so many of the people he knew and worked with over the years obviously care for him deeply.

And then, of course, there’s Glen’s music — which can be noted for its calls toward kindness — perhaps most explicitly in the lyrics to Try a Little Kindness:

If you see your brother standing by the road
With a heavy load from the seeds he sowed
And if you see your sister falling by the way
Just stop and say you’re goin’ the wrong way
You’ve got to try a little kindness yes show a little kindness
Yes shine your light for everyone to see
And if you’ll try a little kindness and you’ll overlook the blindness
Of the narrow minded people on the narrow minded streets

Don’t walk around the down and out lend a helping hand instead of doubt
And the kindness that you show every day will help someone along their way
You’ve got to try a little kindness…
You’ve got to try a little kindness…

If there is a theme to this film, other than the real importance of fighting Alzheimer’s Disease, it’s the positive power of music, faith and love expressed through kindness.  There’s the kindness Glen shows and has shown toward his loved ones, their obvious love and affection for him and then there’s the kindness of the audiences who are obviously rooting for him to hit every note and are forgiving when he doesn’t. You’ll leave this movie understanding a little something about the tragedy of Alzheimer’s but also feeling a bit better about the human race. People are generally kind even if too much of the “edgy” media fails to reflect that. This movie, like Glen’s songs, reminds us that it is better to be compassionate and kind than it is to be cool. And that faith in something greater than ourselves can be a great help when it comes to getting through the dark times.  It’s also difficult to see how one could watch Glen’s story and not be inspired to  “try a little kindness” in our own interactions. All in all,  Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me is highly recommended.

A conversation with Kim Campbell

JWK: How did you meet Glen?

KIM CAMPBELL: I was dancing in a show at Radio City Music Hall.

JWK: You were a Rockette?

KC: Well, I danced with the Rockettes. They have two companies, the Dance Corps and the Rockettes. I was in the Dance Corp.  My girlfriend…began dating his banjo player. So, when Glen’s band came to New York, she was going out with Carl Jackson who was the banjo player. They said “We’re going to see James Taylor tonight.” And I’m like “Omigosh! I love James Taylor!” So, I begged them to fix me up with somebody in the band because I wanted to see James Taylor. So, they looked at each and smiled and they said “Okay.” So, they fixed me up on a blind date.  I didn’t know until that evening that they had indeed fixed me up with Glen Campbell.  I really didn’t know much about him because he was older than me. I knew that he was a singer and that he was in the movie True Grit but I really didn’t know anything about him, who he was or anything.

But I really wanted to see James Taylor. So, I went out with him that night.

JWK: Was there an immediate connection?

KC: Yeah, it was pretty much love at first sight. He was so gorgeous and, apparently, he was smitten by me too. That evening we went out to eat with his parents before the show. He bowed his head and gave thanks to the Lord. I said “Omigosh! Are you Christian?” He said “Yes.” I said “I am too!” I was so excited because I had been asking for the Lord to send me a Christian man I could fall in love with.

As we went out, I realized that Glen had an alcohol problem. That would end up being something that we dealt with for many years. But God delivered him from that eventually. Sadly, he had a relapse but God was with him then as well.

JWK: Did he beat it the second time too?

KC: Yeah, absolutely.

JWK: When you found out about Glen’s diagnoses, how was the decision made to go through with the concert tour? That must have been a scary decision to make.

KC: Yeah, it definitely made us nervous. We were holding our breath every night he walked on stage and praying “Oh, Lord, help us get through this.” But he was still very high functioning. It was in the early stages and it was something he wanted to do. We felt like we needed to go public with it (so that) if he did have some odd behavior on stage that people would understand that he was battling Alzheimer’s and that they would be understanding and overlook it. They really exceeded our expectations…We were afraid that people might not even want to come and see somebody who had a disease like that perform. It might be too sad and depressing. But the exact opposite happened. He walked on stage to a Standing Room Only house and they cheered him on from the first song to last, rooting for him. It was an outpouring of love…He was so happy on stage and he loved them back. It was so much fun and encouraging to all of us.

JWK: Do you feel that performing the music — and the love and support he received from his fans — helped stave off the disease?

KC: Yeah, I do, absolutely…A music therapist…(with) Music Has Power…told us the music utilizes all of the brain at the same time. So, everything’s firing at once. It’s a very stimulating memory aid. So, I think music, in particular, helped him plateau and not progress in the illness. I mean eventually, of course, it progresses…All the doctors told us that they felt like staying active and doing the music was really good therapy and it was really helping him maintain.

JWK: How is Glen now?

KC: He’s in a memory care community. It’s a community that’s designed for people who have Alzheimer’s and dementia to enhance their quality of life and keep them safe. There’s medical care around the clock…His body is really healthy. He seems content and happy for the most part but his disease is progressing. He’s lost the ability to communicate except in short sentences. There are moments of lucidity…and when they do come he says things like “I love you” and he says “We are so blessed.” I’ve seen him walk over to the window and put up his hands and say “Thank You, Heavenly Father.” So, this is one of my main concerns because he can’t understand what I’m saying to him. I know as you’re facing mortality that — of all the times in your life — that’s the time when you want to draw the nearest to God. I’m concerned about him spiritually but when I see him say these things I know that God has listened and I know that he’s felt his presence. I know that he still has a relationship with God. That’s astounding to me (but) he is a born-again believer and why should this surprise me? I know God is with him and it really comforts me.

JWK: How is the family holding up?

KC: It ‘s a very slow illness and we’ve had plenty of time to adjust to it. It was the hardest for us in the two years after the tour because…during the tour was like in stage two to four.  After the tour, we saw him go from stage five to stage six. We were caring for him at home during that time and it was just really, really stressful.

JWK: What do you want people do know about this movie?

KC: It’s uplifting. It’s funny. It’s definitely not a downer. It’s a story of courage and love and family and great music…We just hope that it’s an encouragement to families that are dealing with dementia and Alzheimer’s. There’s a little bit of  a stigma, I think, attached to this disease and there need not be. It’s nothing to be ashamed  of.  It’s an illness like any other illness. I’m hoping it encourages families to continue living their lives the best they can, as long as they can (and to) support one another and lift each other up.

Finally…I’ll end this post with one of my favorite Glen Campbell tunes. Warning:  A Little Less of Me may seem a bit out of tune in the Selfie Generation. It’s message may also strike some as simplistic.  But, to me, true values tend to be remarkably simple. I think this song sums up the essence of positive Christianity and faith in general.

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 Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11
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