1 September 2015 | StevePulaski
He loves you, is grateful for you, but he's not gonna miss you
Country musician Keith Urban describes life in Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me quite simply and whimsically, saying it's a culmination of experiences and events but, above all, memories of those experiences. All we have in life at our fingertips is the very-recent past and the very-near future, with little idea of the present other than in a momentary sense. We rely on our memories, positive and negative, to take us back to times that have came and went, possibly days, weeks, months, or years ago.
Alzheimer's disease is such a cruel and unforgiving disease because it robs a person of their memories and, in turn, themselves, which takes away their knowledge of their footprint on life. Country musician Glen Campbell is the perfect example of a high-profile Alzheimer's case; following his heartbreaking diagnosis in 2011, Campbell didn't resort to seclusion, living his life in permanent confusion, but instead, with the help of his patient family and loving children, gave the world one final tour and beared his condition with us all. He reminds me a lot of Roger Ebert, who, following thyroid surgery that robbed him of his ability to eat, drink, and speak, decided to become socially active, appearing on numerous talk shows to raise awareness about his illness, in addition to writing more than he ever had before in his life.
Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me focuses on Campbell's Alzheimer's diagnosis, subsequent tour, and ongoing battle with the disease. An early scene in the film has him watching old home movies with his current wife Kim, where he mistakes his second wife for his daughter, cannot recall the names of any of his children, and sits in awe of the memories as if he's watching them for the first time. When Kim takes him to a neurologist to analyze his condition, resulting in the Alzheimer's diagnosis, Glen states that he thought his forgetfulness was a way the mind "cleanses" unnecessary information. When a doctor gives him four basic terms for Glen to try and recite back to him, Glen simply shrugs it off and says something like, I already heard them, I don't need to repeat them; he even responds to the doctor's simple question of "what year is it?" by saying, "the 1870's" before giggling shortly after.
Kim and Glen's numerous children decided that, following the decision to make Glen's battle with Alzheimer's public, they'd orchestrate a farewell tour across the United States. They'd arm Glen with extensive rehearsals and a teleprompter, in addition to being there on-stage with him playing instruments, in order to give his fans one last show for the books. Unheard of and completely out of left field, Glen went on stage, performing his classics, like the soulful "Wichita Lineman" (which he apparently played twice in a row on occasions without even knowing) and the infectious "Rhinestone Cowboy," which ended up being the song he performed before the Grammy's when he receive the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012. A clearly ecstatic Glen performed it before an energized and fully supportive crowd, in a performance that might even bring tears to your eyes; he even makes Paul McCarthy complete swoon over him backstage.
When Campbell sings, you can see a joyfulness wash over his face, as if he's channeling his old self and returning to who he once was. But even with that, whatever world Glen's in, he seems content most of the time, almost always smiling, cracking jokes, or being playful with his family. Of course, there are the heartwrenching times; consider when Glen mistakes individual doorbells on hotel guests' doors for elevator buttons, pushing each one without knowing any better, or when he can't find his golf clubs and blames one of his sons for tampering with them.
I'll Be Me doesn't spend even a third of its runtime wallowing in the sadness of circumstance or the cruelty that Alzheimer's brings to its victim and their family; there's too much more life to live and profile. Rather than being a mopey and emotionally mawkish depiction of the disease, the documentary is incredibly energized with Glen's simple but impacting songwriting, his calming and amiable smile, and the unconditional love and support of his family. It features a plethora of live performances from his final tour, all of which, similar to Michael Jackson's dedicated rehearsals in Michael Jackson's This Is It, reflecting not a sick soul but one who isn't through with life yet.
The documentary ends with Glen writing, composing, and performing "I'm Not Gonna Miss You," his final song before walking away from everything related to music. The song is a moving yet soul-crushing tune, which serves as a message to Kim that he won't know when she cries, when she's sad, and when she's hurting because "one thing selfishly remains" and that is his inability to miss her or remember her in a long-term sense. Glen's voice is crooning and silky smooth and, as it plays during the end credits, concludes a wonderful celebration of life through certain calamity and sends Glen riding off in the sunset like a real Rhinestone Cowboy.
Directed by: James Keach.