Gentle On My Mind: Glenn Campbell and Alzheimer’s Disease

A poignant concert at the Rialto Theatre in Joliet, Illinois on January 24, 2012. The “good-bye tour” of country singer Glenn Campbell as he runs out of time in his battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. The show is not about perfection, because Glenn at times stumbles over the lyrics and needs help to continue. Nor is it about pity, even though most of us in the audience find it difficult to watch him perform knowing that the disease is robbing him of the gift that makes his life meaningful. The show is about celebrating the legacy of a man in love with music. At this performance, two everyday heroes clearly emerge alongside the Rhinestone Cowboy.

One hero is Glenn’s wife of thirty years. Kim Campbell aids the seventy-five year old in all that he does. She stays by his side until he walks onto the stage where he again becomes one with the audience, and sings the songs so much a fabric of his mind and heart. Kim often helps Glenn get through the off-stage interviews. It is Kim who explains Glenn’s relapse into drinking and a DUI shortly before his diagnosis. She gets him to tell about his vivid memories of performing with Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Righteous Brothers and Beach Boys. She allows him to keep his dignity and respect when greeting his fans.

The other heroes are Glenn’s grown children, who back their dad’s music with their live band. The six-piece accompaniment includes daughter, Ashley, on the banjo and keyboards, and son, Cal, on drums and another son, Shannon, on guitar. The group keeps Glenn focused, as he tends to want to chitchat with the audience between songs. Giving him a musical introduction draws Glenn back to singing, which he does well. “By The Time I Get to Phoenix” is followed by “Southern Nights”. Ashley and her father play a duet, “Dueling Banjos”, and both are right on rhythm. The band is playing in the background when Glenn sings “It’s Your Amazing Grace” followed by “A Better Place”, whose haunting lyrics produce weepy eyes throughout the packed audience. At the end of the concert, the crowd leaps to its feet in a long standing ovation.

The Witchita Lineman will still be on the line, thanks to CDs. I want to recall Glenn Campbell in that last performance tour as a reminder of how much we remember as we lose our memory.

Like five million people, my Aunt Lois suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. I wrote Grandfather’s Remembering Book to highlight one way in which families can help the person who is struggling with memory problems. The anonymous words taken from the desk of the social worker who treated my Aunt Lois apply to Glenn Campbell.

“To love someone is to know the song in their heart and sing it when their memory fails.”

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