This weekend I had the chance to watch the documentary, I’ll Be Me, for the second time. I’ll Be Me is the story of Glen Campbell’s final tour following the announcement that he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The first time I saw the documentary, I was at the world premier in Nashville at the national Leading Age conference. This weekend, it was shown at the Michigan Theatre in Ann Arbor. It didn’t lose its poignancy; it’s a moving example of marketing for the social good.
The film documents Glen’s amazing journey of 151 performances across America over a year and a half. Throughout the journey, it was the music, what John Carter Cash describes in the film as “the passion that drives the soul,” that propelled Glen. When he couldn’t remember the name of his wife or kids, he could remember the melodies to songs, sing the lyrics on the teleprompter, and play complicated riffs on the guitar. When his memory faded, the music didn’t. Nor did his sense of humor or his love for his family. No matter what he was losing, he was going to live the life that he had now—committed to personifying the name of the documentary, I’ll Be Me.
It’s not that the journey was easy. While you witness the tremendous bond with his family and the fun they have together on tour, you understand how great a challenge it is. His wife has become his “stage mom” and constant support and his three performing children face losing the dad they love as they experience live on stage the challenges of his now unpredictable nature.
At one point, his daughter, Ashley, appears before a Senate Appropriations Committee testifying about the need to fund research to combat the disease. She says that life is in large part “the memories you have.” She turns toward her dad, “I know that there will come a time when he won’t know that I’m his daughter. I will no longer be anything to him.”
The hope is that through the tour and this film, Glen will become to Alzheimer’s what Magic Johnson is to HIV/AIDS and Michael J. Fox is to Parkinson’s disease. Without Glen’s openness and the courage of his family to take the risk that he might embarrass himself on the tour and tarnish his reputation as a music legend, he would not be able to make as great of an impact.
Now that the film exists, it provides an opportunity for organizations that serve aging adults to take this message to their communities. Dave Gehm, Board Chair of Leading Age, the national association of non-profit senior services organizations, and President & CEO of Wellspring Lutheran Services of Michigan, introduced the film at its premier in Nashville.
He was also in Ann Arbor this weekend to represent the partnering organizations in the area — Glacier Hills, Evangelical Homes of Michigan, Presbyterian Villages of Michigan, United Methodist Retirement Communities, Gilbert Residence, Silver Maples and the Alzheimer’s Association— that had come together as part of their outreach efforts to underwrite the event.
I’ll Be Me at the Michigan Theater
Similar kinds of showings are taking place across the country as marketing efforts for the social good—to bring national awareness to the scope of the problem and bring influence in Washington for research appropriations.
Just as a number of the music celebrities seen in the film noted that they have family members who suffered from dementia, so too all of us in the audience must have thought about those we know who have suffered loss in this way. And while there is no direct call to action in the film, there is an implied one—let the music be the passion that drives your soul…to make good memories each day. To extend yourself in kindness to those who are losing their memories. To choose to support a cure.
The Rhinestone Cowboy thanks you.
Glen Campbell with his daughter, Ashley