Weekly column in the Washington Times Communities by Laurie Edwards-Tate
Singer Glen Campbell, now 75 years old, has been performing on studio recordings, in concert, and on radio, television and films for six decades. His remarkable history includes beloved hits like “Wichita Lineman,” “Southern Nights,” “Gentle on My Mind,” and “Rhinestone Cowboy. He’s an accomplished musician who was once a session guitar player on songs like the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” before becoming a star himself. He is a six-time Grammy Award winner and is in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Campbell was recently honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award Grammy, and performed on the show with country music star Blake Shelton and The Band Perry. The audience was on its feet and Campbell soaked up the warm reception.
Six months ago, Campbell expected that he would never appear in public again, much less on an international stage live. In June 2011, Campbell made public that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Instead, Campbell has a new album out, “Ghost on the Canvas,” and is on a nationwide concert tour. He performed at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut Friday, February 24 along with Ronnie Milsap to a sold-out crowd, and in Jackson, Mississippi last night. He will take a break and be back on the road for tour dates in Jacksonville, Florida, Minnesota, and Alexandria, Virginia.
When Campbell announced his diagnosis, he said he would make the most of his time before the disease progressed further. He had no idea how prophetic those words would turn out to be. Campbell is newly popular and has been embraced by fans with an outpouring of affection and support. Campbell says it’s surprising and inspiring to him, and he hopes to inspire people with Alzheimer’s disease to continue on in their lives.
Campbell and his wife Kim had been noticing his memory lapses and problems on stage. Kim was concerned audiences might think Campbell was under the influence, although he had put some well-documented substance abuse problems well behind him with her help many years ago. The official diagnosis explained much.
Julian Raymond, Campbell’s co-producer and co-writer on Campbell’s new album, was among those concerned that revealing Campbell’s condition would hurt his album sales and his ability to book shows for fear he would embarrass himself on stage. But it has been the opposite.
Campbell’s family plays together with him. His brother is his guitar player, his son plays drums and his daughter plays keyboards on tour with him. Campbell says he’s fine, “I’m cool,” and calls Alzheimer’s “just a period I’m going through in my life.” He says he’s having a great time.
Campbell does use teleprompters in the event he flubs lyrics to a song, but it is virtually the only accommodation he uses.
Researched and medical professionals agree that music can be a powerful tool in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. A Boston University School of Medicine study in 2010 found that music can help people with dementia form new memories more easily. Music facilitates cognitive function and coordinates motor movements. A person’s ability to engage in music, especially rhythmic playing and singing, remains intact long into the disease’s progression.
Alzheimer’s disease is something most people would rather look away from. But Glen Campbell’s willingness to be open with his fans proves to them that a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease does need not be terminal or hopeless.
Campbell says he especially enjoys playing with his kids because he originally taught them all to play, and looks forward to being on the road with them. He knows it could be his farewell tour, but if we are all fortunate it will be an extremely long goodbye.
Just as Magic Johnson demystified HIV/AIDS, and Michael J. Fox humanized Parkinson’s disease, Glen Campbell may be the catalyst that helps people understand and recognize Alzheimer’s disease and the need to find treatments and a cure.