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Posted on Feb 25, 2016

“Music is the last thing to go” for Glen Campbell

“Music is the last thing to go” for Glen Campbell

The documentary movie, “I’ll Be Me,” sensitively portrays the progress of Alzheimer’s in country singer/guitarist Glen Campbell. In spite of his ongoing mental deterioration, the fabled guitarist/country singer goes on the road to perform a nation-wide farewell tour, at the urging of his family.   Bravely supported by his wife, and a band including three of his children, the tour is a triumph musically. As long as a teleprompter provides the words, the singer does well with the lyrics.   When it is time to play the guitar solos, he lets it rip, and shows why he is an acclaimed musician. The tour ends gracefully on a triumphant note only when Campbell’s dementia does not allow him to continue. 

At the same time, the tour was designed to bring awareness to Alzheimer’s disease, and it succeeds doing so.   He is shown meeting US Congressional leaders who have the power to increase funding for research and treatment of Alzheimer’s. 

In watching the documentary, I was struck by a few things. It is amazing that when all of his other faculties are fading, Glen Campbell came alive when it is time to play music.   Towards the end of the movie, his wife says it best: “Music is the last thing to go. It is the most deeply imbedded thing in his memory, soul, and spirit.” 

Glen Campbell

There may be a scientific explanation. Researchers Nancy Kanwisher and Josh McDermott, professors of neuroscience at MIT (article published in the journal “Neuron” and reported in the New York Times) have discovered there are neural pathways in the brain that react exclusively to music.   There is another set of pathways that respond to speech. Neither of these areas reacts to other kinds of sound or noise. Can it be that while other pathways shrank in Glen Campbell’s brain, that those areas dedicated to music continued to function at a higher level? 

The message is clear: play an instrument and listen to music daily. 

Also striking: how the support of his family enabled Glen Campbell to continue to do what he loved and was gifted at, even when so many of his faculties had failed. As a result he was able to end his musical career with dignity and pride.

  • Howard Gladstone
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