Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Back in the day, when I was a young 'un in Omaha, the music scene was far different from the hyper-Balkanized one we have today. Everyone listened to the local AM station KOIL, and it played a hodgepodge. The Beatles, sure, but also Frank Sinatra and Andy Williams. The Stones, Petula Clark, Elvis, the Ramsey Lewis Trio, Roger Miller,…

It didn't hurt that we were in the middle of an explosion of creative diversity. I think hundreds of years from now, musical historians will look back on it as uprecedented.

Anyway, in the middle of it all was Glen Campbell. He had a fine career as a sought-after session musician; he was a Beach Boy for awhile; eventually he became a recording star on his own. He went on to superstardom, occasional movie roles, a career fizzle, multiple wrecked marriages, a scandalous dalliance with Tanya Tucker, booze and cocaine.

But I was pretty much always a fan from the 1960s on. Although I'm not big on country music, he could transcend that easily. It helped that he had the musical sense to sing a lot of Jimmy Webb songs—I can't imagine a better pairing of singer and songwriter. His albums nearly always had some dreadful sentimental glop, but that's (a) show biz, and (b) why we have iPods.

And now he has Alzheimer's. This movie (which I watched off Netflix streaming) is about dealing with that malady, while at the same time going on a farewell concert tour. The result is a mixture of heartbreak and triumph. Heartbreak, because it's clear from the get-go that Glen's disease has robbed him of the ability to recall (for example) where he is, his childrens' names, who the President is, or even what year it is. On occasion, he can become querulous, paranoid, and obnoxious.

But also triumph, because he can still sing strongly (albeit not like in decades back), play genius guitar, and connect charismatically with a live audience. And he can still muster up a joke or two. When informed that he was being filmed for a movie about himself, he says: "Oh. I'll be me." From where they got the movie's title.

Quibbles: it's a little long, nearly two hours. Did we really need fourteen dozen talking-head scenes of his current wife telling us how difficult and unpredictable things are? (OK, probably not that many. But it seemed like that many.)