Forever Gentle on my Mind…

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My occupation sometimes gives me opportunities I’m grateful for. Not all of us are bright enough to see (or hear) opportunity knocking. I had to learn that lesson the hard way. For years, you see, I’d wanted to see the late John Denver in person. Twice Sports Leisure Vacations took groups to see him in northern California. I didn’t go, thinking there would always be next time.
For as long as I can remember, I have loved the music of Peter, Paul and Mary. We took groups to see them numerous times over the years. I always had an excuse of why I couldn’t make it. Next time, I said.
Of course, the next times ran out for both John Denver and Mary Travers. I will never see them perform live in person. I told myself that would never happen again. So when I heard that Glen Campbell was making a farewell tour after announcing he was suffering from Alzheimer’s, it was quite obvious there would be no second chance to see him. In checking his concert schedule, I discovered he had already completed most of his west coast stops. Only one concert date remained, in Phoenix, a city I needed to visit to inspect the hotel for our upcoming Spring Training trip. So I rescheduled my trip, paid an extra $150 bucks for a last minute ticket, plus $65 for the ticket to the show, and off I went to Phoenix.
It was worth every penny. How was the concert? I knew you would ask that. I waited a few days to write you, because I wanted to think about how to describe my feelings last Friday in Phoenix at Comerica Theater.
The concert wasn’t flashy. It wasn’t perfect. There weren’t mushy family videos and flashy lights. There was one simple costume change. It was a wonderful night that I will always remember. Glen was on stage for an hour and fifteen minutes. He sang all his favorite tunes the people came to hear, along with a couple from his new and final album. A short, two-song encore concluded the evening.
What made the evening so perfect was the fact that no one expected it to be perfect. We all paid to see and hear an entertainer who wasn’t 100% and we knew it. Could this be the first time a person with Alzheimer’s has been so public while suffering from the disease?
I’m reminded of a book I read recently called, “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference,” by Malcolm Gladwell. As I sat in the theater, I thought to myself, “This is the tipping point.” Glen Campbell, by being an incredible public figure while sick, is putting a name and a face on Alzheimer’s like no one has done before. Indeed, I believe he is “the tipping point.” This is the time when all of us who don’t know how to act or react when around those who have the illness, who don’t know what to say to the caregivers, this is when we get more comfortable with all that jazz. It’s a time when the actions of one person can make all the difference.
This has happened before. I remember back in the early 90’s, when AIDS had first been discovered and people were scared to death of the disease. Then, the circumstances surrounding a 12-year old boy named Ryan White became public. Ryan wasn’t gay like many of the others diagnosed with the disease at the time. He was just a little boy who has the misfortune of getting a tainted blood transfusion. But from that day forward, the face of the disease changed. Public acceptance and understanding increased ten-fold.
We may be seeing that same thing happen again. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Wouldn’t it be amazing if a man with such incredible musical and guitar-playing abilities was able to use those talents to create such a “tipping point?”
The irony is that Glen Campbell often doesn’t remember, even just after the show’s conclusion, what has taken place on the stage. The nature of the disease is that it impacts short term memory the hardest. He sings his songs and thanks the audience. He has three of his adult children in the band on stage with him, watching dad’s every move on stage, in the event he loses his place and can’t quickly recover. There are large monitors with the words and directions on them. Despite the monitors, from my seat in the 8th row, at times you could see the confusion on his face.
He lost his place within the lyrics a few times, ever so briefly. He even joked about it once. The one thing he didn’t miss were the guitar licks. The man can play. They say muscle memory is very powerful. I certainly saw a sample of that.
The Rhinestone Cowboy was in all his glory. The tears flowed often in that brief 75 minutes he was on stage. Not his, the audiences’. I was celebrating a piece of my childhood, back to the days of “The Glen Campbell Good Times Hour” on CBS television in the late 60’s, closing my eyes and listening to the music. I doubt that it mattered to many in the theater that the evening wasn’t slick and perfect. In fact, I’m certain it didn’t. There was a lot of love and human understanding in that theater in Phoenix. It was a most unique evening.
It seems a bit ironic that Glen Campbell’s most memorable pop tune is “Gentle on my Mind.” It seems ironic because his mind is slowly drifting away, while he hears the cheers of the crowd, and plays the music he loves with his children beside him. Whether he knows it from moment to moment or not, it’s an incredible way to make your last lap, and the way he’s making it may be felt by many people for years to come. I think it’s called a legacy. Glen Campbell should be proud.
By the time he got to Phoenix, his fans were indeed waiting. The Wichita Lineman is still on the line. We should all be so lucky.

14 thoughts on “Forever Gentle on my Mind…”

  1. Thank you, Mark, for such a tribute. It was an inspiring read that you so beautifully wrote. I shall check out the Gladwell book at the library. As we age, the fear of this disease makes us become so much more aware of our memory loss, some normal, some not so.

    Thank you again, Dorothy

  2. Mark, I keep telling all my older friends that the discovery and use of your own creative talents can extend and enhance your life. Retirement gave me an opportunity to study and write poetry–something I can continue to do until I close my eyes for the last time.

    Sports Leisure–the product of your creativity–adds to my enjoyment.
    Thank you!

  3. Mark, dear friend, you haven’t lost your touch – you brought a lump to my throat and tears in my eyes. You write beautifully and have that ability to grab a reader’s emotions as well as attention. You leave a person satisfied and a little richer for the experience as your words rattle around the brain pan – always finding a home in both head and heart.
    I will always find exclusive room for you to be just you as you leave footprints on my heart.
    Best always,
    Tom

  4. Awesome blog, Mr. Mark. Hello from Queenstown, New Zealand! I was honored to take the final SLV trip to see John Denver just one week before his passing. It was a magical evening. Glad you got a taste of this magic for yourself whilst seeing Glen Campbell. We’re in the business of making dreams come true . . . sometimes even for ourselves. My being here in NZ is another one of those dreams coming true–not just for me, but also my fellow travelers. I would surely place travel and music among God’s greatest blessings. Amen!

  5. Mark,
    The “lump in the throat & tears in the eyes” were here also as I read your blog. Never got to see Glenn Campbell but am reminded that I was fortunate to see & hear the Carpenters perform before we lost Karen Carpenter. Some performances just mean more than others & this one was particularly special for you & all the others in the audience that night. I saw my Dad’s memory slowly fade away due to dementia so can relate to the feelings of sadness. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

  6. Mark,
    Someone needs to check the “clock” on your computer. I posted Sunday, Feb. 26 at 5:14 p.m. but the post shows Feb. 27 at 1:14 a.m. The only time I am up at that hour is when I am getting ready for a SLV trip!

  7. Looking forward to my next trip with SLT and trying not to feel deprived because I just can’t take them all.

  8. Thanks Mark …Having seen Glenn Cambell in person many years ago, it really gave me a thrill to hear he still gave so much pleasure to so many even with his disability.

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