Kids may not know “Wichita Lineman,” and boomers may have forgotten his hot-shit 12-string flurries, but singer/songwriter/TV star Glen Campbell is not going to be easily forgotten, thanks to director James Keach’s warm, moving, at times harrowing doc Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me.
That’s true even if Campbell himself forgets who he is. In 2011, well over 70, the Rhinestone Cowboy announced his imminent retirement — and that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. But he kept on keeping on for 115 concerts after that, reading lyrics off a teleprompter: He may not recall the words, but he still knows his way around the melodies he’s spent a life inside.
At one point, he reads aloud words from the prompter telling him to lay down a guitar solo — then, figuring it out, he does just as instructed, his picking hardly diminished. The shows are often tense, but he’s aided onstage by his daughter Ashley, who plays banjo and sings beside him and can, with a smile, urge him through between-song confusion and on to the next number.
They dazzle together on “Dueling Banjos,” just as she dazzles when she advises a congressional committee on the urgency of funding Alzheimer’s research. Campbell beams at her, even when he’s not always sure just who she is. Valedictory and elegiac, Keach’s film captures a performer who only truly seems to inhabit himself during the performances.
He keeps patting the back of his neck when he’s onstage, a strange sight explained by Kim Woolen, his impressive, attentive, deeply loving fourth wife: When the crowd cheers him, the hairs back there stand up and tingle. The movie might stir that in you, too.