What Warren, Glen, Johnny, John, Kris can teach us about living

I recently stumbled across this video of Glen Campbell singing “I’m Not Gonna Miss You”.  It highlights his struggle with Alzheimer’s in a very personal way (if you would like to learn more about his farewell tour, watch this short segment done in 2012…very touching as 3 of his children toured – and struggled – right along with him).  I could not get the song out of my head and shared it with Lisa (my wife) who really did not want to watch it due to the emotional content but finally acquiesced.  As we were sitting in our kitchen this evening and she was finishing some emails for work, I was watching the video and kept restarting it to listen to the first again and again.  She stopped what she was doing and asked me why I was felt so connected to the song.  In order to give context to my reply, here are the lyrics…

“I’m still here but yet I’m gone
I don’t play guitar or sing my songs
It never defined who I am
The man that loved you till the end
You’re the last person I will love
You’re the last face I will recall
And most of all…
I’m not gonna miss you “

I told her my connection with the song was with the raw emotional power of the lyrics of someone facing the final chapter of his life and his willingness to continue to live his life through his art.  With all the challenges that Alzheimer’s brought, he still went on tour and got up in front of hundreds of people each night knowing that at some point in the evening he would most likely forget any number of things.  Then, in the last months of life, he did the only thing he could…he wrote and recorded music.

There are other artists who have taken similar paths recently.  These include Warren Zevon, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, and John Mellencamp.  Not all of them are suffering from a terminal illness but all recorded music about moving through phases in their lives.

If you were to take the time to click on each of these links and watch & listen to “Keep Me In Your Heart”, “Closer To The Bone”, “Hurt”, and “Troubled Man”, I believe you would understand what I am about to share with you.  While all of them were at different stages in their lives and face dramatically different challenges, the following are 3 lessons about life for all of us:

  • Continually re-invent yourself BUT never abandon who you are
    • This is not as paradoxical as it sounds.  Sometimes our biggest downfall is success. The more successful we are, the more we think we have it all figured out.  The more we think we have it figured out, the less likely we are to learn and grow. Do you see the problem?  We need to continually push ourselves to grow but these should be variations on a theme.  We don’t change the core of who we are, we grow as we reflect on our experiences and relationships adding layers of understanding and wisdom.
  • Be passionately transparent
    • Connection is everything and you cannot connect if you are not willing to open up.  Don’t give measured responses or match the level of transparency of others.  Be vulnerable and aware that others are vulnerable as well.  All you have to do is what Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” video to know what I am talking about.  It is painfully apparent in that video that he has many things he would have changed if he could have.  I believe this comes with age because the older you get, the less likely you are to care about what other’s think because you know, in the end, Dr. Seuss was right…“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
  • F*#% the critics
    • Don’t seek success.  Write, speak, cook, sing, talk, build, lead, paint, draw, sell, (or any other verb you wish to insert) in the manner if which you believe in regardless of the commercial feasibility.  You start going down that road, you won’t like what you become.  Don’t believe me?  Listen to what Aaron Lewis has to say about it.

It is certainly not easy to do these things.  You run the risk of failure and disappointment every day.  That said, embrace opportunities to create the experiences that will be on your video when you write your own version of these songs.  As Kris said in “Closer To The Bone”, “…Ain’t you getting better, running out of time.”

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Filed under Real Life, The Human Condition

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