Some Artists Use Their Work to Come to Terms with Dementia

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • “Take good care of my baby,” Bobby Vee crooned in 1961. Fifty years later, those lyrics take on a new meaning since he’s the one struggling. The pop idol is now 70 years old and has Alzheimer’s disease. He joins other famous artists such as performer Glen Campbell who have come forward recently with their diagnosis.

    Vee stopped touring in 2011 when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He described experiencing a strange feeling only once several years before the diagnosis, but otherwise seemed to be asymptomatic. Currently he experiences difficulty with his speech; in comparison, his memory is still relatively intact, according to his family.

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    In the aftermath of his diagnosis as well as his wife’s battle with serious health issues, Vee and his family headed on a road trip from Minnesota to Tucson, Arizona in order to come to grips with these health challenges. On his blog, Vee wrote about this time: "So without a song or a script I am stepping onto a stage that we all share: the mystery of life. While in Tucson we set up some amps and drums in the garage ... We just did what we have always done, only this time there was no stage. There were no spotlights and no audience. We made music every day for a week ... just for us. For the joy of making music. For the joy of being together. For all of the reasons I ever picked up a guitar or sang a tune in a Fargo, N.D. garage back in '59. I have truly come full circle! We played songs I grew up with, songs the kids grew up with, songs we wrote, songs that had meaning and memories for us all. No agenda, no set list, no tickets to sell ... This was all we have ever done, and all we could do. So we did it."

    A phoenix emerged from those jam sessions – a new album called “The Adobe Sessions” (named for the adobe garage where the family played these sessions).  The album, which will be released on February 3, features 18 tracks, includes songs that were part of the family’s campouts. The record itself also is a family affair; Vee’s sons and daughter played various instruments or sang during the sessions.

    Vee isn’t the only musician who is using music to work through this terrible disease. Campbell also released two albums, “Ghost on the Canvas” in 2011 and “See You There” in 2013. The later album includes a number of reinterpretations of some of his hits, such as “Galveston” and “Wichita Lineman,” that were recorded when Campbell was making Ghost on the Canvas.

    These two men aren’t the only ones who have plunged into their art to come to grips with their disease. William Utermohlen, who died in 2007, started painting self-portraits upon learning he had Alzheimer’s disease in 1995. The paintings show technical flaws, such as a flattening of perspective and limited detail, as his disease progressed. The paintings were exhibited in various shows and a documentary, “Telling It Like It Is,” that chronicles the artist’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease is in post-production. Furthermore, his wife, Patricia Utermohlen, discusses the artist, Alzheimer’s and the paintings on a video on Vimeo.

  • These various works are a testament to the artistry of these men and serve as a sad reminder of how much we are losing or have lost to Alzheimer’s disease. Watching these men fade away is so sad. Thanks to the work that they’ve created in the music studio or the artist studio, their talent can live on as their memories fade away.

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    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    Baenan, J. (2014). Bobby Vee brazes Alzheimer’s to record once more. ABC News.

    Dauphin, C. (2013). Glen Campbell’s ‘gift’ to fans: New album ‘See You There.’ Billboard.

    Grady, D. (2006). Self-portraits chronicle a descent into Alzheimer’s. New York Times.

    Vee, B. (2012). Greetings family, friends and fans. Bobbyveeblog.

Published On: January 31, 2014