Do Not Go Gentle

You know when a few, seemingly disparate, things come together in one’s mind? Well that’s how I feel today. Museums, music and dementia.

A friend of mine on Facebook (he’s actually also a real friend and not just one in a social media context. I do have a few…) posted a moving video of what is being regarded as Glen Campbell’s “last song“. It’s a ballad recorded very recently and, almost immediately thereafter he has moved into 24 hour care as he has now entered the final stages of Alzheimer’s.

Glenn Campbell is one of the greatest guitarists and song writers, of any genre, of any time. Before he stepped out on his own he had been a member of The Wrecking Crew, an in-house band of musicians who are the actual players on hundreds of other, more famous artists’ albums. (The story of The Wrecking Crew is fascinating and I’d urge you to check it out if you can).

But Alzheimer’s, and any other cause of dementia, does not respect creativity and fame. Its insidious tendrils fan out through the brain and, slowly but steadily, they switch off the lights as they go (watch Grayson Perry’s excellent Channel 4 programme “Who Are You” for a typical, yet hugely moving, case study).

I was fortunate, a couple of months back, to attend a session at the conference of the Group for Education in Museums which looked at how museums can provide services to people with dementia. The “Portal To The World” workshops at The Fitzwilliam Museum were an excellent example of museums being used as safe, creative places where both people with dementia (I hate the phrase “dementia sufferers” and the implied sense of pity that comes with it) AND their carers could come together and make, talk, see, hear, discover, be……

Such programmes cannot easily be put together and need collaboration between museum and specialists. However, when it works it really works!

This is where Dylan Thomas comes in. Having seen the story about Glen Campbell and having experienced the work some museums are doing, it got me thinking about his famous poem “Do Not Go Gentle“. I have always associated that with the sense of loss that one feels when a loved one dies. The anger it generates. The raging against “the dying of the light”. But I now view it as a call, not to anger, but to action. In the context of dementia (and I’m not going to give it the honour of a capital “D”) it is the call to not give up. To find that spark of creativity in all of us and keep nurturing it until the very last.

Whilst I’m pretty sure no one reading this blog will have the impact of Glen Campbell in their lifetime, we are all creative beings. We can all benefit from activity in a museum/art gallery context.

So, whether you are the lineman for the county or the linesman for your local rugby team, however frail your deeds have been, however often you caught and sang the sun in flight, when dementia comes knocking I hope that your rage can take you to a better, creative place and that you blaze like a meteor and be gay.


6 thoughts on “Do Not Go Gentle

  1. Beautiful, just beautiful. I heard the Glen Campbell song on 6 Music a week or so ago, along with a short interview, so very very touching

  2. This really struck a chord with me, not because I have any close friends or relatives with dementia, but because I was recently moved to tears, very unexpectedly, by a poem called The Long Goodbye, read aloud by its author (Attila the Stockbroker) at a music festival. It’s about his mother who had Alzheimers and also reminds us that the:

    need for human warmth,
    for company, for stimulation
    for mental challenge
    is as strong as ever.

    Anyway, his mum certainly didn’t ‘go gentle’ so I just thought you might like to read it too:

  3. This is wonderful Essex and struck an emotional chord with me – my father got early onset dementia when he was younger than I am now, still working with my youngest sister still at school – he was a very young 58 – he quickly became a sad, lost, haunted grey ghost who lost speech and I think in the end willed himself to die as the only choice he had left. Anything museums can do to reconnect people with joy and their real self is a huge benefit. I like the connection with the Dylan Thomas poem which I have always loved – there is nothing gentle about dementia and its effects.

  4. Very moving and inspiring. At Brooklands Museum we do believe we can make a difference. Most of our staff and volunteers have been trained in dealing with people with dementia and we run, once a month, a reminiscence cafe. We can all help make a difference.

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