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Spirit of the West Prepares for Its Last Show as Singer John Mann Continues his Fight with Alzheimer’s

If you know of anyone who has been beset by dementia and Alzheimer’s, you’ll know how tragic it can be. First, there was my grandfather, a strong, hard-working first generation Canadian who, as far as I knew, could build anything, fix everything and solve any problem. Then the prions in his brain began to take over and his mind slowly drifted away. He was completely aware of it, too, which must have been terribly, terribly frightening.

We’re now dealing with my father-in-law who went from living on his own in a big house to a palliative care facility in six months. That’s his body sitting in that wheelchair, but we all wonder where his mind is.

My grandfather died at 102 while my father-in-law is hanging on at 87. Imagine, then, what Spirit of the West frontman John Mann is enduring. He was diagnosed with early onset dementia at 51. Things have been slowly slipping away from him to the point where he won’t be able to perform anymore. Knowing that the end of John’s career is here, Spirit of the West is prepping for some final hometown gigs in Vancouver. The Globe and Mail takes a look.

If you’ve seen Spirit of the West live, you appreciate the truth of its name. This is a band with spirit in spades, led by John Mann out front: a whirling dervish of energy, swinging for the fences every night, with a gorgeous voice and the stage banter of a fast-living but soulful poet.

But early-onset Alzheimer’s disease is robbing Mann of his gift. After 32 years, the band is preparing to play its final reel, its final jig – its final gig. Not quite two years after making his dementia public, Mann, who is only 53, is in decline and it’s time. The band has been on a farewell tour and plays its final shows this week in Vancouver at the Commodore Ballroom, Thursday to Saturday night.

“Johnny is so brave and, in a way, so stubborn. I know he’d really want to keep doing it, but we just do not want it to become embarrassing,” says bandmate Geoffrey Kelly, Mann’s writing partner and co-front man. “And man, there are still moments when he sounds so fantastic; just like his old self.”

“Oh I love it, totally love doing it,” Mann says this week during an emotional interview, conducted with the help of his wife, Jill Daum, who is an actor and playwright.

“I asked him about the tour and he says he’s not thinking about the past or the future,” Daum says. “He’s just loving being onstage.”

Read on.  Meanwhile, there are plans to stage an event for John in Toronto on June 2. Stay tuned.

On a semi-related note, here’s a great story on The Music as Medicine Project.

Music has a way of representing and preserving certain moments in a person’s life in a way far differentfrom the way other memory cues do. In the same manner that music can work as a memory aid, music can work as medicine, as one new service-learning program at Ithaca College shows.

The Music as Medicine Project — a collaboration between the School of Music, the Gerontology Institute,the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies, the Office of Civic Engagement and the Center for Faculty Excellence — highlights the therapeutic power of music and the importance of service-learning. The initiative emerged from conversations between the Gerontology Institute and the School of Music during the fall semester.

According to the national organization Music & Memory, the brain and music are tightly linked. Music is often associated with certain episodic memories and acts as a recall cue for memory. For older adults and those struggling with diseases of memory impairment, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, music can act as a powerful memory aid and bring comfort and healing to affected individuals.

Finish it up here.


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38431 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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