Spirit of the West’s John Mann was diagnosed with Alzheimers disease. And he is still rocking.


It’s rare that we are able to look inside the struggles of celebrities in deteriorating health – mental or physical, or both. We see them at their peak and they entertain us and when disease and age strikes they disappear behind closed doors. In America the paparazzi hunts them down for glimpses without permission, but Canadians are a more respectful bunch and we let people do as they please. We’ll hear conflicting reports like they may or may not have had an aneurism, then we ultimately learn of their deaths and then in their absence we proceed to celebrate how much they affected us when they were in top form. It’s a weird thing, really.

If you’ve been in Vancouver for any amount of time you’ve likely seen the band Spirit of the West play a show. They’ve been together for over 30 years, they came to define the 1990’s in Vancouver, and they continue to keep making us move with their infectious tunes to this day.

Last September their frontman, John Mann, went against the closed-doors narrative that I described above and bravely went public with a diagnosis he received: early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. He also went against the grain and decided to play a kickass concert with all of his friends and bandmates, to celebrate life and what it has brought them so far, and to let us all know he’s not giving up any time soon.

John Mann Here and Now is a film airing Saturday July 4th at 9 PM on CBC Television. It’s made up of footage from this very special concert, narrated by Grant Lawrence and with a few segues into old footage and insights. I just watched an advance screener and am wiping my eyes as I write this; it’s truly moving, and I recommend you tune in or record it on your DVR as it is not to be missed by people who have been touched by this band in the past. Not only those of you who have seen SOTW live but even just appreciated one of their recorded songs.

Here’s the trailer:

I don’t know John Mann personally but in my life I’ve been forced to watch as Alzheimer’s took my great great grandmother, then my great grandmother, then my great uncle and, finally, my grandfather. The grim truth that John is dealing with is that unless researchers come up with a cure in the next 30 years this disease is also going to take him. Saying that it’s going to be a goddamned shame doesn’t even begin to describe it. But he’s promised to perform as long as he can, and it’s going to be a long and drawn out goodbye that we, the public, have him say to us. And us to him. This concert and the short film that was produced with it was the first stage of this goodbye and it was perfect in its celebration and acknowledgement for John’s past, and his present and future struggle.

My hope is that as he continues to battle this he’s surrounded with as many good friends and fans as were at this show he played. Hell, at every show he’s ever played. While I wouldn’t at all enjoy seeing him deteriorate I hope that he continues to tell his story to us so that people can understand Alzheimer’s more, and perhaps he’ll help generate more of a push to find a cure.

The film ends exactly the way that you hope that it does, with the band belting out their hit song Home for a Rest, Mann exclaiming “You’ll have to excuse me, I’m not at my best!”. And we will, John. You know that we will. Thanks for all that you’ve done, and for all that you’ve got left.