Starting up the Music That Never Stopped

Using Grateful Dead music to cure the brain might not sound like the most practical thing, but it is the basis of the film “The Music Never Stopped.” The film, which is based on a Dr. Oliver Sacks case study titled “The Last Hippie,” premieres nationwide on Friday.

The main character of the drama was mentally trapped in the 60’s years after -- the film takes place in 1986 -- because of a tragic cerebral trauma that impaired him from making new memories. Only music – specifically Grateful Dead music -- would successfully jog Gabriel’s memory and bring his former personality back to life. Moviegoers almost did not have the chance to hear the music in the film, but its two screenwriters said they would never let their dream die. And they didn’t.

It took Gwyn Lurie and Gary Marks fourteen years to see their product come to life on the big screen. Lurie said the initial brainstorm for the movie came to her early in her screenwriting career, and she especially loved the idea about “complicated relationships in families and how we can say harsh words and think there is always time to get things back. There is not always time.”

According to Lurie, the movie was never about the Grateful Dead. It was about “how we all have music that reflects our period of coming of age and that speaks to us.

“And for us and for Gabriel that was the Grateful Dead. … if you go to a Dead concert … you really feel like it is still locked in the [60’s] time period. It would have been hard if his love was another band, because most other music groups changed with the times, whereas the Grateful Dead have held onto that place in time,” said Lurie.

A main element of the movie was the music of the Grateful Dead, and the title is that of a Dead song. Marks said the songs were written into the script very specifically, and many of them were intertwined within the story.

There were only a few examples of the movie not getting the rights for particular songs, as the screenwriters said the Dead was very supportive of the project and helpful in its creation. According to Marks, The Grateful Dead's legacy agreed with the message of the film, which is the powerful role music can play for the brain. Had the Grateful Dead not wanted to be a part of the film, this movie never would have happened.

Dr. Concetta Tomaino is the real life music therapist who worked with the patient in the original case that the movie is based on. Today she is executive director and co-founder of the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function and the senior vice president of Music Therapy for the Beth Abraham Family of Health Services.

“The type of music therapy in the film is a very specific type of therapy because of the exact memory this patient has of particular music. It had to be the same artist, the same recording,” Tomaino said.

The film illustrates the knowledge of the music therapist and her connection with the patient, which Tomaino said “wouldn’t have been possible without the music.”

Marks said, ahead of the opening, the honor is already theirs.

“Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, the Grateful Dead and Stephen Stills all had watched the movie and had signed on right away. We (also) each received a letter from Dr. Oliver Sacks saying we did an honor to his work. And that was the highest honor,” said Marks.

Whether the film would be a smash hit or not was never the driving factor behind it, according to Lurie.

“Most artists are entrepreneurs because they are trying to create something from nothing. I think that people do their best work when they care about it deeply versus chasing after something they think there is a market for,” said Lurie.

Marks said now is the time for artists and writers to take more creative control over their work, as “there are so many venues because the traditional system is broken down so the convicted, zealous, persistent artist is going to thrive.”