Saturday, January 25, 2014

It's Music That Keeps Us Truckin'

I recently watched a very special film titled The Music Never Stopped. It's based on a case study by Oliver Sacks that he called The Last Hippie. It is the story of a father-son relationship, actually, but centers on the great lengths the father must go to re-connect after their estrangement. The problem is that Gabriel, his son who he has never seen in years, has a brain tumor and is unable to form new memories. He can remember his life growing up but can't remember the last two minutes of a conversation. The task for his father Henry (J K Simmons who you may recall as the CIA Director in Burn After Reading) seems impossible at the beginning of the film. The son's memories are of his dad thwarting him as he came under the influence of the hippie culture of the 60's, which ultimately resulted in his leaving home and never coming back.

The arc of the story goes from the initial hopelessness of the reality of the situation to the discovery that music can waken the damaged brain. They try different kinds of music and discover a certain piece of music especially connects, but the adults fail to connect this fragment of classical music to a Beatles tune. Once that threshold is crossed they discover that the young man (perhaps in his mid-to-late thirties) is awakened by the Beatles, Dylan and the especially the Grateful Dead.

You may recall another superb film based on a book by neurologist Oliver Sacks: Awakenings, starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro. I once owned a copy of his book The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat. But it his research into the healing power of music that is especially salutory.

For me the film awakened a new interest in the Grateful Dead. I had a friend in college whose two passions were Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, and the music of the Grateful Dead. For some reason, however, I never owned a record by the Dead until this month when I purchased a copy of The Very Best of the Dead. (Note: I do have a great bluegrass album with Jerry Garcia on it called Old and In the Way.)

After many a-listen I believe I understand how it was that I never collected their music. I was into the heavier rock that came out of the East coast and England. The Dead were playing a sweeter music, and I fully appreciate how special they were now that I have internalized songs like Uncle John's Band and Touch of Grey, which I find endlessly satisfying. Their recordings focused on harmonies and a musical interplay of musicians who gathered simply to enjoy the experience of making music.

Here are the lyrics of their classic, Truckin'... Storytelling in song, at its finest.

Truckin'

Truckin' got my chips cashed in. Keep truckin', like the do-dah man
Together, more or less in line, just keep truckin' on.

Arrows of neon and flashing marquees out on Main Street.
Chicago, New York, Detroit and it's all on the same street.
Your typical city involved in a typical daydream
Hang it up and see what tomorrow brings.

Dallas, got a soft machine; Houston, too close to New Orleans;
New York's got the ways and means; but just won't let you be, oh no.

Most of the cast that you meet on the streets speak of true love,
Most of the time they're sittin' and cryin' at home.
One of these days they know they better get goin'
Out of the door and down on the streets all alone.

Truckin', like the do-dah man. Once told me "You've got to play your hand"
Sometimes your cards ain't worth a dime, if you don't lay'em down,

Sometimes the light's all shinin' on me;
Other times I can barely see.
Lately it occurs to me What a long, strange trip it's been.

What in the world ever became of sweet Jane?
She lost her sparkle, you know she isn't the same
Livin' on reds, vitamin C, and cocaine,
All a friend can say is "Ain't it a shame?"

Truckin', up to Buffalo. Been thinkin', you got to mellow slow
Takes time, you pick a place to go, and just keep truckin' on.

Sittin' and starin' out of the hotel window.
Got a tip they're gonna kick the door in again
I'd like to get some sleep before I travel,
But if you got a warrant, I guess you're gonna come in.

Busted, down on Bourbon Street, Set up, like a bowlin' pin.
Knocked down, it get's to wearin' thin. They just won't let you be, oh no.

You're sick of hangin' around and you'd like to travel;
Get tired of travelin' and you want to settle down.
I guess they can't revoke your soul for tryin',
Get out of the door and light out and look all around.

Sometimes the light's all shinin' on me;
Other times I can barely see.
Lately it occurres to me What a long, strange trip it's been.

Truckin', I'm a goin' home. Whoa whoa baby, back where I belong,
Back home, sit down and patch my bones, and get back truckin' on.
Hey now get back truckin' home.

Stay warm. Let the music take you away....

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