History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Friday, March 14, 2014

"The Music Never Stopped" (2011) a grim looking-back

Thanks to our Morris Public Library for having "The Music Never Stopped" available to check out on DVD. I hadn't heard of it before. It premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. It presents much the same appeal as "Almost Famous." Remember that flick?
These movies tap into nostalgia. The artistic community gave us lots of gems in the 1960s. It always does. The musical hits take us back in time.
Nostalgia about the 1960s presents a problem. On one level the times were very dark. This indeed casts a pall, tempered only to a limited degree by our popular culture (e.g. those Don Knotts movies). I hardly need remind you: We had the Viet Nam War and its draft of young men. The war was disruptive in so many ways. America was awakening to civil rights principles. In large part that was a redux of the U.S. Civil War. The struggle in the South was dangerous and sometimes tragic.
All this disruption was disconcerting and confusing for that grand WWII generation. We now call it the Greatest Generation. Actually that was just a book title (Tom Brokaw, the author in name at least), reflecting good marketing. It caught on.
Why shouldn't we spin something positive about a generation that is leaving us? My generation wouldn't have gone out of its way honoring those folks when we were young and smoking pot. We would have said on so many levels "They don't get it."
The movie "The Music Never Stopped" is instructive largely because it reveals that "generation gap." It's set in 1986. The Greatest Generation was still hale and hearty. The youth of the rebellious era had planted their feet in adulthood for better or worse. The old scars could still surface.
Thus we are introduced to the Sawyer family. "The Music Never Stopped" is based on Oliver Sacks' essay "The Last Hippie." The movie probes the father-son relationship of Henry Sawyer (played by J.K. Simmons) and his son Gabriel (Lou Taylor Pucci). Alas, the son suffers from a brain tumor that prevents him from forming new memories. The soundtrack has a rainbow of music bringing that decade of the 1960s to life. Need I cite the performers? You can probably guess.
The movie is a special showcase for The Grateful Dead. I admit to never having been a "Deadhead."
The movie's climactic scene, in my view, is where the father and son are together at a Grateful Dead concert. Mr. Sawyer has gotten into the spirit of it all. He's even dressed consistent with everyone. One problem is we don't see any sign of drug use! Here I'm reminded of the movie "Pearl Harbor" in which we saw none of the U.S. soldiers smoking cigarettes. "Sanitizing" can be a problem with movies. Nevertheless the concert scene is memorable, and is the kind of scene that could have had the audience rising to applaud. I didn't see the movie in a theater but I suspect it did not bring people to their feet, not like Meryl Streep at the conclusion of "Dancing Queen" in "Mamma Mia."
More room for happiness?
Maybe "The Music Never Stops" was too understated, not incorporating enough joy. Joy is not a word I would attach to this movie, even though it could have been constructed in that direction. The bonding of father and son, overcoming their background of alienation from each other, could have spelled joy in a major way. There's too much of a dark cloud over this movie. Yes, it reminds of much that handicapped us as a society in the 1960s.
In the present we see Mr. Sawyer lose his job - is he fired or is it more nuanced than that? - partly due to discouragement over his family issues. The father develops heart problems toward the end. He attends the concert as a coronary patient. He dies at the end. In tribute to the reconciliation within the family, there's an authentic 1980s "boom box" propped up at the graveside service and we hear the Grateful Dead. We hear "Touch of Gray."
Again, the audience might be inclined to applaud. Maybe they did. But again, the movie's potential for joy seemed strangely tamped down. It's as if the moviemakers had inhibitions. Maybe they were just striving for honesty, showing the generation gap as a truly mestastasizing schism in our society, growing in part out of the unforgivable tragedy that was Viet Nam. Such conflicts are not easily smoothed over.
The Sawyers do as well as can be expected. Having a conflict with your parents is nothing but sad. We see Gabriel storming out of the house when young. This is at the apex of the '60s and its tribulations. He's a runaway. He was a bright young man. He heads for New York's Greenwich Village.
Fast-forward to 1986: Gabriel becomes hospitalized for a brain tumor. The tumor is surgically removed but with a price: he has lost his ability to remember. In fact, his memories end in the year 1970. (Remember the Elvis Presley song "I Forgot to Remember to Forget?")
Music therapist finds opening
Enter a young music therapist, played by Julia Ormond, who sees in Gabe a prime candidate for her services. Father Henry must learn to embrace his son's choices and try to connect with him through music. Music is "the universal language" in this movie.
Mother "Helen" is played by Cara Seymour. She goes to work to keep the family going. Henry has to evolve from his Tin Pan Alley tastes and Nixon-oriented conservatism. His drive to re-connect with his son - what could be more powerful? - enables him to cover the chasm.
My generation knows all too well that our parents' tastes were fixed in stone. Lawrence Welk was a symbol for our parents, partly stereotype of course, but true to an extent. You couldn't force-feed the Beatles to these people. They might only pretend some interest, just to humor us, then they'd get back to their regular business. It has been said of the so-called Greatest Generation that "they never changed." In a positive sense this means they were resilient. They paid the bills. Maybe they just needed to stop and smell the roses a little more, learn to appreciate new music. Fat chance.
In "The Music Never Stopped" we see how a father fights to bridge the generational chasm, but it takes a health crisis. Blood is thicker than water. The family is whole at the end, albeit with Henry in the ground.
I might nit-pick this movie by saying there's a strange lack of curiosity about what happened to Gabriel between 1970 and 1986. I'm also reminded of the movie "Tropic Thunder," a movie in which Hollywood held up a mirror for itself. In "Tropic Thunder" we hear a character talk about how "retarded" people in movies don't really seem retarded. Examples: "Forrest Gump" and "Rain Man." A retarded person could not win the world ping pong championship.
In "The Music Never Stopped," Gabriel has had serious brain surgery and ought to act like he's quite handicapped, but he never comes across as such. He seems rather stable. He looks like an actor carefully trying to present some limitations in his condition. It's Hollywood. His eyes light up when he hears some of that old music. Henry instantly notices this and sees the potential for further progress, with that music therapist on hand.
Music is the vehicle by which Henry can connect with his son and repair the relationship. The film is essentially about connecting to one another through music.
Rebellion brims over
There's a flashback to the flashpoint when Gabriel left home. This was the quintessential type of "generation gap" conflict. Henry gives the quintessential line as the father: "We fought (in WWII) for your freedom to protest." Nothing could set off a young person more. We saw the abomination that was Viet Nam and felt all possible means could be tapped to protest and try to end it. And if this meant burning the American flag, so be it. Gabriel actually does this in a flashback scene, on stage as a rock musician. Henry is gripped with rage about what he saw as the negative effects of protest music.
The rest is history: Gabriel storming out of the house, eventually to become a disoriented recluse until his tumor stops him in his tracks. An older Henry realizes he can have his son back by learning to bond with him on the one subject Gabe has left: his music.
All hail the Beatles
The song "All You Need is Love" has a special place in the movie. It's a John Lennon song and has unusual structure, starting as it does with the French National Anthem. At first Gabriel hears the anthem without its segue into the Beatles song. He's frustrated. The Beatles version is then played for him with the triumphant recognition and reaction.
"All You Need is Love" was transformed in a Beatles satire on TV to "All You Need is Cash." I believe it was the Monty Python group that did that. They also had the Beatles playing at "Che" Stadium (named for Che Guevara) rather than "Shea" Stadium.
"All You Need is Love" was first performed by the Beatles on "Our World," the first live global television link. How quaint. I'm reminded of how "Almost Famous" showed how jaw-dropping the early fax machines were. "It only takes seven hours!"
The Beatles were told to come up with a message understood by everyone. The year was 1967, the year which, incidentally, was the very worst for the Viet Nam War. The ingenious Lennon, who must have had two brains, had the song start with the French National Anthem, remember? "La Marseillaise." Lennon's song was notable for its asymmetric time signature and complex changes. Maybe the song title is the most pure solution for solving that "generation gap." My generation knows it's indeed a daunting task. (Today we're trying to understand young libertarian kids.)
"The Music Never Stopped" is a vehicle for appreciating the culture wars and generational divide that people my age - I'm 59 - know all too much about. It's a thought-provoking and serious movie, which is fine, but I think a little more joy could have been incorporated. It needs to loosen up a little. I do recommend it.
Thanks to our Morris Public Library and our wonderful library director, Melissa Yauk.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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