The Music Never Stopped

“The Music Never Stopped” is an indie feature film based on the essay “The Last Hippie” from AN ANTHROPOLOGIST ON MARS.

The film features music from the Grateful Dead, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and Crosby, Stills and Nash. It was chosen as the gala premiere film for the Sundance Festival.

(See film website here.)

“The film is a moving testament not only to the love between a father and his son, but to the miraculous power of music to heal a damaged brain. Remembering music, listening to it or playing it, is entirely in the present, and, while it lasts, it can bridge even the abyss of extreme amnesia or dementia. Music can be more powerful than any drugs.”
– Dr. Oliver Sacks

About The Last Hippie

In 1977, Dr. Sacks met Greg F., the patient on whom the character of Gabriel Sawyer is based. Greg, a young man with devastating amnesia caused by a brain tumor, could remember no new events in his life, but his memory for music, particularly that of his beloved bands of the 1960s, remained intact. Music could reach him as nothing else could. After almost fifteen years of working with Greg, Dr. Sacks arranged for Greg to meet drummer Mickey Hart and go to a Grateful Dead concert. Dr. Sacks wrote about Greg and the Grateful Dead in “The Last Hippie,” a chapter in his book An Anthropologist on Mars. Here is the beginning of Greg’s story:

Greg F. grew up in the 1950s in a comfortable Queens household, an attractive and rather gifted boy who seemed destined, like his father, for a professional career—perhaps a career in songwriting, for which he showed a precocious talent. But he grew restive, started questioning things, as a teenager in the late ’60s; started to hate the conventional life of his parents and neighbors and the cynical, bellicose administration of the country. . . .

Increasingly he fell out with his parents and teachers; he was truculent with the one, secretive with the other. In 1968, a time when Timothy Leary was urging American youth to “tune in, turn on, and drop out,” Greg grew his hair long and dropped out of school, where he had been a good student; he left home and went to live in the Village where he dropped acid and joined the East Village drug culture—searching, like others of his generation, for utopia, for inner freedom, and for “higher consciousness.”

[Greg later joined the Hare Krishna and went to live in their temple in New Orleans, where his parents found him, very ill from a brain tumor, and brought him to a hospital in New York. I met him in 1977, shortly after his brain tumor was removed.]

Questioning him about current events and people, I found the depths of his disorientation and confusion. When I asked him who was the president, he said, “Lyndon,” then, “the one who got shot.” I prompted, “Jimmy . . . ,” and then he said, “Jimi Hendrix,” and when I roared with laughter, he said maybe a musical White House would be a good idea. A few more questions convinced me that Greg had virtually no memory of events much past 1970, certainly no coherent, chronological memory of them. He seemed to have been left, marooned, in the ’60s—his memory, his development, his inner life since then had come to a stop.

Dr. Sacks writes more about music and music therapy in his book MUSICOPHILIA, including this passage from the preface:

While music can affect all of us—calm us, animate us, comfort us, thrill us, or serve to organize and synchronize us at work or play—it may be especially powerful and have great therapeutic potential for patients with a variety of neurological conditions. Such people may respond powerfully and specifically to music (and, sometimes, to little else). Some of these patients have widespread cortical problems, whether from strokes or Alzheimer’s or other causes of dementia; others have specific cortical syndromes— loss of language or movement functions, amnesias, or frontal-lobe syndromes. Some are retarded, some autistic; others have subcortical syndromes such as parkinsonism or other movement disorders. All of these conditions and many others can potentially respond to music and music therapy.

“The Last Hippie” is an essay from Oliver Sacks’ book, AN ANTHROPOLOGIST ON MARS, and has inspired the indie feature film, The Music Never Stopped.

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