'The Music Never Stops' Cast Talk Brain Tumors And The Grateful Dead At Sundance

Early on a frosty morning here at the Sundance Film Festival, I shuffled over to catch a screening of “The Music Never Stops,” expecting a tale about how a man’s brain tumor affects both his memory and his relationship with his formerly estranged parents. That is, of course, what I got. But I also got much more: awesome music from the likes of the Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead and other groups busting out rock music in the late ‘60s.

I was left wondering how the indie flick managed to secure the pricey rights to those tunes. When I spoke with the cast a few hours later — Lou Taylor Pucci (who plays Gabriel, the man with the tumor), J.K Simmons (his dad) and Julia Ormond (his music therapist) — I found out the truth: director Jim Kohlberg had some major industry connections.

“One of the reasons this script sat on the shelf for so long, despite it being so good, was because people couldn’t figure out how to produce it without spending $20 million on the music rights. Jim said he knew some people,” Simmons explained, adding with a laugh. “It was a mob thing, I think, that he was connected to! He made it happen.”

Rock music was simply too integral to the storyline to ditch. Gabriel was a pot-smoking, it’s-all-good runaway in the late ‘60s, obsessed with the music of his era, until a brain tumor leaves him nearly comatose. Landing in a hospital almost 20 years later, he reunites with his parents but is essentially locked inside his brain, unable to form new memories or to connect with his present-day surrounds. All that changes when Ormond’s therapist begins to play him Beatles and Dead tunes, drawing him out of his mental confinement and allowing him once again to engage with the world around him.

“My big challenge on the whole thing was learning to play a guitar,” Pucci said. “I had been learning a little bit of fiddle for the year before, so I felt like, ‘Wow, this couldn’t have come at a better time. My mind is so on music right now.”