On September 13, 2023

The Movie Diary: Wasting away again


 In the late 1970s, when I was in junior high school and first getting into music, I preferred New Wave bands like The Cars, Devo, Squeeze, and The Vapors. I found their songs to be upbeat and fun, which correlated well with my love of skateboarding and hanging out with friends. Plus, New Wave was considered the edgier side of pop music, and that was appealing. 

I knew kids who were into harder stuff like Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, and Iron Maiden, but those bands and the dark intensity of their songs never appealed to me (however, it wouldn’t be long before “dark-ish” groups like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd completely dominated my melodic spectrum). 

Throughout this period of adolescent musical meandering, I often heard of the Grateful Dead, but never gave them much thought. Initially, given their ominous sounding name, I inadvertently and incorrectly placed them into the genre of heavy metal. 

Things changed when I entered college and became inundated with kids from a broad ethnic spectrum who introduced me to a wide array of musical styles. By chance, a kid down the hall from me was a huge Grateful Dead fan, and in the matter of a couple months, he completely immersed me in their catalog. 

I was hooked. The band turned out to be nothing like I had initially imaged and, in fact, was exactly the kind of music I was interested in. With their underpinnings of country and blues and their rambling solos that bordered on adventure, I felt like I had found a new best friend who was speaking to me in an entirely different but familiar language.  At some point, it became clear that I had to make a trek to see a live Grateful Dead show.

Eventually, I heard about an east coast show and made plans to attend. I roped a couple friends into going with me knowing that a multi-day festival was not something one attempted to do alone. We packed our camping gear and headed out early on the advice of others who said the traffic would be ‘Woodstock-like.’

Sure enough, it took almost as long to travel the last mile as it did to get to the event, but we made a party out of it (as did the other 100,000 people in attendance). I remember an odd feeling of camaraderie with everyone I interacted with; we were all on the same mission of fun. 

My friends and I found a spot to park and set up our campsite. We brought all the necessary accoutrements, from food and clothing to beach chairs and Frisbees. What we didn’t have was readily available. In fact, every other person seemed to be selling something, from food items, to clothing, to jewelry, to just about any illegal substance you could imagine. 

We had an amazing time on Friday night partying with all the attendees that camped around us. There were drum circles and solo acoustic musicians performing. Fireworks were going off non-stop as were the sounds of nitrous balloons being filled from multiple locations. The atmosphere was tantalizingly electric.

We awoke Saturday morning slightly foggy, but ready for the day’s activities, which included more partying and the concert.

When the Grateful Dead took the stage and began playing, my friends and I worked our way up as close as possible to the front of the stage. I enjoyed the chaotic vibes for a little while, but the heat and sweat eventually pushed me back to a more comfortable location. 

All in all, the show was everything I hoped it would be. I had never been to a party with 100,000 other people. The music, people, and environment were intoxicating on multiple levels. I went home from that concert even more enamored with the Grateful Dead and did what I could to spread the word about their music. 

I wouldn’t say I was a true Dead Head, but I was close.

This week’s feature, “Parrot Heads,” is a documentary about a similar group of people who love to celebrate in the same way, except their attention is focused on the music of Jimmy Buffett.

Jimmy Buffett is the originator of trop-rock, a genre of music that incorporates elements of rock, reggae, calypso, country, and pop while lyrical referencing the feelings and lifestyles of coastal and island living. 

In short, Buffett’s music makes you feel like you’re on vacation. 

Sadly, Jimmy Buffett died just a couple weeks ago, but he left an amazing catalog of music and a devoted fan-base who will undoubtedly carry on his themes of tropical devotion for decades to come. 

Check this one out if you loved Buffet’s music, ever attended one of his shows, or simple are intrigued with the odd dynamics that make up devoted fan bases. The technical aspects of the film are sketchy, but the overall message is heartening. 

A fanatical “B-” for “Parrot Heads,” now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at moviediary@att.net.

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