The Movie Diary

Dead and gone

By Dom Cioffi

Back in the early 1980s, during my junior high school years, I was a fan of the burgeoning New Wave movement happening in music. A friend of mine had a brother who was well versed in obtaining imported records from the UK so besides listening to this new and exciting music, we had the added bonus of being the only kids around with access to some of these previously unknown bands.

New Wave was basically born from punk rock music, but the musicians were not content to just thrash about and break things, which ultimately made their musicianship more polished and their songs more listenable.

I remember listening to bands like Modern English, Echo & the Bunnymen, XTC and Ultravox. The sounds were eclectic and the look of the bands was cool and edgy.

I was also a big fan of Billy Idol at the time. He had just left the band Generation X and was breaking out on his own. His first hit was “Dancing with Myself,” but it was the song “Hot in the City” that really made me take notice.

I loved Billy’s new wave look, his signature snarl and his down and dirty delivery when singing. In fact, I dug that spiked-up hair so much that I made my barber emulate it for my junior high Halloween dance (unfortunately, no photos of this epic punk rock visage have survived).

I was convinced that Billy and these other bands were going to be around forever, that they were the future of popular music. Well, Billy hung around for a while, but the rest seemed to fade into obscurity almost as fast as they had risen.

It was right around this period when I made a fatally wrong assumption about another band – a band that would stick around for a very long time and eventually become one of my all-time favorite acts.

I made this initial wrong assumption based primarily on the kid who introduced me to them and the band’s name.

The kid who introduced me to this group was your classic stoner. I shared a study hall with him and apart from sitting next to one another, we had absolutely nothing in common. He hated sports; I loved them. He smoked cigarettes; I did not. His hair was long; mine was short. He was on the verge of flunking out; I was on the honor roll.

I initially had nothing to do with him, but as the year went on, we started to talk more and more about music. I think he was impressed with my knowledge of the British underground scene and the fact that I had access to inaccessible imports.

However, I think my ego and opinions got the best of me because I remember him constantly egging me on to listen to his favorite band. I always politely said I would, but in reality I had no interest in his freaky stoner songs.

I distinctly remember him telling me the name of this band and how my initial reaction to the name incorrectly influenced me for several more years. “Duuuude,” he said with a buzzed slur, “you need to check out the Grateful Dead.”

The Grateful Dead? Mmmm hmmm. Sure. Right away.

In my mind, the Grateful Dead was immediately unlistenable – something akin to Judas Priest mixed with Anthrax and Motorhead (no offense to fans of classic heavy metal).

Unfortunately, this incredibly wrong assumption stuck with me for several years. Instead of actually listening to the Dead, I wrongly pigeon-holed them into a genre of music they were a thousand miles away from.

It took a high school graduation party years later to finally set me straight.

“Truckin” was blasting from a friend’s stereo when I made the connection.

“The Dead wrote this?” I asked, confused by the delivery of the mellow groove. By the end of the party I was consumed with my friend’s pile of Grateful Dead albums – like I had unearthed a pile of gold underneath the floorboards of my kitchen.

It didn’t take me long to discover the depth and beauty of Jerry Garcia and his crew and to fall deeply in love with their extensive catalog of music. Later I would see them headlining concerts on both coasts, while planning summer vacations around specific tour stops.

Well, the long strange trip officially ended this past weekend (even though most of us knew it ended many years ago after Jerry’s death) with three concerts at Soldier’s Field in Chicago. I thought about making the pilgrimage to pay my respects, but the money and logistics deterred me.

This week’s film, “Far From the Madding Crowd,” features a young woman from the late 1800s who, unlike me, did not let money or logistics stop her from following her passion.

Based on the novel by Thomas Hardy and starring British actress Carey Mulligan, “Far From the Madding Crowd” takes a honest look at life in England at the turn of the century, when survival wasn’t always guaranteed and unrequited love seemed to be commonplace.

Check this one out if you enjoy period pieces where everyone always looks dirty and seems cold. It’s a classic story of love surviving the most incredible odds – even if it’s a bit soap opera-ish at times.

A grateful “B-” for “Far From the Madding Crowd.”

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at

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