The Rock and Roll Years
Last year I was asked by Sky news if they could interview me as a person with Parkinsons disease on what I thought the challenges would be for Ozzy Osbourne. Disability had visited Rock and Roll. It turned out that Ozzy Osbourne had just been diagnosed with Parkinsons disease. I responded by asking Sharon if she would get in touch. I would be happy to advise Ozzy but the truth is that he could do a lot for us.
As our rock stars hit seventy Ozzy has once again struck a chord that few others have done. But could we rethink the air guitar moves. Could disability become more rock and roll? What would it take? Here is the secret, it only takes a few words.
The first word is, I think, is attitude. Can we turn purple into purple culture? Can we aim for more edginess in which we challenge staid culture with our own contributions to fashion, music and dance? The gay movement set the bar for this when the New York nightclub scene came out of the clubs and onto the streets transforming the mainstream in the process during the late seventies. In doing so it also challenged the stigma of AIDS.
The next quality of Rock and Roll is one that Jack Black summed up well in “School of Rock” – a desire to stick it to the man. Rock and Roll can never be mainstream except in its own terms. It must reject conformity and it must irritate. It must be counter-cultural and argue for difference with most if not all that has gone before. Bob Dylan had his giant cue cards, the Beatles became hippies, the hippies became punks, that’s the natural order. In the same way disability activism must keep moving to challenge the inertia of Government: no cuts could become no build back without levelling up. No bail out without access.
The next aspect of Rock and Roll we must appropriate is subversion. David Cameron said he liked “Eton Rifles” Members of the Jam responded by saying he mustn’t have understood the song. Ian Drury subverted the offer of producing a song for the International Year of Disabled People by producing “Spasticus Artisticus”. Though it was banned it became the centre piece of the London Paralympics opening ceremony in 2012. Great music is often subversive and great television too. When the Sex Pistols egged on by Bill Grundy swore on live TV it is said that 300 bands were formed the very next day. I wish to see 300 bands of disabled people form associations that subvert narratives of scarcity or the looming red herring of tough choices in tough times.
Rock and Roll is a form of freedom and disability is seen as a form of restriction. But the biggest prisons are always the ones we construct for ourselves. Bob Marley sang, “free your minds and the rest will follow” in his Redemption song. I often like to use the Tony Buzan mind game exercise to illustrate this point. Ask your friends to imagine that they are in a box and then ask them to describe the box. It is shocking how many describe being alone, cramped, cold, in the dark. It is even more shocking how few have warmth, space to go beyond an horizon or indeed inhabit the box harmoniously with other people. When I then tell people I have come so that you may have a bigger box almost everyone wants to leave their box and share mine. We must offer people a bigger box. We can then offer more freedom.
What are the benefits of being more rock and roll? Communication, communication, communication. As disabled people we have so much to offer to a world searching for unity. As people everywhere seek responses to loss we have already been through that experience, 95% of all disability is acquired. As people struggle to make the change, we are the experts on coping strategies and adaptation techniques. As people wonder if it is all worthwhile we can offer our own grace. As Ian Drury said “There are only a couple of ways of cheating death and one is to be magnificent.”
The final Rock and Roll word for now is passion. For now I am sustained by my passions. Yes of course I myself will burn out some day soon but as it was said about Jim Morrison of the Doors "you have to have been on fire to have burnt out".
Join the Disability Resilience Network and even if you don’t become a rock star you can definitely be more Rock and Roll.