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An anthem for disabled people?


3 December 2013

Today on International Day of People with Disability, Access2Arts’ want to share Spasticus Autisticus by Ian Dury as an informal anthem for the day.

“The term ‘anthem’ denotes a song in which the words affirm a collective identity, usually expressing attachment to a nation, institution, or cause,” says Gaelle Mellis, Access2Arts Creative.

Ian Dury’s deliberately provocative Spasticus Autisticus was written in 1981 for the International Year of Disabled Persons. It was considered hostile by the Spastic Society, banned by the BBC despite having been written by a disabled person. Spasticus Autisticus is both a battle cry (a direct reference to Spartacus) and an appeal for understanding:

Hello to you out there in normal land. You may not comprehend my tale or understand!”

Spasticus Autisticus remains the highest profile and most controversially direct intervention from a major pop artist within disability culture, and although the song doesn’t speak for all people with disability, it has become an anthem for some.

According to Ian Dury, who was disabled by polio as a child, he wrote Spasticus Autisticus as a protest against what he saw as the patronising International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981

1981 was the year of the disabled, which meant 1982 everyone was going to be all right. I thought, that’s a load of ‘bollo’, so I wrote a song. I obviously knew there was a risk that I was going to alienate a lot people and they were going to get the hump with me, what’s this f*****n’, you know, spazo doing squeaking? Well, I wasn’t moaning. I was actually doing the opposite of moaning. I was yelling,” said Dury.

The song once banned by the BBC was featured in Graeae Theater Company‘s 2010 production Reasons to Be Cheerful  and was superbly reclaimed at the 2012 Paralympic opening ceremony.

The anthem was also used a call to arms, a stirring, provocative and uplifting finale to Gaelle Mellis’ and Vitalstatistix’s 2012 production Take Up Thy Bed And Walk.

Big thanks to Gaelle, Vitalstatistix, the creatives, cast of Take Up Thy Bed and Walk, and all the other Deaf and disabled women who responded to a global call for contributions.

Today on this International Day of People with Disability, Access2Arts remembers Ian Dury (who died on March 27, 2000) and his legacy – an anthem for disabled people around the world.

Ian Dury is best known as the British rocker who wrote the 1978 song Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick, as well as Spasticus Autisticus, now one of the most controversial anti-charity songs in history. Lyrics such as “I dribble when I nibble/ And I quibble when I scribble” led to the song being banned on the BBC.

Perhaps the most memorable example of Dury’s engagement with disability politics came in 1981, the International Year of the Disabled. This was a turning point in the history of the disability movement, with disabled activists walking out of Rehabilitation International to form Disabled People’s International.