You'll Never Make It.
I have been thinking to myself lately, whilst watching pop music programmes on TV about just how underrepresented disabled people are. On the face of it there do not seem to be any disabled people having their music played on tv. Except perhaps Stevie Wonder, and even his career is in a bit of a hiatus of late. Ray Charles has also been in the spotlight recently with his death last year and the film of his life winning some Oscars. Though we may not get a lot of coverage in the press there have been several disabled people getting their music out there over the years. I thought I’d remember some.
In my view the greatest of them all was Ian Dury. To me, he represented everything that is positive about being a disabled person. He never went on about it except when he needed to and some arsehole needed challenging. He was rounded on by the right wing press for daring to write Spasticus Autisticus. They totally misunderstood the message (or maybe they understood it all to well) and the song was banned by many radio stations. He worked right up to a few weeks before his untimely death doing what he loved doing the most, which was performing. Another singer who loved getting up on stage and strutting his stuff was Rock and Roll legend Gene Vincent. Gene smashed his left leg up in a motorbike accident and had to wear a leg brace for the rest of his life. Gene used to leap about the stage like a man possessed and I’m convinced many people never even realised he was disabled. Robert Wyatt was one of the founding members of Jazz-Rock group Soft Machine and in my opinion is one of the best and most original drummers this country has ever produced.. On June 1st 1973, Wyatt fell out of a window at a party and broke his back. He has been a wheelchair user ever since. His music is always inventive, if not a little strange and 2004’s Cuckooland was nominated for the Mercury Prize. Drummer Chick Webb was a bigband leader in the height of the jazz era in the 1940’s. As a small person he had to stand to play the drums his style was all powerful. In fact so powerful was his right foot that the bass drum had to be nailed to the floor. otherwise it used to move forward and fall off the drum stage. He was one of the first people to champion the great Ella Fitzgerald. Kristen Hersch is one of my favourite artists both as a member of the Throwing Muses and solo. She has documented her mental illness right through her career (she is bi-polar) and in The Letter from her seminal album Hips and Makers, wrote one of the most heart rending songs ever as she explains her condition to her parents. Daniel Beddingfield for instance is ADHD and in a recent interview explained just how this condition affects and inspires his music. Although I cannot confess to being a fan I can admire him for using his condition positively. Finally we all know about The Drummer from Def Leopard who when he lost an arm in a car accident just had his kit modified so he could carry on playing in the band. His band mates were very supportive at the time and said no Drummer ( haven’t got a clue what his name is sorry) no band. There are others I could mention like blind jazz musicians George Shearing and Roland Kirk. Deaf singer Johnny Ray had Robbie Williams type attention in the 1950’s and I’m sure Ludwig Von Beethoven was treated like a rock star in his day too.
The point I’m trying to make here is to say to record company A&R men that they should get out there and start signing disabled musicians up and start releasing some records by disabled artists. The view has always been that disabled people could not be pop stars because they would not be accepted by the public. Well the past has proven otherwise with many disabled musicians having success. The industry should stop looking for the body beautiful and start looking for the real talent.