I'MMMMMMMMMM SPASTICUS!
August 30, 2012 7:02 AM   Subscribe

In 1981, in response to the UN International Year of Disabled Persons, Ian Dury released the single Spasticus Autisticus. Despite Dury himself being disabled, the song provoked a negative response from the National Spastics Society (now Scope). The BBC denied the song airplay, effectively killing it as a single. Last night, as part of the Paralympic opening ceremony, John Kelly, Orbital and the Graeae Theatre Company performed a version of the song to an audience of millions, bringing the revolutionary classic back to the prominence it surely deserves.

Graeae have also produced a musical based on the work of Ian Dury and the Blockheads.
posted by howfar (40 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Nice post. I've always been a fan of Dury and I've never managed to get anyone else to listen to his stuff.
posted by octothorpe at 7:16 AM on August 30, 2012


Probably worth noting that Spastic was a way more charged term in 1981.
posted by Artw at 7:20 AM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I actually have this on vinyl. Am I a hipster now?
posted by timsteil at 7:29 AM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also: fantastic post.
posted by Artw at 7:30 AM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Probably worth noting that Spastic was a way more charged term in 1981.

I suspect that was the point.

(Is 'more charged' the right description, anyway? It fell out of use because people were successfully persuaded it was offensive. That's pretty much the opposite of becoming less charged.)
posted by hoyland at 7:39 AM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


(Is 'more charged' the right description, anyway? It fell out of use because people were successfully persuaded it was offensive. That's pretty much the opposite of becoming less charged.)

I suppose it's more obviously taboo but less politically charged now, precisely because there is no longer a conflict over the word. I grew up in Britain in the 1980s, with a (comparatively mild) disability that led to me getting called "spastic" quite a lot. The fact that there was an organisation called the "Spastics Society" that was meant to support people with disabilities was pretty puzzling from a child's perspective, as it mainly seemed to serve as the subject of juvenile giggling, the disability equivalent of looking up "rude words" in the dictionary.

I suppose the struggle over the word reflected an ideological shift from a somewhat paternalistic perception of disability toward a greater emphasis on the subjectivity and individuality of people with disabilities.
posted by howfar at 7:50 AM on August 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Loved this part of the ceremony last night. Coupled with the massive inflatable of the Alison Lapper Pregnant statue it lifted the whole thing from worthy but not overly exciting into something altogether better.
posted by fatfrank at 7:52 AM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


When I was a kid, calling someone "Spaz" was a commonplace occurrence that was swiftly reprimanded by auhority figures.
posted by Renoroc at 7:56 AM on August 30, 2012


Delightful additional touch: At 3:30 or so, you can see Stephen Hawking is wearing a pair of Orbital's trademark light glasses. Orbital previously.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 8:02 AM on August 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


When I was a kid, Calling someone "Spaz" was remains a commonplace occurrence that was swiftly reprimanded by auhority figures.

Fixerated for my reality. I hear the word all the time, even in professional settings, usually in phrases like "Bob was totally spazzing out in the meeting yesterday." I don't think I've heard someone say "spastic" in the last twenty years, but "spaz" seems to have been divorced from that somewhat and I hear people using it who would never, ever, in a million years say something like "gypped" or "jewed down."
posted by Forktine at 8:10 AM on August 30, 2012


Thanks for this post. Yesterday was the first time I watched a Paralympic Opening Ceremony and the CTV livestream commentary wasn't great. While they didn't talk over the music segment, I had no idea of the significance of this song or the statue.
posted by zix at 8:13 AM on August 30, 2012


timsteil: "I actually have this on vinyl. Am I a hipster now?"

Somewhere in the garage I have a vinyl copy of Do It Yourself and a 7" single of Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick B/W Reasons To Be Cheerful.
posted by octothorpe at 8:14 AM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was enthralled by the ceremony last night. Boyle had the spectacle but last night had the heart, and the smarts (science, physics, the Declaration of Human Rights!). The Tuchman quote was great in the reading segment: "Books are humanity in print"

I hadn't heard the Dury song before last night though. I have a hearing impairment and thought they were singing "swastika" in the chorus. I kept thinking, is this an anti-hate song? I guess the real song has the same message in a way!
posted by wingless_angel at 8:25 AM on August 30, 2012


God motherfucking damn. That was awesome.
posted by SPUTNIK at 8:31 AM on August 30, 2012


I highly recommend Ian Dury's film biography, Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll, starring Andy Serkis.
posted by Dr Dracator at 8:33 AM on August 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


I was into Ian Dury before he became well known (he was never actually 'popular'). Am I a hipster or is there a statute of limitations on these things?
posted by epo at 8:38 AM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


My parents we're really in to Ian Dury.
posted by Artw at 8:42 AM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


The BBC denied the song airplay, effectively killing it as a single.

The Beeb them proceeded to hit Mr. Dury mercilessly with it's rhythm stick.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:46 AM on August 30, 2012


I would like to bring the attention of the house to this US product.

I do not believe it was focus grouped in the UK.

The BBC also banned "Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 3" from breakfast radio, because it feared the repeated phrase "Why don't you get back into bed?" would diminish national productivity.
posted by Devonian at 8:51 AM on August 30, 2012


My parents we're really in to Ian Dury.

You are therefore a hipster.
posted by scratch at 8:52 AM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


You had me at: Stephen Hawking narrates as the stadium becomes a model of the Large Hadron Collider.
posted by etc. at 8:52 AM on August 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I was into Ian Dury before he became well known (he was never actually 'popular'). Am I a hipster or

...old. The technical term is old.
posted by biffa at 8:55 AM on August 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


There's an excellent BBC Radio 1 Ian Dury concert from 1977 on youtube (just the audio unfortunately - they showed the whole thing on BBC 4 recently though so the whole thing is probably around somewhere). Also features Dr Feelgood.
posted by dng at 9:13 AM on August 30, 2012


Also I missed this bit of the opening ceremony last night, so thanks for this post. It's the best thing I've seen all year I think
posted by dng at 9:18 AM on August 30, 2012


Was that Ian McKellan I saw at about the 2 minute mark? Awesome.
posted by immlass at 9:32 AM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I highly recommend Ian Dury's film biography, Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll, starring Andy Serkis.

I wish I could totally agree, Dr Dracator.

Serkis is absolutely incredible as Dury, but the film flops around like a dying fish - it doesn't know whether it wants to be a drama or a (very pretentious) extended rock video.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 9:43 AM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I actually have this on vinyl. Am I a hipster now?

I saw him back in... damn. I don't remember. A long time ago. Before you were born, most of you. Maybe I'm a replacement hipster.
posted by pracowity at 9:50 AM on August 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Maybe I'm a replacement hipster.

You forgot these.
posted by howfar at 9:53 AM on August 30, 2012


(hands you your prescription shades)
posted by howfar at 9:53 AM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


> I was into Ian Dury before he became well known (he was never actually 'popular').
> Am I a hipster or is there a statute of limitations on these things?

He's always been very well known on his home shores, and remained hugely popular up until his untimely death.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 10:09 AM on August 30, 2012


Thanks for this; wouldn't have seen it otherwise.
posted by angrycat at 11:25 AM on August 30, 2012


He's always been very well known on his home shores, and remained hugely popular up until his untimely death. I am on his "home shores".

I saw what I believe was his penultimate gig which was at the Cambridge Corn Exchange and a warmup for the London Palladium which was his last concert appearance. He was not a well man and didn't even pretend to walk off stage in order to come back for his encore, just sat down on a chair. He sternly told us to make sure we all came back next time he was in town and we all jumped up and down and cheered because we wished it could be true.
posted by epo at 11:52 AM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Probably worth noting that Spastic was a way more charged term in 1981.

True, but, interestingly, it took another 13 years before The Spastics Society became Scope, so I don't think that the name alone was the issue. I think, bluntly, popular outrage assumed Dury was taking the piss and once the outrage had built up trying to explain he meant the exact opposite was futile.

The completion of the transition from spastic being a more neutral term (although "spaz" was, apparently, used as insult in the 70s) to being a term of insult occurred because of Joey Deacon's heavy airplay on Blue Peter in 1981 - a brave, intelligent man whose name became the playground insult of choice through the eighties, such was his impact. Best intentions and all that.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:02 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


God I love Ian Dury. Wish he hadn't left too soon.
posted by biscotti at 1:40 PM on August 30, 2012


That might be the most punk rock thing I've seen in a couple of decades.
posted by the bricabrac man at 6:04 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I hear the word all the time, even in professional settings, usually in phrases like "Bob was totally spazzing out in the meeting yesterday." I don't think I've heard someone say "spastic" in the last twenty years, but "spaz" seems to have been divorced from that somewhat and I hear people using it who would never, ever, in a million years say something like "gypped" or "jewed down."

I had no idea until a few years ago that spastic had anything at all to do with people with walking issues. I just thought it meant that you were hyper. Mostly guessed that usage of it from the immortal "Summers, you drive like a spaz!" line out of Principal Snyder in the "Band Candy" episode of Buffy.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:10 PM on August 30, 2012


I still use spaz and gypped to this day. More the latter (I generally default to 'unco' over spaz but the habits of a lifetime are hard to break). I like to think its divorced from its roots.
I have never heard 'jewed down' in my life.

I'm shocked to imagine a time where people didn't know who Dury was. 'Hit Me' was a staple in the '80s.
posted by Mezentian at 6:14 AM on August 31, 2012


I found the opening ceremony overlong and barely understandable at many points, not to mention riddled with inspirationalism.
posted by joeclark at 9:38 PM on August 31, 2012


In the killing it as a single link, Ian mentions the liner notes to Spasticus Autisticus, which are copied to text here, which I'll copy here for good measure:
Spasticus Says:
"My tribe knows no national boundaries
And pays no heed to race or creed.
I come among you as an example
sent by my tribe to portray them as they are,
As beautiful as I am.

In all my glory my tribe can generate
warmth and fear in people from other tribes:
Some people would stone my tribe
and cast them out:
Others foster and nurture we of my tribe.
The extreme members of my tribe
are killed at birth.

Without the aid of others my tribe
can only crawl slowly.
Hello to you out there in normal land.
We too are determined to be free.”
Spasticus Autisticus, August 1981
That blog page is from Disability Arts Online in the UK, who are involved with Reasons to be Cheerful, the musical.

Thanks for this post.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:54 PM on September 1, 2012


And on re-watching the live video from the Paralympics, I realize the main cast of Reasons to be Cheerful are the ones singing Spasticus Autisticus.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:00 PM on September 1, 2012


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