Resisting the Tories War on the Disabled: Revive the Spirit of Ian Dury

One of the many problems confronting Left-wing campaigners against the Coalition’s war on the poor, the unemployed and the disabled is how to get our message across. The mainstream, mass-media are dominated by the Right, and the government has shown itself prepared to push through legislation stifling political debate and criticism of its policies through its Lobbying and Transparency Bill and attempt to censor the internet under the pretext of protecting children from pornography. There is also the perennial problem of public apathy. Many people in this country have no interest or awareness of political issues, and are seemingly all too content to accept blandly what they read in the papers.

It occurred to me, however, that one way of getting the message across about the government’s absolute and murderous contempt for the disabled was to bring back some of the combative spirit of Ian Dury, and in particular his use of music to challenge the condescension and complacency towards the disabled and their problems shown by Mrs Thatcher’s government. In 1981 Dury caused a massive controversy with the release of his record, Spasticus Autisticus. This had the refrain ‘I’m Spasticus! Autisticus!’ Many disabled people and organistions were outraged at what they felt was him mocking their condition. The Spastics Society were particularly angry, and strongly objected to what they saw as an insulting reference to the disease. Faced with such strong and angry objections to the song, the BBC banned it, thus ending Dury’s chart career.

It may have looked to some that Drury was sneering at the disabled, but the reality was the complete opposite. Dury himself was disabled, and had a withered arm and leg due to contracting polio from his local swimming pool as a child. In a TV interview Dury stated that he was prompted to write the song after the government declared that 1981 would be the Year of the Disabled. He was angry at the possibility that this would mean that there would be an official celebration of the disabled and much talk and debate about how to help them, after which everything would remain exactly the same. He therefore released Spasticus Autisticus as a protest. Despite opposition from some, many more understood what he was trying to do and fully supported him.

Here’s the section on the controversy from Channel 4’s Top Ten X-Rated. It has comments from the great man himself, as well as Tim Yeo, the former head of the Spastics Society, amongst others. Whovians will spot amongst them Nabil Shaban, who played the horribly slimy and oleaginous galactic yuppy Sil in the Colin Baker Dr Who stories ‘Vengeance on Varos’ and ‘Mindwarp’. Shaban himself is a disabled with brittle bone disease. He’s part of disabled theatre company, and has appeared in, amongst other things, Ben Jonson’s Volpone. A few years ago he also presented a programme on Channel 4 putting forward his theory that the great Viking warlord, Ivar the Boneless, also suffered from the disease. Warning: Shaban makes some very earthy comments about certain biological functions during the show, which probably aren’t particularly shocking unless you’re a Tory MP wishing to ban everything. Nevertheless, as they say, viewer discretion is advised.

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Here’s a piece from Granada TV at the time reporting the controversy with an interview with Dury himself. Apart from talking about the song, he also recites the ‘Busman’s Prayer’. This is a funny, inoffensive parody of the Lord’s Prayer, in which certain words and phrases are replaced by some of the place names in London that sound a bit similar.

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Now I certainly don’t blame the Spastics Society for so vehemently objecting to the song. ‘Spastic’, and its various forms was a very nasty playground insult, as Dury himself states in one of the interview. It was one of the reasons why he went into music and formed the band, so he could confront people with the reality of physical disability and challenge their attitudes simply by appearing on stage as their frontman. The 1980s were a decade in which several protest songs appeared by musicians and performers angry at what Thatcher was doing to the country. Now that the Coalition is intent on copying her, and even trying to outdo her in the harshness of their policies, I think it would be extremely good indeed if a few bands took up the cause and released a few tracks attacking Cameron, Clegg and the rest of them in their turn. This certainly does include following Dury in particular and savagely criticising the government for its policies towards the disabled, that have resulted in enormous, degrading poverty and despair, which has horrifically led some to end their lives.

‘Spasticus Autisticus’ is a song that should only really be performed by disabled people themselves, just to be absolutely clear that it’s the condition that’s being attacked, not the sufferers, and to avoid patronising them. Apart from this, I think the time is right for anyone, whether they’re disabled themselves, or have friends or relatives that are, to follow in Dury’s footsteps and release a track tackling the government for its vile policies towards the poor and disabled. If there are any bands out there doing so, please let me know, and I’ll be glad to publicise you here in my own small way. Especially if you’re performing in the Bristol, Gloucestershire, or Somerset are, or anywhere in Wales.

On a more cheerful note, one of Dury’s best-known songs was ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’. Here it is, also taken from Youtube.

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2 Responses to “Resisting the Tories War on the Disabled: Revive the Spirit of Ian Dury”

  1. stilloaks Says:

    Reblogged this on Still Oaks and commented:
    Born in the early sixties, I remember Ian Dury well. I fully appreciated what he was doing and his motivation. Thanks Beastrabban for another wellwritten article.

  2. mikeknoth (@mikeknoth) Says:

    http://chn.ge/1hpSR7e

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