Public lecture, 2015 Festival of Arts and Science, Birmingham

Activity: Participating in or organising an eventPublic lecture/debate/seminar


Public lecture on the festival theme. Title: 'Crippled with nerves: the curious case of polio and popular music'. From introduction:

Ian Dury, Steve Harley, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Donovan, Israel Vibration, Staff Benda Bilili: all marked by polio. How has that childhood experience influenced their music, (how) have they sung about it, what does the disabled pop body look like on stage, have they been activists or advocates in disability rights movements, what might there be specific to polio and popular music? Drawing on work from his acclaimed book Shakin’ All Over: Popular Music and Disability, Professor George McKay delves further into this musical-medical narrative.

This research originates in a recent book Shakin’ All Over: Popular Music and Disability. Through the book I show that some artists sing of disability in compelling and sustained ways—drawing on autobiographical lyrics and experiences, singers and musicians as varied in musical style, sartorial image and lyrical language from Neil ‘Shakey’ Young to Ian Dury share the profound and formative experience of each being a polio survivor from childhood. Here the deployment of autobiographical authenticity within singer-songwriter practice portrays a different kind of childscape, which may be diseased, scar(r)ed, crippled. Young’s ‘sensitive’ falsetto and Dury’s ‘coarsened’ poetics (their descriptions of their own voices) are discussed as alternate vocal representations of their embodied experiences.
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