That was Ian Dury’s glorious, post-punk fuck you to the UN for declaring 1981 to be the Year of the Disabled. Crippled by polio from the age of eight, Dury saw the entire “year of the disabled” concept as patronizing, and his Spartacus reference raised the message from the simply pissed-off to the revolutionary: Disabled people don’t want pity; they want freedom from all that bullshit. Or, as Dury himself put it, “I wasn’t moaning, I was doing the opposite of moaning: I was yelling.”
That yelling immediately got the song banned by the BBC and effectively ended Dury’s chart career.
But we now live in more enlightened times, right? They even played “Spasticus Autisticus” at the 2012 London Paralympics opening ceremony, with Stephen Hawking onstage. But beyond the feel-good Olympic spectacle, three-and-a-half decades after Ian Dury’s protest, disabled musicians and fans are still having to yell to get their voices heard.
Davide Martello, a German musician of Italian descent who became famous as “the pianist of Taksim Square” during last year’s protests in Istanbul, installed his piano in Donetsk. On Monday he gave a concert for anti-fascist activists.
How digital technology is transforming our relationship with sound.
In late January, a group of musicians, led by the trombone player Glen David Andrews, paraded through the narrow hallways of New Orleans’ City Hall and into the chamber of the City Council. They played trumpets and horns, cymbals and saxophones, snare drums and tubas. They danced. They sang a song called “Music Ain’t a Crime.” They held signs reading “we will be heard.”
Andrews and his fellow musicians were protesting a proposed new noise-control ordinance that would re-imagine the sound regulations of the city’s storied Bourbon Street. Noise in the area has been a matter of law since 1831, when the young city adopted an ordinance—one “concerning Inns, Boarding-houses, Coffee-houses, Billiards-houses, Taverns, Grog-shops, and other houses with the city of New-Orleans”—that forbade “cries, songs, noise or … disturbing … the peace and tranquility of the neighborhood.”
Since approximately 1831, such noise regulation has been a matter of controversy. There are, when it comes to controlling the sounds of the city, competing constituencies: tourists, residents, bar owners, professional musicians, less-professional musicians. There are First Amendment considerations at play (noise-making and personal expression being intimately acquainted). There’s money at stake. There are cultural sensitivities to be respected and navigated.
“You have to do it very carefully,” says David Woolworth, a principal at the firm Oxford Acoustics, “because people take it really personally when you go after their music.”