Written in 1981 for the International Year of Disabled Persons, this great song was composed half as provocation and half appeal to those in “normal land” who “may not comprehend… or understand!”
At the ceremony, it was embraced as an anthem of inspiration.
“I’m spasticus autisticus,” this song insists, repeating over and over the name for sufferers of cerebral palsy (spastic), that was becoming taboo in Britain at the time that it was written. “I’m spasticus autisticus, I’m spasticus autisticus…”
The Opening Ceremony – with this song, and the Queen, and Stephen Hawking, and the big bang, and the books, and the stars, and the umbrellas – embodies for me a slogan the UK is fond of: Best of British. Often that phrase is used to celebrate past might and glory but that’s not why I admire this country and choose to live here.
For me, best of British is not the imperial history but the contemporary, creative heart it flaunts during events like this. Not the BBC banning Spasticus Autisticus, as they did back in 1981 — declaring it offensive to polite sensibilities though written and sung by a man who was himself disabled by polio — but using such a song as a ceremonial anthem, ringing it out over the Paralympian stadium, and from there over London and the world.
This creative standpoint is inherent in the Paralympics itself and is the key to what makes these games even more inspiring than the Olympics. Both Olympians and Paralympians are exceptional but for the latter, their achievement is rooted in their limitation.
In, as Dury would have it, their “abnormality”.
Oscar “Bladerunner” Pistorius
No person is a better example of this than the South African “Bladerunner” Oscar Pistorius, who carried the flag for his country in the Opening ceremony. Pistorius made history this year when he competed in the Olympics as well, becoming the first person without legs to compete in the Olympic Games.
Athletes like him and artists like Dury show us that accepting who we actually are, not trying to be ‘normal’, is a key to greatness.
Because we’re all only a bit “normal”, we’re all a bit broken.
The Paralympics are evidence that our limitations are not where we end, but the place from where we begin.
PS: Here’s another Anthem on the same theme, from another great music man: There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.