Analysis of Music Lyrics Concerning Paraplegia


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By Danny Merritt

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Analysis of Music Lyrics Concerning Paraplegia

  1. 1. An Analysis of Music Lyrics Concerning Paraplegia<br />By Danny Merritt<br />
  2. 2. By examining the similarities and differences in the ways in which today’s singer-songwriters approach the subject of paraplegia, one can determine the current social outlook on the subject of paraplegics. It is important to study this outlook from the lyrics of both disabled and non-disabled musicians. <br />There is not a plethora of successful, disabled recording-artists, and the few who exist tend to avoid their disabilities as subject matter for their songs. The two disabled musicians discussed in this project though, Vic Chesnutt and Sam Morris, do use their disabilities as fodder for their writing, but both from very different perspectives. <br />
  3. 3. Vic Chesnutt<br />
  4. 4. Vic Chesnutt was paralyzed from the waist down after a car accident at the age of 18, and died last December, at the age of 45, due to an overdosing on muscle relaxants. <br /> He released seventeen albums in his career, and his music has been covered by Madonna, R.E.M., and Smashing Pumpkins. <br />
  5. 5. In his song, Gluefoot, Mr. Chesnutt refers to himself as “a rusty mass of machinations still vying for the right vaccination”. The chorus of the song references his “gluefoot”, which is an old saying for disabled feet. The chorus repeats that “My gluefoot sticks, I wrestle with it, I try to skedaddle but my gluefoot is fixed”. <br />The audio and lyrics for this song are on the following two slides, and upon analyzing them, one can see that Vic Chesnutt does not favor his life as a paraplegic. His statement “I want to be someone separate from me, I want to have a sustained feeling” thoroughly eradicates any contrary argument. <br />It is also interesting that even though Mr. Chesnutt released a total of seventeen albums in his lifetime, this song is one of the very few where he ever approaches the subject of his disability. <br />
  6. 6. Song- Gluefoot<br />Cross my heart and cross my eyesStick a needle in my thighDrop kick my unscrewed lidAnd fiddle fiddlefiddlefiddlefiddle with what's insideA rusty mass of machinationsStill i'm vying for the right vaccinationI make a masterful selection like Louis PasteurCertain i've found at least a temporary cureIf there's one thing i've learned in this chemical worldIt's very veryveryveryvery little is pureMy gluefoot sticks, i wrestle with itI try to skedaddle but my gluefoot is fixed<br />
  7. 7. If they'd give me a shovel in this communication ageMaybe i'd have kept my mouth shut and done something todayI want to blame democracy and it's inherent liesI want to blame my heritage for my leisurely demise <br />Everybody wants to wear the cleatsEverybody wants to be DominiqueI want to be someone separate from meI want to have a sustained feelingMy gluefoot sticks, i wrestle with itI try to skidaddle but my gluefoot is fixed<br />
  8. 8. Sam Morris<br />
  9. 9. In 1999, Sam Morris became a paraplegic at the age of 24 because of a car accident involving a drunk driver. He is now a successful recording artist, whose music has been featured on TMZ and Ellen.<br />His song “Got A Reason” approaches his disability in a very different manner than Vic Chesnutt. The audio and select lyrics from the song are on the next slide. These lyrics showcase Mr. Morris’ positive mindset on the surprising benefits of his paraplegia. His lyrics convey that even if his accident has disabled him physically, it has strengthened him emotionally and mentally. <br />Upon researching many songs concerning paraplegia, one can see that Sam Morris’ viewpoint is very rare. His “glass half full” approach to the subject sadly is not equally shared by most of his fellow singer-songwriters.<br />
  10. 10. Song- Got A Reason<br />Lyrics-<br />“As time went on I realized I’d come back from the dead,<br />And now I got a reason, got a reason why<br />Now I got a reason, got a reason why <br />Finally a little peace of mind”<br />“There’s nothing like waking up when you’re glad to be alive”<br />
  11. 11. Bob Schneider<br />
  12. 12. Bob Schneider begins the non-disabled musicians part of this analysis. With his song Paraplegic Blues, Mr. Schneider expresses the standard outlook for most non-disabled songwriters when discussing paraplegia. Though Sam Morris’ music approached this subject with a hopeful outlook, it is rarely portrayed in such a manner. The following few artists all negatively express the reliance on wheelchairs, and stress the unwanted confinement in such a lifestyle. <br />The next slide includes the audio and select lyrics conveying this outlook in Bob Schneider’s “Paraplegic Blues”. <br />
  13. 13. Song- Paraplegic Blues<br />Lyrics-<br />For awhile it was a touch and go,<br />They didn’t know for sure,<br />If the boy was gonna see the light of day no more.<br />Now I’m rolling, rolling through these streets of Mississippi,<br />Trying to figure out what the hell I’m gonna do. <br />
  14. 14. Strozzini<br />
  15. 15. Strozzini’s song “Wheelchair” again emphasizes a negative outlook on life in a wheelchair. None of the musicians in this band are disabled, nor does this song seem to be referring to a particular person they know. Instead, these lyrics use a metaphorical wheelchair to showcase personal weakness and pain. This is the first time in this project when paraplegia is used poetically as a symbol for a lack of ability, rather than as a subject of personal experience or to discuss the general disabled population. <br />The audio and select lyrics for this song are on the next slide. This song provides another example of non-disabled musicians today treating disability as a negative thing, rather than as a simple fact of life.<br />
  16. 16. Song- Wheelchair<br />Lyrics- <br />And I am lame, but my legs are still moving<br />And I am lame, but my legs are still moving<br />And I am lame, damn I wish they’d stop moving<br />So you can see, that something crippled me.<br />I guess I need a wheelchair for my crippled soul.<br />
  17. 17. Sergeant Fu<br /> Sergeant Fu again exemplifies the trend in non-disabled musicians to create a joke out of paraplegia and to treat is as a repugnant character trait. The audio and select lyrics for their song “Social Paraplegic” are on the next slide. This band has tried to convey humor through their use of the term paraplegic, but by doing so has again indicated some proposed shame in suffering from paraplegia. <br />
  18. 18. Song- Social Paraplegic<br />Lyrics- <br />Make way for the social paraplegics, <br />Cause there’s another on the dance floor again.<br />Another social casualty.<br />
  19. 19. Jesse Ruben<br />
  20. 20. Jesse Ruben is not disabled, but his childhood friend Zack Weinstein is paralyzed from the waist down. This paralysis happened when Zack was injured in a canoeing accident during high school, and Jesse wrote the song “Song for Zack” about his recovery. People may recognize Zack Weinstein from his guest appearance on the television series “Glee” as the character Sean Fretthold.<br />This song is the closest thing that I have found to being an uplifting ballad of hope for paraplegia from the words of a non-disabled musician. Though it never truly celebrates the lifestyle of a disabled person, it does encourage someone to approach that life with a courageous and positive outlook. It never emphasizes the use of a wheelchair as a preferred thing, but it does stress the importance of viewing it as an obstacle rather than as a defeat. <br />The audio and lyrics for the song are on the following two slides.<br />
  21. 21. Song- Song for Zack<br />Lyrics-<br />A little different, a little different still the same<br />Life feels distant, and out of focused nowadays<br />And it might take a little longer to get from Point B to Point A,<br />Your wheels won’t turn, but you will learn, that you can get there anyway<br />And this is just to say that I believe in miracles<br />And in love, so bitter and so sweet<br />There are many ways to hold your head up high<br />There are many ways to stand on your own feet<br />And I want you to know, that you can always count on me<br />And when you’re scared, and the questions don’t connect<br />I’ll be there, wear the proof around my neck<br />But when you’re feeling burdened by the bad days that collect<br />You and I will kill old times so you can take an easy breath<br />And let these words reflect that I believe in miracles<br />And in love, so bitter and so sweet<br />
  22. 22. There are many ways to keep you spirits strong,<br />There are many ways to overcome defeat<br />And I want you to know that you can always count on me<br />And you’re searching for sensation, you’re choosing your path<br />And you taught me how to fight again, by learning how to laugh<br />Cause I’m adding up the numbers, but I still can’t do the math<br />And I wish that I had been there to save you Zack.<br />Cause I believe in miracles <br />And in love, so bitter and so sweet<br />There are many ways to hold your head up high<br />There are many ways to stand on your own feet <br />Cause I believe in miracles<br />Yes I believe in miracles<br />Yes I believe in miracles<br />Cause I believe in miracles. <br />And I want you to know, that you can always count on me. <br />
  23. 23. In conclusion, when truly investigated and evaluated, music lyrics for this subject matter tend to be fairly one-sided and not politically correct. They fail to celebrate the uniqueness in disabled persons, with the exception of specific cases when the difficulty of a disabled life is proclaimed as a positive challenge. Those exceptions though are far outweighed by the tendency for both disabled and non-disabled musicians to express contempt for paraplegia. <br />Non-disabled musicians who decide to use disability as a metaphor are actually crippling the disabled population by socially restricting them from potential growth by labeling them as weak. <br />
  24. 24. The fact that there is no music glorifying the paraplegic community for its strength and for the barriers it must overcome is disheartening. One must be hopeful that with the current growth in communications, more disabled artists will be able to become well-known and be a voice for their communities. The pro-paraplegic voice needs to be heard by the world, and not only as a happy acceptance of a challenge, but as a voice rejoicing in human differences. <br />