It's safe to say that you've probably heard of autism, the range of developmental disorders that makes life a challenge for millions of people across the world. Awareness of its existence and methods for helping those who suffer from it have made great strides forward over the past decade, with a much greater understanding being apparent in the world at large. Idiots like Michael Savage notwithstanding, of course.
Autism usually manifests as delayed language development, with the exception of the Asperger variant. Autistic people often have trouble communicating, great difficulty in social settings, intractability with non-essential routines, and can be narrowly focused on highly specific interests. That last one is the basis of many of the autistic savants that you've seen in movies.
Autistic Pride Day was found in 2005 in order to celebrate the nuerodiversity of people with autism. For the organizers, autism is not necessarily something to be cured, but an inherent difference in people who should be appreciated and celebrated rather than treated as an illness. Well, there are at least five musicians whom you could use as examples for this thesis, and they formed the basis of my playlist this week.
Hikari Ōe, "Forest Ballad': Normally, I wouldn't embed a video with just a static image, but it's a nice, calm picture and I want it to be in your mind when I tell you this next bit. Ōe was born in 1963, and was extremely developmentally disabled, so much so that the doctors encouraged his father, Nobel Prize-winning author Kenzaburō Ōe, to just let the boy die. Refusing, Ōe underwent an operation that still left him visually impaired, epileptic, physically weak and with autism.
Still, the boy fought his way to fame and fortune. His parents were encouraged by his fondness for bird calls to start playing him classical music, which he quickly became obsessed with. Drawing lines, he told his father he was composing music, and a music teacher was hired to teach him theory.
In 1995, he released his first album Music of Hikari Oe. His father was so worried it would be a financial failure that he offered to buy 200 copies personally. As it turns out, the record sold more than a million copies, and paved the way for Ōe to become a big name in the classical world.
So the next time a doctor tells you to let your baby die, punch that fucker in the face until your hand breaks.
Marty Balin (Jefferson Airplane/Starship), "Miracles": If the only name you associate with Jefferson Airplane is grace Slick, then please meet Marty Balin. The dancer, singer, and guitarist was a major songwriter for the group, and later joined Jefferson Starship to contribute to some very big hits like "With Your Love," "Count on Me," and his signature tune "Miracles." Balin suffers from a mild form of autism, something he has struggled with all his life and even into adulthood, having to deal with the cutthroat music industry.
Gary Numan, "The Fall": Numan may or may not have Asperger syndrome. He claims he does, but he also says he self-diagnosed from an Internet quiz. Since Asperger has become something a trendy disease to self-diagnose youself with in order to explain social disaffection and not following the rules to pursue your own weirdo interests, I'm going to call Numan's claim suspect until I hear a doctor say so. Nonetheless, the man remains a genius all the way up to the present day, especially last year's Dead Son Rising. If he does have Asperger, aspies would be proud to claim him.
Ladyhawke, "My Delirium": The lovely Pip Brown, better known as Ladyhawke, is someone I should definitely get to know better. Her music is exactly what I want more of in the world, hot girls, mad lyrics, dance beats and a bit of cutting pain. Unlike Numan, she actually has been diagnosed with Asperger, something that explains her singular music obsession and reticence to fit certain social norms -- Brown refuses to wear girl clothes and dresses exclusively in menswear.
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Travis Meeks (Days of the New), "Touch, Stand, and Peel": Meeks' life wasn't an easy one, full of dysfunctional family, alcoholism, and Asperger to top it all off. He's renowned for being troubling to work with, but ever since his diagnosis with the condition therapy has helped the alternative star find peace.
I always thought that Days of the New should've gone further; standing apart from the '90s scene with a certain acoustic glam absent in their peers, but Meeks will always have his No. 1 hit.