Wednesday, March 5, 2008
He Gets It
One of the greatest things about my 17 year old son, Chip, is that he likes to share his world with me. Unlike a lot of teenagers, including my 15 year old son, Chip is not the moody, reclusive type of kid who seems to prefer the company of his friends at all times instead of time with his family. Chip does have his friends, friends who enjoy the same things he does – music, computers, and rockclimbing – but he seems equally as comfortable spending an evening with me and his siblings. Last night, for example, he really wanted me to watch a movie with him, a documentary titled “The Devil and Daniel Johnston”.
Daniel Johnston is an American singer, songwriter, musician and artist. He also is diagnosed with bipolar disorder and autism. According to Wikipedia, “His songs are often called "painfully direct," and tend to display a blend of childlike naïveté with darker, "spooky" themes. Johnston's earliest recordings present him singing in a high register. However, throughout the nineties his voice acquired a new character and tone and an altogether different style of delivery and diction. This may have been inspired by a mixture of the damage done by smoking, tooth loss and medication prescribed to control his disorder. His performances often seem faltering or uncertain; one critic writes that Johnston's recordings range from "spotty to brilliant”. And, his music has been acclaimed by David Bowie, Yo La Tengo, Sonic Youth, Eddie Vedder, Beck, Spiritualized, The Flaming Lips, Justin Furstenfeld, Bright Eyes, and Matt Groening. Kurt Cobain praised Johnston's work, and often wore a tee shirt featuring the cover art of Johnston's debut release, "Hi How Are You?" The frequency with which Cobain wore the "Hi How Are You?" tee shirt exposed Johnston to an even wider group of music enthusiasts.
I must admit, I don’t get the attraction to his music, and while the documentary was interesting and I hear, was hailed at the Sundance Film Festival, I didn’t view it as a major work of art. However, what was extremely important to me was Chip’s excitement at learning about Daniel Johnston and his acclaim despite a significant disability. Chip even asked if we could have Mr. Johnston perform at one of our support group family retreats.
I know I’ve written many times in the past about what a special kid Chip is, but his acceptance of people with disabilities, no matter how significant the disability, as a normal part of his life inspires me. Perhaps his acceptance comes from being the sibling of three people with significant disabilities, or maybe my advocacy has over time worn off on him, but whatever the reason, I believe he will be a force to be reckoned with in future years as a strong advocate himself. He gets it…he really gets it.