Lewis Capaldis Glastonbury set displayed the best of the human spirit and put disability centre-stage | Frances Ryan

Glastonbury “moments” do not typically involve silence. On Saturday night, Lewis Capaldi changed that. There were no surprise guests, no wild costumes, nor any clever covers. At times towards the end of his Pyramid stage set, Capaldi himself wasn’t even singing. But the silence was filled – by the sound of a hundred thousand people coming together to sing the words for him.

If you didn’t see the set, Capaldi – who has spoken previously about having Tourette syndrome and anxiety – had problems with his voice throughout and was visibly affected by tics (involuntary movements or sounds). He gave a stellar performance full of heart and humour, but as the hour went on, it was clear he was struggling. “I’m going to be honest everybody but I’m starting to lose my voice up here, but we’re going to keep going … until the end,” he said. “I just need you all to sing with me as loud as you can if that’s OK?” The crowd did not let him down. By the time his mega-hit Someone You Loved began and his voice had all but gone, the audience had taken over, singing the lyrics back to him. Capaldi simply stood on stage taking it in: a sea of smiling faces stretching as far as the eye could see, thousands of voices singing in unison.

It was deeply moving; the sort of display of communal spirit that didn’t just feel like Glastonbury at its best, but humankind generally.

What made the set feel so momentous was that Capaldi, perhaps unknowingly, countered how we typically understand disability (Tourette syndrome is classified as a disability in the UK). There are still few visibly disabled people in public roles and even fewer in the music industry. Other than Stevie Wonder, how many times have you seen a disabled artist with a high-ranking slot at Glastonbury? Or at any festival? It is not just that Capaldi has disabilities, but that they were present and noticeable during a moment of triumph. That can feel confusing for some. Non-disabled people are taught from an early age that disabled people are either tragic or inspirational – if they’re not “overcoming” what “holds them back”, they’re miserably failing.

At the same time, disability is still portrayed as an inherently bad thing, something that cannot coexist with careers, love or happiness. Capaldi’s performance directly challenged this shallow understanding. The realities of his health were not hidden away or kept out of sight until deemed “more acceptable”: disability was front and centre on the Pyramid stage – with joy, pain and talent alongside it.

The singer, who has just come back from three weeks away due to ill health, has said that he will now take some more time off – and it’s vital that he only performs when he feels able to, not under pressure from record company bosses or out of duty to fans. Yet it’s important to guard against the idea that disabled people in the public eye should be permitted to be visible only when “at their best”.

We still live with the all-too common myth that disabled people should hide their disability, often out of deference to the feelings of non-disabled people watching. Just look at the comments on social media suggesting that Capaldi shouldn’t have gone ahead with the performance. What the non-disabled gaze might see (well-meaningly) as “heartbreaking” or supposedly pitiable is often, in fact, just a disabled person living their life. It’s not that it’s at all wrong to feel for someone clearly struggling; it’s rather that sometimes this approach puts the non-disabled person’s own discomfort and awkwardness above that of the person they’re ostensibly sympathising with.

Ask a disabled person and odds are that they’ll have a story about what this prejudice means in their day-to-day life, whether that’s a young woman in pain from arthritis deciding to go without her cane because strangers shout “You’re too young for that!” or an office worker with multiple sclerosis avoiding presentations because he’s worried about colleagues’ reaction to his voice tremors. That sense of shame and isolation is an incredibly heavy burden to carry every day of your life.

Imagine the difference it would make to people’s lives if disabled bodies were normalised. If a tic were just a twinge on the face and not a sign of failure. That’s why Capaldi’s performance on Saturday matters. As the early evening sun shone over Worthy Farm, the crowd were communicating much more to the singer than his own lyrics. They were saying: “We want you exactly as you are.” In doing so, Glastonbury showed disabled people that acceptance is possible, at least for an hour.

Title: Lewis Capaldi’s Glastonbury set displayed the best of the human spirit – and put disability centre-stage | Frances Ryan
URL: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/jun/26/lewis-capaldis-glastonbury-set-disability-centre-stage
Source: the Guardian
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Date: June 27, 2023 at 04:24AM
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