Thoughts and illustrations on living on the autism spectrum.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Spectrum Soundtrack: Ol’ Man River

I thought I'd start an occasional music feature here on this blog. I’ll call it Spectrum Soundtrack for now. It’s not meant to be “songs about autism,” which is next to impossible, given how different each individual is. Instead, it’ll be songs that speak to me, and that might speak to you if we share some of the same experiences. Simply put, these are songs that help me deal.

Today I want to introduce you to “Ol’ Man River” by the Beach Boys.

I’ve written before of my love for the movie Fantastic Mr. Fox, which introduced me to this song. It plays over one of my many favorite scenes, near the end (spoiler alert) when we see the animals going about their daily business in their new, underground sewer habitat. Forced to flee their natural forest homes, they’ve taken refuge in this dank, smelly space that meets their basic needs, but not much else. Sort of “an animal version of the projects,” as Wes Anderson referred to it. Their lifestyle, and their pride, have taken a hit. But, they make do as best they can, because there is no other choice. Life goes on.

The use of “Ol’ Man River” in this scene perfectly sets a mood of endurance in the face of hardship, much like its original use in the musical Showboat.

Ol’ man river,
He must know something,
He don’t say nothing,
He just keeps rollin’,
He keeps on rollin,

To me, the song, specifically this Beach Boys version, has become an anthem of survival. Because this is not your dig deep, pump-your-fist-and-come-out-fighting, Gloria Gaynor style of survival. No, this is about pushing yourself forward, perhaps with great uncertainty, even when your whole being may be telling you to turn back. A lethargic march onward. That kind of survival, I think, is more typical of real life.

Real life can deal a cruel blow. It can shock, with sudden changes in health, career, or living situation. When you or a family member are on the spectrum, you might very well find yourself with multiple stressors at a time. You may not be able to see your way out, or where to turn for help. You might look up and see a reality that looks to you, like a dark and dirty sewer.

So what then? You keep going. You endure. Because just maybe, that river might lead to a better place. Kind of like 1:20 in the video. Cue tempo change. In the movie, the guitar kicks in as Mr. Fox and family discover that on the other side of a manhole cover is a fully stocked supermarket. Suddenly, things are looking up again.

And that is why you keep on rollin’.


  1. It might head to a better place, or over a waterfall via the rapids.

    I do hope 'keep on rollin' involves King Sized Rizla.

    This is my leitmotif: Crass's Do they Owe Us a Living?

  2. Thank you Socrates, that song is most awesome. And there you have it - some of us rock, and some of us roll.