Transformer Man: An Exploration of Disability in Neil Young’s Life and Music

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Isaac Stein


Neil Young, music and disability, music as empowerment


This article begins with a short personal narrative of my own struggles growing up with a form of cerebral palsy (right hemiplegia), and the way music – and in particular Neil Young’s songs – provided a crucial emotional and cathartic outlet for me. I then examine Neil Young’s intimate personal connection with disability, including his own struggles with polio and epilepsy and his experiences raising his two sons Zeke and Ben, both of whom have cerebral palsy (one milder, one quite severe). I delve into many of Neil’s songs that either subtly or explicitly explore issues of disability and difference, such as Mr. Soul and Transformer Man. I conclude by recounting my experience attending the Bridge School Benefit, an annual concert put on by Neil and his wife Pegi to raise funds for the school they founded for disabled children. In sum, this article will attempt to capture something of the way in which Neil Young and other artists have created music that is both personally therapeutic and collectively empowering for members of the disabled community.

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