Lyrics that question the stigma
Notions of epilepsy through the ages have not always been unambiguously negative. Some believed that persons with disease were God’s chosen people on Earth, cf. the designation morbus sacer.
In recent years, some have attempted to use song lyrics to challenge the prejudices associated with epilepsy. Throughout his career, Nick Cave has been preoccupied with social stigmatisation, as is shown in several of his lyrics (Figure 2). On the album Henry’s Dream, he has included a song about the historic figure of Christina the Astonishing (1150 – 1224). She acquired world fame after having risen from «the dead» during her funeral after having suffered an epileptic seizure.
The artist Antony Hegarty, known from the band Antony and the Johnsons, is also preoccupied with social stigmatisation. As transgender he has also been subject to prejudice. Perhaps he sees an opportunity to use his song lyrics to influence prevailing attitudes to those who are different? In his delightful lyrics to Epilepsy is dancing he describes an epileptic seizure in positive terms (Figure 3). The lyrics include references to Christ’s resurrection. Hegarty may have been inspired by Transfiguration, a 16th century painting by Raphael, where Jesus rises from the dead and a boy suffers an epileptic seizure at the same sacred moment. During an epileptic seizure the main protagonist in the lyrics is transported into another and different world.
Epilepsy is dancing
Epilepsy is dancing
She’s the Christ now departing
And I’m finding my rhythm
As I twist in the snow
The song is accompanied by a dreamlike music video of naked people in a paradisiacal garden of flowers. The seizure turns into an ecstatic dream, similar to what can be experienced by people with temporal lobe epilepsy (4). When the seizure is over, the main protagonist steps back into grey reality in an asphalted industrial site.
The rock artist Prince suffered from epilepsy as a child. He had a difficult childhood and adolescence marked by bullying and a father who failed to support him in his pursuit of music. Many of his lyrics deal with making life-changing choices. The song Sacrifice tells the story of little Victor, who is a victim of bullying.
I was born on a blood stained table
Cord wrapped around my neck
Epileptic ’til the age of seven
I was sure Heaven marked the deck
Mama held up her baby for protection
From a man with a strap in his hand
Ask the Victor ’bout pain and rejection
You think he don’t, when he do understand
My name will be, Victor
These lyrics contain obvious autobiographical elements. Perhaps Victor is an allusion to «victory»? Prince himself expresses his identity clearly, in his characteristic style as well as his various artist names. He has used the names Prince, Jamie Starr, Christopher, Alexander Nevermind and The Purple One, as well as the symbol
In his life and career Prince has deliberately promoted his image as an exceptional character, and this has been his strength.