Photo Credit: David Boni
In this blog, I wanted to write something in memory of a personal musical hero of mine. Dave Greenfield was the keyboard player of The Stranglers from their very early days right until his untimely death from Covid 19 on the 3rd of May 2020.
The Stranglers have just released their new album Dark Matters to critical acclaim. Of the 11 tracks on the album, 8 feature the final recordings of Dave.
In a recent interview with the Guardian Newspaper, bassist JJ Burnel is quoted as saying: “We always knew Dave was special, but we didn’t realise how special. They’ve got a name for it now. Very high-functioning autistic.” He has used this descriptive of Dave in a few other interviews lately too. He mentions Dave’s eccentricities along with his unique and virtuoso musical ability. He also says that Dave would try to explain things but wouldn’t know where to edit the information, which would lead to the listener’s eyes glazing over. Although Dave wouldn’t notice and would carry on with his explanation regardless.
Now this description probably doesn’t match with the stereotypical view the majority seem to have of Autism. In the media, certainly until recently, Autism was portrayed as two distinct polar opposites; A non-verbal person seemingly locked in their own world and unable to communicate with the world around them or that of someone who socially inept, limited in communication, yet in possession of an incredible memory for facts and figures. Think Dustin Hoffman’s ‘Rain Man’. But the truth is that Autism is all around us and varies considerably for everyone who is ‘on the spectrum’.
So what is Autism? Simply put, it is a neurological difference. It is not a disease, it is not a fault, it is a difference. The analogy I use in my teaching is that it is like comparing a Mac to a PC. PC’s are the majority and adequate for most day to day tasks. However if you want to do something more specialist in art or photography for instance, chances are you are going to prefer to use a Mac. Autism has been described as having a specialist brain, where it is exceptionally good at some tasks, but struggles with mundanity.
Autistic people often feel invisible in society and are ignored or dismissed. Autistic skills and intelligence are very rarely recognised because the way Autistic people communicate is somewhat different to the way non-autistic people (Neurotypicals) do. Yet, many great minds who have contributed significantly to the development of mankind displayed signs and symptoms of what would now be recognised as Autism.
Hans Asperger said: “It seems that for success in science or art, a dash of autism is essential.”
Temple Grandin posits, “What would happen if the autism gene was eliminated from the gene pool? You would have a bunch of people standing around in a cave, chatting and socializing and not getting anything done.”
There are many common gifts that can be shared by Autistic individuals, such as Pattern Thinking, Visual Learning, Attention to Detail, Extreme Levels of Concentration, Loyalty and Honesty and a Deep Passion and Knowledge on their Special Interest.
Less common ones include Savantism and High IQ. But if you look at people with a high IQ, you would find a disproportionally large Autistic representation.
But like all things Autism related there is no standard. Some may have many of these gifts, some one or two and some none. As Dr Stephen Shore said: “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”
What unites all, however, is Outside the Box thinking, the ability to think freely without the constraints of established thinking or social norms.
“Sometimes it is the people no one can imagine anything of who do the things no one can imagine,” Alan Turing.
Dave was a unique man in so many ways. I would suggest, with respect, that he was a musical savant. This fits with Guitarist Baz Warne’s description on BBC Breakfast the other day of himself watching Dave compose on the keyboard and being unable to follow Dave’s unique way of thinking. Until a point when the genius of his work was revealed. And, let’s face it, the world would be a much less colourful place if Dave hadn’t been in it and left us such a gift of his wonderful music.
About the Author
Andy Rotherham has been a Stranglers fan since buying Grip/London Lady upon its release in 1977.
He also happens to be Autistic. Diagnosed at the age of 50, he made a conscious decision to embrace his Autism, explore what gifts it gives him and use his insight to teach others about Autism.
He is a Trainer to professionals on the subject of Autism. He is a musician. He also works as a guitar builder/repairer for a well known band (Not The Stranglers).