Alan Gard

Alan Gard and his son Alijah look back to 1989 for Down syndrome research inspiration: Let’s tear down down these walls!

By Alan Gard

The year 1989 has gotten some attention of late. This is primarily due to it being the birth year of Taylor Swift, she of recent world domination.  She even paid homage to that year as the title to her most recent album, which also was the final step into her total transformation to pop stardom.

It got me to thinking about what I remember about 1989. Well, first it got me to thinking how many people alive now can’t remember 1989 because they weren’t even born yet then. I am old!  I had to confirm some of what I remembered, but 1989 had a lot of events that for better or worse even those not born yet then probably know about. There was the San Francisco earthquake that delayed the World Series. That was the year of the Exxon Valdez disaster.  It was the year of the Tiananmen Square protest. The Hillsborough disaster at a soccer stadium in England was a 1989 event.

Not everything that happened that year was a disaster though. The Berlin Wall came down. Dead Poets Society and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade entertained us. San Francisco 49ers fans remember it fondly as they won one of the most exciting Super Bowls in January, 1989 and then had a dominant season in the fall that led to another Super Bowl title (won in January of 1990).  The first version of Microsoft Office was released. Well, I’ll let you all be the judge of whether that was a good or bad thing given how much of an influence that suite of programs has impacted many of our work lives (at least in my actuarial circle).

One may be reading this and thinking, “What does any of this have to do with Down syndrome or Down syndrome research?” Please indulge me a little longer.

1989 is also the title of an album Ryan Adams recently released. It is a track-by-track reimagining of Taylor Swift’s popular album and it is quite a different take. One has to work to not dance a little while listening to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.”  When I hear Ryan Adams’ version, I think I’m listening to a sequel to Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire.”  Adams’ version of “Out of the Woods” is draped in a melancholy we haven’t heard from Taylor Swift since Drew was the reason for the teardrops on her guitar. Mr. Adams makes a couple lyrical changes to “Blank Space” to make it more gender appropriate (and as an aside he removes the most iconic lyric on Ms. Swift’s entire album: “Cause darling I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream”), but you’d never notice because you’d never think they are even the same song.

Now, most people probably ask the question, “Who is Ryan Adams?”  And because of that, a project like this is subject to claims of being a novelty or a cry for attention…a way for him to capitalize on one of the most popular albums of recent memory.  I personally don’t hear that at all. I think his courage in following his artistic instincts creates something well worth the investment.  And it provides some lessons that have a lot to do with Down syndrome and Down syndrome research.

First it gets people talking. There is a tendency for Down syndrome and Down Syndrome causes to be left out of the broader conversation. There is nothing worse than silence, so it is beneficial to be provocateurs in bringing Ds into mainstream discussions.

Second, one of LuMind RDS’s Dr. Harpold’s sayings related to research is, “If we don’t try, we don’t know.” This saying applies to Mr. Adams’ project too. I’m sure he didn’t even know how this was going to turn out. Regardless of whether one likes the album or not, we’d never know how good these songs are at their core…without their pop “makeup” if you will. And we are better for knowing just how good they really are. The Down syndrome community will be better for all research projects, even the ones where there wasn’t an earth-shattering breakthrough. We still learned lessons and thus research endeavors need to be encouraged.

Finally, it makes us think a little more about 1989 and, hopefully, about one particular event I listed above: the Berlin Wall being torn down. Think about how symbolic that was for so many people who had lived under oppression for so long. The opportunities offered by Ds research can break down walls and release many from the oppression of the fear of cognitive decline and not having their full potential recognized. If the thought of tearing down big walls excites you, LuMind RDS has a blank space for you, please write your name.