Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Degree Granting Department

Humanities and Cultural Studies

Major Professor

Andrew Berish, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Maria Cizmic, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Daniel Belgrad, Ph.D.


Authenticity, Country Music, Old Age, Pain, Performance, Voice


Sitting at a rarely examined intersection between aging, disability, and popular culture, this project explores how the aging body becomes the disabled body in the context of popular music. In what follows, I trouble the distinction between bodies and mediation, between lived-experience and cultural product, and I argue that the voice of the aging artist engages with his lived-experience even as he performs socially-constructed conceptions of aging and disability.

I read Johnny Cash’s 2002 cover of Trent Reznor’s “Hurt” on American IV: The Man Comes Around as a performance of the singer’s age and disabled condition. Through pain- saturated lyrics, music filled with unresolved tension, a damaged voice, and a video that puts his aged body on display, Cash performs a disability script that presents his age and personal health as disabling burden. I explore how country music, Cash’s performance past, and strategies pursued by his producer, Rick Rubin, all contribute to a performance that is both successful popular song and a manifestation of the singer’s declining condition. The project invites subsequent explorations of the intersection of age and disability in popular music, and highlights several artists whose voices and performances of old age and disability demand attention. The project aligns with an interactive approach to disability research, breaking down the dialectic between social and individual priorities in disability studies and foregrounding how each influence the overall performance.