GUEST BLOG: BNL on the spectrum – by Mil

On World Austism Awareness Day, Mil writes an eye-opening and important account of fandom whilst living with autism.

BNL Collection Me

“I listen to Barenaked Ladies every single day, probably for at least an hour or two. I update a BNL blog on Tumblr daily with a little BNL nugget for people. I listen to all the solo projects and I spend my free time updating lyrics pages for those or watching old interviews of the band. Some people might call me obsessive, but I’m not.

I’m autistic.

For people wired in a way that makes social interaction difficult, part of what autism is along with sensory and other issues, the things that give you peace and support in life can look very different. I don’t find interacting with my family or friends naturally enjoyable due to the difficulties I have. Talking to them is hard and stressful. Getting a hug from one of them when I’m struggling would just make me more distressed and uncomfortable. So I listen to a Barenaked Ladies song instead.

Listening to a Barenaked Ladies song, or from any of their solo side projects, provides for me the same comfort and relief that getting a hug from someone you love would for a non-autistic person. This is what an autistic special interest is (sometimes called our obsessions or fixations.) It’s the place I feel home in the world, where I understand things and retreat to when it’s all too much.

A lot of days, it feels as if they’re the only thing keeping me going therefore. They wake me up in the morning feeling like I can deal with another day in a often painful and distressing world. They keep me focussed during the day while I’m cooking lunch and singing along. They calm me down before bed each night so I can sleep easier with their lyrics in my head.

And a lot of other times, my instinct when things go wrong isn’t to go to someone who can help or comfort me. It’s to jam on my headphones and listen to only BNL-related songs for half an hour or so until things feel better.

I wouldn’t stop being autistic for anything (Not that one can; autism isn’t something that can be ‘cured’ aside from by eliminating autistic people.) The amount of pleasure I get from my special interests is incomparable. The colours and shapes I can see in my mind when listening to music is magical. And don’t get me started on the sensory pleasures of hearing one of the Ladies’ voices now I recognise them so well.

I experience the world differently. I experience Barenaked Ladies differently.


Even if I were better with words, I don’t think I could convey with them all of the things BNL is to me. A special interest is the lens through which one sees the world, like your home culture when you live in a social culture that will always feel alien and unsettling to you. For example, when I find myself struggling for words to express myself, I default to talking in BNL-related lyrics or song references. Unless someone’s a fellow fan, I probably do seem a bit mad.

It’s my starting point too; rather than seeing special interests, these so-called narrow obsessions and fixations, as limiting our experience of the world, they’re merely the point we connect with the world easiest through. From loving BNL and everything related, I play pinball because Ed likes it, do more exercise by practising yoga because Jim likes that and have been learning a lot about Inuit culture lately, which I’d never had any experience of before, because Kevin has an interest in that. Autism enriches all of my life in that way.

But autism is a disability. It won’t let me forget that.

I’ll never be able to attend a Barenaked Ladies concert in person due to my sensory and social issues. It was pretty crushing realising that.

Going on a Ships and Dips cruise? Nuh-uh. No way. Can’t even dream about that. Just twenty minutes aboard the boat and I’d be having a meltdown. Daydream fantasies only.

If I ever met them, I’m scared it might coincide with one of my non-verbal episodes where I lose the ability to speak for a short while. That’d be so frustrating and embarrassing for both sides involved…

Even watching concerts online can get too loud, bright and frantic sometimes so I need to pause the video to deal with the overload.

It sucks; how can I say I’m a true fan when I’ll never attend one of their shows? No, I’m just the obsessive, almost slightly creepy kind of fan who can recite all their birthdays at the drop of a hat because that’s what my brain’s wired for instead.

But this is how I am. This is what being a Barenaked Ladies fan is like when you’re autistic (or my experience at least.)


They’ll keep supporting and inspiring me every day though. I write, draw and play music from sources of inspiration I find in them. One of the only two people I can interact with on a daily basis with reasonable ease is another BNL fan I’ve met online, since talking about my special interest is natural and easy. I could never thank the Ladies enough for all of the things they give to my life.

I’ll never be able to have the full BNL fan experience. I’ll always be watching them from way afar. It can be hard, loving something so much but always feeling there’s a glass wall between you and it.

But, as I realised from a song they inspired me to write, it’s okay. Just watching them with love’s enough”.

Mil Feirn

BNL collection

I wanted to keep this article BNL-related, since it’s for a BNL site, but since it’s Autism Awareness Day (2nd April) I’ll add an optional extra section for anyone interested in the autism issues raised in this article.

If you want to support Autism Awareness Day, please do it through supporting organisations such as the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, or Autism Acceptance Month. You don’t have to donate anything; just learning is enough. There are also campaigns such as #WalkInRed and #AreYouAwareOfMeNow you can take a look at.

And please don’t support Autism Speaks or their #Light It Up Blue campaign. Many autistic people find Autism Speaks’ goals and rhetoric about autism deeply hurtful and offensive since they advocate for a cure. As I said in my article, this just doesn’t exist for autism, short of pre-natal tests for autism which will stop autistic people being born in the first place. This is a form of eugenics. Many autistic people just want to be accepted for who we are so we advocate for Autism Acceptance instead.

If you want to learn more, you can read these articles [1] [2] or watch this video on Autism Speaks. (This channel has lots of other great videos on various autism topics too.)


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