My Life in Song: Processing Grief Through the 1992 Hit Disney Musical, “Newsies”

Rachel Inberg
Human Parts
Published in
4 min readMay 28, 2023

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CW: physical abuse, animal abuse, self-harm

I was seven in 1992, the year Newsies came out and the year I began to have suicidal thoughts at summer camp. Watching my second-grade peers jump rope from the bench where I camped out during recess, I didn’t have the words for it, only the sensation of being disappeared by the living; parental neglect had long since stolen my voice, muted me into a ghost who could observe but never participate.

Newsies is a tale of singing newsboys and well-choreographed dance numbers, yes, but it is also one of children escaping the crushing grip of their oppressors. I understood profoundly the experience of being abused like Jack Kelly and the Gang were by the uncaring, megalomaniacal adults in their lives; one day, when I had more power, maybe I would complement their protest songs with my own.

The World Will Know: This song is an address from survivors to their abusers: Your world will feel the fire and finally, finally know. It’s about exposing adults to other adults and expecting the acknowledgment of wrongdoing.

Abuse by my parents generally passed unrecognized or flagrantly ignored by the world at large. Many times during playdates, my mother knocked my little friend Tommy to the ground and began licking his face. His mother watched the display though did not intervene while my mother dragged her tongue along the ridge of Tommy’s jawline. No one mentioned it being unusual when she nodded off into her entrée at family functions, offered a blowjob to the young man whose car she rear-ended, was so tardy in bringing the dog that gnawed off its own left paw to the vet that it had to be euthanized for advanced sepsis.

2. Seize the Day: No one can break us/no one can make us/give our rights away. My pre-teen years were filled with discomfiting revelations about the humans I interacted with daily: Laura’s mom wore sunglasses not because she had ‘migraines’ but because Laura’s father punched her in the face when he beat her; Christina’s parents adopted foster children not for the altruism but for the money; Samantha’s father wasn’t going on faraway business trips, but to a La Quinta fifteen minutes away to fuck women other than Samantha’s mother.

No one said, hold on to your voice, you’re gonna need it, kid, or, you’re right and your instincts are completely correct, or, save yourself from these bad…

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Rachel Inberg
Human Parts

Rachel writes from the unique perspective of a healthcare professional who treats mental illness and also experiences it herself. Read more at rachelinberg.com