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Electrocution, Avian Excreta And Bagpiper's Fungus: All In
A Day's Work For A Musician!
Madonna's onstage fall at the recent Brit Awards demonstrated, all
too painfully, one of the occupational hazards awaiting the
performing musician, but there are many more – even for those of
us not cavorting around in capes and high heels, surrounded by
troupes of dancers in intricately choreographed routines.
Last year I developed a debilitating condition in the achilles area of
my left foot, which became not only swollen and sore, but as it got
worse I found I couldn't place my foot flat on the ground and so
ended up walking with a limp. This led to me progressively over-
compensating with my right leg, in turn leading to sore hips and
back pain, leaving me hirpling around like a cailleach* and having
to cling to the banister in order to manoeuvre downstairs sideways.
If this conjures up a particularly unflattering vision then, believe
me, it was exactly that. And the cause of all this misery? Tapping
my foot too hard on the floor when I play (and, I confess, at times
stamping). I started out as a child with classical piano, where
under no circumstances do you tap your foot in time to the music,
but on moving into the much more relaxed folk world, I developed
the ubiquitous foot-tapping habit. It became not only automatic
but vigorous – to the point of injury.
Diagnosed by the phsyio as Tendinopathy, it was months of
exercises and a pair of particularly unattractive, 'old-wifey' sandals
later before I was cured (though my thickened achilles tendon
never did fully recede), but I now consciously and constantly
monitor those wayward feet of mine when I'm playing.
Were Health and Safety Inspectors to do risk assessments for
musicians they might also highlight: Repetitive Strain Injury; Lock
Jaw; Cubital, Carpal and Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome; Tendinitis;
Tendinosis; Tinnitus; Bursitis; Dermatitis; de Quervain's Syndrome;
Garrod's Pads; Myofascial Pain Disorder; Ganglions (caused by tight
straps – no, not S&M, but the accordion variety);
Temporomandibular Joint Disorder and last, but by no means least,
These medical textbook conditions, which for me conjure up
something of the gothic and grotesque - visions perhaps of an
archaic anatomy museum, glinting with ancient speciman jars of
rubber-white, coiled and convoluted scraps of humanity – refer to
the slightly less formal, but equally colourful, fiddler's neck,
bagpiper's fungus (nothing to do with feet or genitalia, but is a lung
disease caused by inhaling fungal spores from inside the pipe bag),
flautist's chin, horn player's palsy, harpist's cramp, cellist's
dermatitis, trumpeter's lip, singer's nodules, and a host of other
afflictions, including shoulder, neck and back injuries, mashed and
bleeding lips, burst eardrums etc.
Those are the basics but then there are all the random threats to
life and limb lurking in the stage wings. When pigeon poo fell to
earth from a bird enjoying (or maybe not?) a Kings Of Leon
performance from its perch high up in the rafters, and landed in the
mouth of the bassist, the St Louis concert was abandoned as "Too
unsanitary to continue." Whilst not pleasant, throwing in the towel
three songs into their show might be regarded as lightweight by the
hardy breed of rockers that includes Otto Schimmelpenninck –
bassist (is it something about bass players?!) with Dutch metal
band, Delain - whose testicle was ruptured by an onstage confetti
cannon, but who soldiered on and finished the concert despite
immense pain and discomfort.
The indestructible Keith Richards was electrocuted and knocked
unconscious, Patti Smith broke her back tripping on a stage monitor
and falling 14ft, Frank Zappa escaped death when a fan fired a flare
gun at the ceiling during a Swiss show and burned the venue to the
ground. However Zappa was not so lucky on another occasion
when he sustained multiple injuries after an audience member
sneaked onstage and pushed him into the concrete orchestra pit.
If you are Tom Jones then all you risk having flung at you is female
underwear, but what are fans thinking when they chuck bottles,
lollipops (one of these got lodged in David Bowie's eye socket),
urine bombs, deckchairs (50 Cent took the hint and ended his show
at that point), coins, etc? Occasionally musicians suffer freak
accidents and pay the ultimate price: when orchestral conductor
Jean Baptiste Lully's baton flew from his hand, it pierced his foot –
bad enough, but he later developed gangrene and died.
Even if we manage to dodge projectiles, avoid injury, evade
personal attack, and sidestep serious medical ailments, there are
still a number of 'biggies' stalking the unsuspecting musician:
alcoholism, stress-related depression, performance anxiety,
substance abuse, penury and broken marriage – and not
necessarily in that order.
So why, you may ask, do we do it? Well, personal safety, financial
security, sanity and longevity may well be at risk for any gigging
musician but what is definitely guaranteed is the most fun, creative
satisfaction and joy imaginable. And, as the plucky Madonna so
conclusively illustrated, the show must go on!
* Cailleach – old woman (Gaelic)