Sick As A Player
musicians' ailments: how to get, how to avoid
The common maladies of a musician by Jon Lewin. This article should be taken with a pinch of salt and dissolved in a glass of water after meals twice a day.
ALCOHOLISM The most common drug dependence in the musical community, alcoholism has been responsible for the demise of more pop stars than anything else. Around here the safe maximum intake (for men) is between three and four pints of beer (or equivalent) per day; more than that, see under CIRRHOSIS.
AMPHETAMINE PSYCHOSIS A psychological disorder brought on by prolonged and excessive consumption of the stimulant amphetamine; its symptoms include intense paranoia and dodgy teeth. Drink lots of milk (for the calcium) and go to bed. For a week.
BLISTERS Musicians normally get blisters on their hands — they are caused by friction on soft skin. Harden the skin by swabbing it with surgical spirit. Cure the blisters by piercing them with a sterilised needle, then applying a dry dressing. Do not remove the skin, but keep it dry.
BROMIDROSIS Usually experienced on tour by rock groups, bromidrosis was described by F Zappa in his song with the self-explanatory title "Stinkfoot" (on the "Apostrophe" LP). Treat with warm soapy water and clean socks.
CHROMIDROSIS A rare complaint where the suffer exudes coloured sweat, which should be good for a three album deal at least. Treat with prolonged exposure on Breakfast TV and in the Sunday colour supplements.
CIRRHOSIS This is often caused by excessive drinking (see ALCOHOLISM). This atrophy of your internals is also known as "hob-nailed liver", because that's what it makes it look like.
DEAFNESS Sorry? This is no joking matter, though. It can be caused by numerous factors, the least serious of which is impacted wax (cerumen) in the ear canal. Unhappily, most perceptible deafness is permanent, which means that by the time you notice you're going deaf, it's too late. For more information, see One Twos 17 and 18.
DRUGS The most serious drug complaint most musicians have is that they haven't got any. This is not the attitude to take. Drugs have their uses, but the dull and repetitive life of the working musician often leads him/her to abuse them (see under ALCOHOLISM, AMPHETAMINE, CIRRHOSIS, DEAFNESS (really), HEROIN, IRRITABILITY, OVERDOSES, PILES, PSYCHOSOMATIC, RHINOPLASTY, VITAMINS, ZITS, One Two 19).
EARS If you suffer from ears, try drops of warm olive oil (engine oil is too coarse) to dissolve hardened wax. Or get a doctor to syringe them. Or try hypo allergenic earrings. See DEAFNESS.
ELECTRIC SHOCK This kills 1000 people annually in the USA, although unfortunately not all of them are musicians; Les Harvey and Keith Relf are just two Brits who have succumbed to the big spark. To avoid, make sure your electrical gear is plugged into a power breaker, which will hopefully cut you off if any electricity goes astray. See One Two 15.
FENDER RHODES Not so much a complaint in itself, but the cause of a whole series of maladies based around this weighty piano. Getting it there gave you backache, setting it up was a headache, and playing its abnormally heavy action keyboard made your fingers ache. These design faults have now been cured, though there are still secondhand monsters around. See also HERNIA, KEYBOARD, MYALGIA.
GUITARIST'S NIPPLE No, seriously — I know, because I've had it. When playing in a sitting position, the left nipple (if you're right-handed) can become swollen through the pressure of the guitar's top edge. More common amongst acoustic players with bad posture, this disease is neither as unpleasant nor as exciting as it sounds.
HERNIA An awkward and uncomfortable muscular complaint, often brought on by lifting heavy weights. It can be avoided by learning to pick things up correctly (with a roadie, or if none is available, a straight back).
IRRITABILITY This state of nervous tension can be brought on by a number of factors, such as tiredness, drug abuse, boredom, hunger, physical discomfort, incipient dipsomania etc. Treat the sufferer gently, trying to take his mind off the immediate cause of his symptoms. Administer relaxants.
JET LAG This is caused by rich record companies and an expensive lifestyle, which results in your body clock becoming unwound. It is worse, apparently, after Eastward journeys. The best treatment is to send your air tickets to One Two Testing, (Contact Details) and stay at home in a darkened room.
KEYBOARDIST'S KNUCKLE See also FENDER RHODES. This swelling of the finger joints is caused by repeated excessive pressure on the fingertips — it resembles arthritis in its effect, and is genuinely painful. A virtual epidemic occurred in the late 1970s with the arrival of the monophonic synthesiser. It also affects drum machine programmers.
LARYNGITIS Not a good sickness for singers. The best cure is to rest your voice, use vapour inhalations, and try a sedative linctus like Benylin. Don't smoke. If unlucky, see NODULES.
LIPS, SPLIT These are usually either the result of crowd violence, or excessive zeal on the part of brass players. Split lips ruin the player's embouchure. Rest them (the lips) as much as possible till they heal. Do not attempt to use gaffer tape.
MYALGIA A posh name for any muscular pain. Learning the word is easier than carrying equipment, and will elicit more sympathy than just saying you have "backache".
NODULES (also known as SCREAMER'S NODES) These are fibrous nodules that occur on the opposing surfaces of vocal cords and prevent them from contacting each other cleanly. If you get these, it's goodbye singing. Fortunately they are removable, but it's a delicate and expensive operation. F Mercury, P Young and S/Banshee have suffered in the past; I remember Siouxsie and Paul Young had theirs removed.
OVERDOSES Not just drugs, but anything you have had too much of — didn't well-known songwriter Henry VIII die of a surfeit of lampreys? Engineers have been known to develop selective deafness due to prolonged exposure to loud noise in the recording studio. The best cures for overdoses (also known as ODs) is less, or making the victim sick and calling a doctor.
PILES Or varicose veins in the rectum. Nasty, and they hurt like hell. Drummers who play sitting down are often prone to this uncomfortable ailment. Softer drum stools are recommended. And if you still suffer, you'll just have to regulate your diet and take something to make your stools softer. The operation is both painful and embarrassing.
PSYCHOSOMATIC DISORDERS They're all in the mind, but then so's the mind. This means the sufferer is never really sure whether he or she is actually ill or not. Psychosomatic disorders are often induced by pre-gig nerves, and can take the form of any illness the sufferer knows the symptoms of. For treatment, see IRRITABILITY.
I can't find any music-linked illnesses beginning with Q — answers on a postcard please to the editorial address.
RHINOPLASTY This is a nasal reconstruction operation. Popular on the west coast of the US, it involves the replacement of the septum (the bit between your nostrils) with a substance impervious to the rotting effects of cocaine. Which member of CSNY is known as Golden Nose.
ROADIESIA Not a place, but a mystery malady that makes equipment bumpers enormously fat. The folk remedy is to hang a large bunch of keys around the waist, though there is no evidence to suggest this is an effective cure.
SIMMONS' WRIST A complaint of electronic drum kit users (cf KEYBOARD) rising from the unnatural hardness of the plastic drum pad. Simmons claim to have done away with jarred wrists with the new SDS9, but owners of cheaper kits may have to wait
SLIPPED DISCS The best treatment for these is a new single. If you can't manage that, try some gentle hyping.
SPLIT FINGERNAILS A common problem for guitar pickers. Rapid repair is possible with Superglue. Longterm cures involve a high calcium diet (more milk, again).
SPLIT FINGERS Mark King of Level 42, slapper extraordinaire, used gaffer tape to bind up his thumb when it became damaged from beating the guitar during long tours. Ouch.
TINNITUS The proper name for ringing in the ears. See DEAFNESS and a doctor as this can be serious if it lasts more than a few hours.
UVULITIS Also known as a sore throat; see LARYNGITIS and MYALGIA.
VITAMIN DEFICIENCIES The irregular habits of the touring musician can often lead to avitaminosis, which can have myriad unpleasant effects from blindness to ricketts via baldness and death. Try to eat properly, and keep taking the Multivit. Eat more fruit and veg. Drink more sunlight.
VENEREAL DISEASES A musician of my acquaintance claims to have had a different strain for each continent he has toured in. He now has no hair. Baldness used to be a side effect of mercury treatment for VD, but happily cures now are less obvious and more effective. My advice is tread carefully and carry a condom.
WATER ON THE KNEE The editor of One Two suffered from bursitis (as it is known) because he "used to stand on one leg a lot of the time because of playing bass pedals". He was told to take up swimming, which, aptly enough, cured him.
X-RAYS A handy way of warning pregnant owners of computer instruments that medical authorities suspect Visual Display Units emit radiation which could be harmful to unborn babies. Wear a lead apron.
YAWNING No-one quite knows why we yawn; lack of oxygen is one suggestion. Boredom is another. If fellow musicians start yawning in your presence, the best remedy is to stop talking. Or learn another joke (we do our best).
ZITS This is the colloquial name for those unpleasant pimples that the irregular habits of the touring musician can lead to. Wash more often, eat more fruit and veg, and watch out for other signs of VITAMIN DEFICIENCY, DRUGS, and possibly X-RAYS.
ZTT This is the colloquial name for an unpleasant pimple on the bottom of popular music. Don't play with it, or it'll get worse.
Feature by Jon Lewin
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!