When Music Hurts


Weinberg for NPR

Hearing loss and tinnitus, tendonitis and arthritis, mouth calluses and vocal cord nodules: These are only a sliver of the vast collection of maladies a musical life can bring. 

A 2017 study of more than 700 orchestral musicians in Germany found that two-thirds of them endured chronic pain, many for at least five years. And while it's fairly well understood that music careers are an endurance sport, requiring rigorous practice and few days off, the physical consequences often go unadvertised, hidden from fans for the sake of shows that must go on.

"We all abuse ourselves for the sake of performance, but nobody talks about it," Ballance says.

_Reporting from NPR


When Prince Rogers Nelson passed away in 2016, it wasn't long afterward before word got out that he had taken a late night trip to a nearby pharmacy to get a prescription painkiller called fentanyl (aka "the big killer opioid"), not that other opioids aren't addictive and can't kill also, but this is the most notorious killer of them all.

Prince was not a drug addict by choice, he was a performing artist who experienced epileptic seizures as a child, but who pronounced himself healthy when he stated that he told his mother he was not going to be sick any more.

By the time he was discovered for purposes of Hollywood, he was a very young minor child age 17, with an extreme case of being able to teach himself nearly every instrument and dance move in the book and he used that learning to keep millions of adoring fans entertained for decades.

But when it came to the pain, the extreme pain, that he put himself through to make sure his fans were delighted with every turn he made and everything he touched, dealing with it quietly and often alone shouldn't have been an option for him.

[Know someone who has a drug addiction? There is help for you right here in Columbus.]

The best musicians have-and should have-a certain pride about being vulnerable enough to talk about the hurt in public arenas, or even to other musicians, because it's what they do, and even better than that, it's what they love doing. The best of the best can't begin to imagine doing anything else.

No one really knew about Prince's hip surgery or the debilitating pain that accompanied it until he simply couldn't do any more than he'd spent a lifetime doing.

They say pour yourself out until your cup is empty and you have nothing left to take to the grave with you, and Prince Nelson most assuredly did that thang.

Even without all those thousands upon thousands (millions?) of public, candid, and intimate photographs and videos of him with everything and sometimes nothing on, and in every color of the rainbow, the man the cameras loved to hug left his faintest fans as well as the die-hard ones with unforgettable memories of his performances that will never be forgotten; performances that will even be remembered one day by children who weren't yet born on the day he died.


But that's dedication for you when it comes to all artists...and he was just an example of how hard they aim to please, especially the ones who are so socialist that many of them do it for free and just because, as Elvis Presley once said, "it makes people happy." I like making people smile, he said.

He wasn't about the money though it came in handy. His estate almost went broke because he spent more time giving it away than thinking about estate planning.

It is now well known that Elvis was also addicted to painkillers from years and years of simply abusing himself onstage without proper rest breaks and healing respites, but no one knew a bad toothache would be the one to take him out. 

They often don't seem to know that their iconic fans aren't going to judge them or leave, as long as they promise to come back soon.

Rihanna and Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston

The fame and the money can become a bit much...Rihanna said that she doesn't know exactly what to make of people calling her a billionaire, especially since Michael Jackson, who was also no stranger to the pain of performance, was the first performer, entertainer, and musical artist in international history to have achieved that status.

Years of hard work and physical endurance, and the unfortunate news is that musicians and performers of all kinds - from the ones who beat the heck out of drums, carry large tubas on their backs in marching band while dancing all the way for hours on end, to the ones who develop any kind of painful malady such as carpal tunnel, wrist sprains and strains, vocal lymph nodules, and even cracked and broken hips, or foot issues like fallen arches and busted toes ... that's the part we don't want to think about because the output from their hard work is so mesmerizing and enchanting and full of life, and in fact, it does make us happy.

Plenty of those 'charmed lives' suffer from the most hurtful things a life can tolerate, including things like the internal pain Whitney Houston endured from the pressure of being the most phenomenal singer the world has ever known. But she loved it all, and we know she did because she gave us everything she had inside her and took nothing of all her God-given talents to her grave. Besides, it wasn't like the cameras didn't hug and kiss her, too.

"Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast", so they tell us.

But it's the life they choose, not only because they love it, but because the only other option is to "get a job". Doik! 

Who wants that?, of all things.


I was working part time at the Five and Dime, my boss was Mr. McGhee. He told me several times that he didn't like my kind, cuz I was a bit too leisurely ... seems that I was busy doing something close to nothing, but different than the day before ...

_Prince Rogers Nelson, "Raspberry Beret" - Prince and The Revolution, Universal Music Publishing Group_

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