Apparently a hoax medical article was written describing an affliction called Cello Scrotum. The article made it through a series of reputable editorial boards and became a great source of delight for components of the medical community that appreciate such monkey business. The piece warned of the adverse effects of the scrotal exposure to lower middle frequencies resulting in adverse affects to the male of the species’ nether regions.
I tell you now, and I stake upon this assertion my reputation with the readership to which I have in my thirty-plus year career as a journalist never lied, Cello Scrotum is real.
My sister’s third husband, the one she truly loved, was second cellist in the Boston Symphony Orchestra and developed the syndrome at the height of his career. He became impotent and his wife, my sister, an ebullient and fertile flower with the morals of an alley cat and a biological clock that was ticking like a jackhammer, naturally drifted away from him. My ex-brother in law’s heartache has made me acutely aware of the health hazards faced by musicians and I have made it one of my chief missions in life to do whatever I can to battle this scourge wherever I can, or at the least, to raise awareness.
It is in this spirit that I would like to call attention to a far more rare, but equally debilitating and more than tangentially related condition called Flute Face, in which the flautist victim’s embouchure is frozen in a permanent pucker, the corners of the mouth stretched taught and the center of the lips protruding in a grotesque kiss. Even I, humanitarian that I am, when presented with Flute Face, must turn and look away.
Would that Flute Face were the end of it, but once I began looking into music-related human disfigurement, I realized it was just the beginning. Let’s discuss Trumpet Lung. My roommate at Oxford played valve brass instruments for thirty years in the saloons and speakeasies of the United States on elevated stages before the smoking bans. He gulped lungful after lungful of beer-stenched and smoke-filled rooms. I will miss him.
The list goes on. Guitar Nipple. The unlucky guitarist’s left nipple has suffered such abrasion as to nearly be swept off, as though ground down by forty-grit paper on a belt sander or pumped up to full turgidity with a massage cup and then raked over with an emery board. I once interviewed Peter Frampton for Creem Magazine, and when I mentioned the rumor that the headshot cover of Frampton Comes Alive was selected in part because of his rumored case of Guitar Nipple, he retreated to his dressing room and refused to complete the interview.
Then there is Bass Balls. The low-slung Fender Precision bass is notorious for causing an unusual swelling of the testes, some such having grown to the size of pomegranates. Tuba Gut. Use your imagination. The colon pinched, intestines large and small dammed by a piece of plumbing worthy of the public toilets of Rangoon, who could expect anything but internal mishap? The stools of Tuba Gut victims resemble earthworms, thin, ribbed strands in varying grotesque shades of green and brown. If someone could live with that, I could live with my throat cut.
Sax Knuckle. You don’t want this. Trombone Neck. It usually afflicts third and fourth chair saxophonists. So why do they call it Trombone Neck? Have you ever been struck repeatedly in the back of the neck with a metal instrument over a period of years? I didn’t think so. Don’t laugh. It’s not funny.
If you have a heart, you are still reading. Let me tell you about Violin Chin, a horribly disfiguring facial affliction that manifests itself in multiple layers of stripped away chin flesh. Likewise, if you have ever seen a person afflicted with Quad Carpal, you know that this once fine drummer now resembles a dead cartoon animal, its legs and feet distended in a motionless mockery of their former gift.
So as not to appear ethnocentric, I must include world instruments in my crusade. Ukulele Rotator Cuff. Common in the Pacific, this life-altering condition turns happy Polynesians into crippled and woebegone men, their once radiant smiles now twisted into scowls of eternal agony.
Is the singer safe? In a word, no. I give you Mic Stand Hand. Repeated removal of the microphone from and insertion into microphone clips can lead to chafing of the vocalist’s hand, wholly independent of the various hepatitis strains present in most microphones used in nightclubs and the other hepatitis strains singers seem to pick up on their own.
Then of course, there is Maraca Eyeball. Some people are born with a lazy eye. Maraca players accidentally develop one. That way, they keep an eye on each maraca without twisting their necks. It is a sad and crippling affliction, but frankly, after all of the years of wild shaking, apish gesticulations and vain stage antics, it is among all of the musical maladies the one affliction for which I feel little sympathy.
Such antipathy is not the case with Bagpipe Elbow. After years of gigging at mostly solemn occasions, the pressure on a piper’s consistency is such that they never will fail, even if it means passing out or jamming their elbow into the airbag at an alarming rate. Additionally, after these layings to rest and commemorations, and usually before, the mourner/revelers in question have partaken of the cornucopia of their fatherland, scotch. A cirrhotic liver is often an adjunct condition to Bagpipe Elbow.
So please, when a musician complains of this ache here or that pain there, take him or her seriously. It could be a chronic case of Violin Chin, Flute Face, Banjo Hands or worse, and if you ignore it, you’ll never ever forgive yourselves.