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May 2014
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Rock ’n’ Roll Is a Contact Sport

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Rock ’n’ Roll Is a Contact Sport


Poison’s Bret Michaels after getting beaned by a set piece during the band’s performance at the 2009 Tony Awards. Photo courtesy of Michaels Entertainment Group

When rock stars aren’t drinking Crown Royal milkshakes from the finest bejeweled goblets, snorting cocaine off of groupies’ bare parts, or actually playing music, they’re tripping over monitors, falling off stages, being bludgeoned by trusses, or engaged in horrible, awkward combat. Rock ’n’ roll is a contact sport ... not for the faint of heart. Adrenaline, anger, excess, stupidity, and the inherent danger lurking around pits, stairs, and stages make for thousands of rock-related injuries every year.

A few years ago, I played “Nothing but a Good Time” with Bret Michaels on a quality NBC television program. The show’s producers had gone to considerable expense installing a “waterfall of fire” that the so-called pyrotechnic expert explained would “rain flames harmlessly from a truss above the stage.” Bret was to walk through the curtain of fire as I banged out C.C. Deville’s classic opening riff.

Come show time, I got the cue, played the riff, and the sparks rained down. Bret began singing, but when he saw the falling fire so close to his very flammable golden locks, he detoured from the straight path, choosing instead the long, safe, very non-rock ’n’ roll stroll around the fire. With that wimpy circuitous route, Bret turned awesomeness into meh.

Given Bret’s cautious nature, I was surprised to see him get brained by a slowly descending set piece at the 2009 Tony Awards while singing the same song. It could have been another Curtis Mayfield tragedy (the soulful superstar was paralyzed when a lighting rig fell on him in a 1990 New York show), but lucky Bret wound up merely with injured pride, a bloodied nose, a fat lip, and a hefty settlement for an undisclosed amount from CBS. That’s the kind of stage accident I want to befall me. Here are a few music-related injuries and battles I would not wish on anyone.

Derek Jones, guitarist for the aptly named Falling in Reverse, gave the 2012 Warped Tour the gore that punk fans crave when he fractured his skull and broke three bones in an 11-foot fall from the stage. A disoriented, battered Jones eventually limped back onstage to finish the show, and then completed the rest of the tour rocking from a wheelchair.

Speaking of “Fall” bands, Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy took an awe-inspiring jump during the 2007 New Orleans Voodoo Fest and broke a leg bone upon landing. Wentz played through the pain for that show and the rest of their busy tour dates.

Marilyn Manson’s drummer, Ginger Fish, took a Homer Simpson-style double fall during a 2004 show in Cologne, Germany. Beginning with a back gainer off of his very high drum riser, Fish hit the stage hard enough to bounce off the deck and fall another 12 feet to the ground below, which left him in a pool of his own blood with a fractured skull and wrist. By the time he awoke in a German hospital, disoriented and in pain, Manson and company had already hired a new drummer and left the country.

YouTube provides hours of shaky cam vids of Axl threatening or injuring his fans, bandmates, fellow rock stars, cameramen, and anybody unlucky enough to be wearing a Slash T-shirt in his presence.

In 2007, the lovely and graceful Beyoncé caught a heel that sent her sprawling headfirst down 12 stairs. Without missing a beat, she jumped back up and carried on with the song as if that potentially fatal tumble had never happened.

During their 1992 MTV Awards performance, Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic jubilantly tossed his bass high in the air for what would have been a very cool display of athleticism had he not caught the bass with his face. Krist then staggered about the stage for a few bars eventually stumbling to the wings where paramedics patched him up.

Frank Zappa’s 1971 European tour nearly killed him. In the Montreux Casino in Geneva, an audience member fired a flare gun. This caused the venue’s heating system to explode, leaving many fans injured, the band’s gear toast, and the venue in ashes. The only upside: The incident inspired “Smoke on the Water.”

Six days later in London, a crazed audience member rushed the stage and pushed Zappa into an orchestra pit 15 feet below. The fall left Frank temporarily wheelchair bound with a crushed larynx, broken leg, fractured rib, and serious head and neck trauma.

It’s not just performers who get to experience head trauma. Keith Richards watched a fan storm the stage during a 1980 concert and assumed the worse. Keith removed his Telecaster and beat this poor guy like he owed the Stone money. Asked about it later, Keith said, “A Tele makes a damn good club.” Don’t mess with Keef.

Keith’s Tele-whacking was an act of self-defense, but there are times when the rocker is the aggressor. Sports journalist Tate Rutland dubbed Axl Rose the Conrad Dobler of Rock ’n’ Roll—both play dirty and have an appetite for destruction.

YouTube provides hours of shaky cam vids of Axl threatening or injuring his fans, bandmates, fellow rock stars, cameramen, and anybody unlucky enough to be wearing a Slash T-shirt in his presence. The best (or worst, depending on how you look at it) moment happened at a 1991 St. Louis concert when Axl caught a fan videoing the show. Axl called security to have the guy removed, but after waiting about 2 seconds, Axl grew impatient and dove off the stage into the fray, attacked the fan, and then fought his way back onstage to announce, “Thanks to the lame-ass security, I’m going home.”

Currently, Axl’s anger issues have landed him in Australian court where a now-toothless fan is suing Axl for chucking a mic into the fan’s teeth during a Perth show earlier this year.

Being a musician can be a perilous career choice, just ask Dimebag Darrell, John Lennon, Selena, or some of the guys from Great White. Oh wait, you can’t, because they’re dead. Their demise is tragic, but it would have been a greater tragedy had these musicians not spent their lives making music. You got to go sometime, I want to go down swinging. And by this, I mean swinging an upbeat shuffle in A.


John Bohlinger is a Nashville multi-instrumentalist best know for his work in television, having lead the band for all six season of NBC's hit program Nashville Star, the 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009 CMT Music Awards, as well as many specials for GAC, PBS, CMT, USA and HDTV.

John's music compositions and playing can be heard in several major label albums, motion pictures, over one hundred television spots and Muzak... (yes, Muzak does play some cool stuff.) Visit him at youtube.com/user/johnbohlinger or facebook.com/johnbohlinger.

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