The human head is a delicate object. The soft bit on the outside may make some of us look pretty, but the essence of a human head is the kind of armor-plated protection provided by the skull. Inside is the precious bit — the semi-solid sludge known as the brain. You want to look after it all costs, you really do. The trouble is the fit, or lack of it. Healthy brains don’t take up all the cavity. They need to slop around a bit (forgive the non-medical terminology). Too much head movement is bad news for the sludge, as it can get badly damaged when it hits the hard skull. Proof of this came in a bizarre accident recently when a 50-year-old German rock fan at a Motorhead concert gave himself a subdural hematoma (a blood clot to you and I) on the brain after an extended and excessive bout of headbanging, a form of behavior traditional at heavy metal gigs. Ouch.
The nameless fan suffered from severe worsening headaches after the gig before a scan revealed the self-inflicted damage in the form of a brain bleed. Doctors had to drill a hole in his skull and drain the blood. He won’t forget that gig in a hurry. According to a Guardian article on the incident, there have been other occasions when headbanging at gigs has resulted in serious harm, including “a torn carotid artery, a whiplash injury, a fractured neck and air in the chest cavity.” There has been one reported death from an acute hematoma. I love the way the doctors involved described headbanging as “a contemporary dance form consisting of abrupt flexion-extension movements of the head to the rhythm of rock music.” Reassuringly, though, they rate risk of injury as low. But if you are shaking your head as you read this, just go steady there, will you? You never know.
What kind of music makes you want to bang your head? I can think of a lot of examples of songs and artists that make me want to fill up my ear cavity with sound deadening wax, wrap my head in a carpet or even smash my head on a wall — anything to make it stop, stop, stop. At the risk of alienating any remaining readers, I will resist the temptation to name and shame my musical demons, but I will say this. My current pet sonic hate is the sort of banshee wailing that seems to haunt my every exit from the house. Every shop, supermarket or eatery plays this stuff. It starts out slow — a singer, usually female, with a reasonable but hackneyed melody banging out another love song. But as it progresses, the pace and volume pick up and by the end, any pretense of singing has been replaced by wild, screaming histrionics. Those female singers who started it all, the Witneys and the Celines, were great performers and, though it’s definitely not my thing, they could carry it off. It’s the legions of pale imitators now pervading the public spaces that give me the shivers and makes me consider my own version of abrupt, flexion-extension movements.
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