Author: Campbell, Bruce

It Could Blow at Any Seam

In the book “The Right Stuff”, Tom Wolfe wrote about test pilots, and the stringent physical and mental requirements for the job, with regards to eyesight, agility, etc. The test pilots live in fear of failing these requirements, because, as Wolfe said, “It [the Right Stuff] could blow at any seam!”. A pilot may lose a bit of vision in one eye, or some range of motion in one wrist and poof! No longer a test pilot!

Jim Bouton wrote about a similar thing that professional pitchers go through (Bluegrass and baseball – parallel universes). A pitcher can have his “stuff” one day and then mysteriously, one day later, it’s gone forever. He said he would often leave the table at a restaurant to go over his pitching motion, or get out of bed in the middle of the night to make sure he still had his proper motion. It can blow at any seam!

Playing music requires a pretty complicated set of body parts to behave properly too, and we all know players who, through accident or illness or other malady, had to give up playing. In some cases, switching instruments will help – say the dexterity of the fingers in the right hand fade, and a player can switch from banjo to a flat-picked instrument.

If we’re lucky, an injury is a temporary setback – a busted finger can be splinted and heal. Trigger finger and carpal tunnel can be mitigated by therapy and/or surgery. To consider the extreme case, look at Django Reinhardt – one of the greatest jazz guitarists ever only had a couple of functioning fingers on his left hand!

I pulled a tendon a few weeks ago moving some heavy objects. The day after moving them, I had a very painful right hand, and pretty much doing everything hurt to some degree. Luckily, playing guitar and bass only hurt a little, but it certainly never hurt before, and after a couple of weeks, it was actually getting worse, so I went to the doctor.

Like most males, I dread going to the doctor, and I was terrified it was going to be a busted hand or worse – some sort of chronic condition that would never get better, or continue to worsen. I was staring the “busted seam” right in the face, and I didn’t want to contemplate what lay ahead.

I have enough good points in my life that the end of my playing days wouldn’t be a “head in the oven” kind of event, but it certainly would be a drastic change, and I don’t exactly know how I would cope.

“Strained tendon”, the doctor said and after just one good night’s sleep with a splint, I am encouraged. I have a gig tonight, and I am confident I will get through it, even if there’s some pain. The moral of the story is, of course: Never pass up a chance to pick, because the ability for your body to play music is precious, amazing and yes – fragile. It could blow at any seam!

Posted:  7/18/2012

Copyright © 2002 California Bluegrass Association. All rights reserved.
Comments? Questions? Please email