From the Barstool of the Publisher – March, 2008

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When talking about musicians, people always seem to say the same thing; that they’re “just normal people.” But if they’re so normal, why is it that they do things that blow the minds of other seemingly normal folks?
I personally think that musicians’ brains are wired differently than the rest of ours, much in the way that rocket scientists’ brains differ from your average Joe Schmoe, and a story that I recently read in The Week kind of backs up my feelings.

The story is a pretty amazing one. A man in upstate New York, who was 42 years old, an orthopedic surgeon and not musically inclined, was struck by lightning in the face. Yeah, the face!
What happened next wasn’t really unexpected. His heart stopped. He had the whole step-into-the-light out-of-body experience but woke up to a nurse giving him CPR.
He was essentially o.k., but over the ensuing weeks he had memory lapses. He couldn’t remember people’s names. He couldn’t remember the names of certain surgical procedures (but they claimed his surgical skills were still intact). Within a few more weeks all of the memory issues subsided but the human lightning rod, Tony Cicoria, soon had another issue on his hands. He was plagued by piano music.
He had never been a musician, never studied music, but suddenly he had an insatiable appetite for it. What’s incredible about this is that he found himself hearing the music even in his sleep and would wake up and begin writing it down. Remember, this is a guy who didn’t know music. It’d be like waking up in the middle of the night and writing notes in a different language that you didn’t know and had never been exposed to.
Cicoria embraced the new gift, bought a piano, started playing and has even performed live with his own compositions.
His neurologist chalks up the memory lapses that he encountered to changes in his brain that were occurring in the weeks after his lightning strike, a “reorganization of brain functions,” he called it. Now that’s some pretty trippy stuff. And, if that neurologist is right, that Cicoria’s brain was essentially re-wiring, then it means that musicians are different than those of us who can only play our iPods and would never dream of picking up an instrument.
It’s an interesting idea anyway that musicians’ brains function differently and I’d love to see some scientist figure out how different they really are. Are good musicians brains different than hacks? Are the guys who churn out album after album of great material different than one-hit wonders? And if so, what can be done to the non-musical people’s heads to make them more inclined to play. I’ve had a guitar since I was 12 and I can play a few three-chord songs. Why can’t I get any further than that, and could some brain re-wiring make me the next John Lennon?
I’m willing to be a guinea pig, but they better re-wire me for good stuff. What if they screw up and I end up being a polka virtuoso? That would suck worse than a lightning bolt to the face.
See you at the shows.

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