When I came across this post "Medical Advice for Headbangers" on Boing Boing today, I couldn't help but click through to read the paper. What I found was a pun-fest of scholarly research, and I'm left intensely curious about who funded this research. Ironically enough, at the time I came across the post I was listening to an auto-swung version of Metallica's "Enter the Sandman" (songs run through a rather neat Python script to swing them*).
When Toaster was a young whelp in The Ozarks, it eventually came to that time in his life where he, like every young person in America, is contractually obliged to find something to annoy the hell out of their parents and stubbornly persist at it until they move out. Rather than drink illicit alcohol** and crash cars into trees, I chose to join a death metal band playing bass. As a direct result of this, I began listening to a lot more heavy metal music and going to concerts. I was never much for headbanging*** because being a wallflower is more fun, but I saw a lot of other people pursue it aggressively like a cocaine-addicted lab rat and I noted that over time these people gradually became a bit dimmer than they'd been when I met them. They were also almost always much less coordinated after they'd been to a concert.
This paper developed a mathematical model to explain why my peers were left so hammered after headbanging so much as they did. They analyzed the way people move when they headbang and developed an equation for a sinusoidal wave to describe peoples' head movements during headbanging and subsequently estimated the level of force experienced as described by the Head Injury Criterion (HIC) from the angular velocity of headbanging heads. Although the HIC projects serious injury is only likely to occur at rates of head movement/collision over 15m^2/s. However, since headbanging is a repetitive motion, they chose, with evidence, to evaluate any rate over 8m^2/s as potentially injurious. This means that the faster you headbang and the wider angle of motion your head travels through as you do so, the more likely you are to hurt your brain.
Now the methods get a bit strange. Not only did the researchers attend a couple metal concerts to observe headbangers in their natural element, but they also analyzed the way that the "legendary" headbanging duos Beavis and Butthead and Wayne and Garth headbanged. They concluded that Butthead was the one most likely to be injuring himself.
However, I drew some issue with the music they were calling metal. From the period of my youth described above, I considered such bands as In Flames, Dark Tranquility, Strapping Young Lad, and their doomy ilk to be metal. I'd never considered AC/DC or the Ramones to be music to headbang to because it was just hard rock and punk, respectively. It should be noted that metal comes in more flavors than anyone knows how to classify, but the primary ones are the American model (Static-X, Rammstein), the Scandinavian model (Hammerfall, Nightwish), and the experimental sort (Finntroll, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum).
In conclusion, they recommended that public health agencies issue headbanging warnings on headbanging-worthy CDs, issue neck braces to limit the range of neck motion, and advise that metal bands have tutorials before their concerts. This leads readers of the paper to conclude that the authors themselves have absolutely no metal cred, because everyone knows that the only way they'll ever get concert-goers to wear neck-braces is if they become a metal fashion statement.
*Swing is a musical concept that relates to the delay between upbeats and downbeats. Upbeats and downbeats refer, respectively, to beats 2+4 and 1+3 in 4/4 metered music. Much of rock has the space between all upbeats and downbeats even, but in jazz and some hiphop the space between them is staggered to create a "swing feel".
***OK, it was because I am and always have been a nerd and didn't want 1) to damage my brain or 2) lose my glasses. I knew what brain damage felt like, I was a clumsy kid and had been through a couple concussions--and headbanging felt far too similar to ever be enjoyable. Can't help but to feel a tinge of smug right now with science validating me choosing to almost entirely abstain from it.
Patton, D., & McIntosh, A. (2008). Head and neck injury risks in heavy metal: head bangers stuck between rock and a hard bass BMJ, 337 (dec17 2) DOI: 10.1136/bmj.a2825
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