Longform

Musician, heal thyself

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Despite his success with Brave Combo, Hipple allows that there's still a lot of work to be done. "Prevention is a hard sell," he says. "That's why business and industry have been putting so much money into it the last 20 years. Right now, as a counselor, when people come to me, they already know they have a problem." What he sees as the challenge of the future is the planting of "a little seed" that can grow into a new paradigm for musical or artistic heroes. While this generation still looks to the romance of the old burn-out-and-fade-away school (ironically enough, Neil Young, the man who brought that phrase into rock vernacular with Rust Never Sleeps, has done neither, remaining a vibrant and interesting artist), perhaps the next one will look to groups like Brave Combo and use them as models for a more functional and rewarding approach to their music.

"The next generation will know--just like they do now in industry--that one of the ways you can improve production is by making the workers happier," Hipple says. Although McCrea talked with the Dallas Observer before Hipple, the Cake singer's line of thought runs parallel to the psychologist's. "There's nothing wrong with musicians making a decent living," he said.

Hipple's goal is to help develop that next generation, and the derision of the likes of Turner Scott Van Blarcum is not going to dissuade him. "What I'd say to the doubters is, let me sit in on some of your gigs and rehearsals, and I bet there are some things I could help you with," Hipple says. "Because you're doing all of this--having meetings, setting goals, communicating--whether you know it or not and whether you're doing it right or wrong. You can't work up a song or decide on a set list without it."

"What I'd give anything to be able to do," Hipple continues, "is to go to different record companies and do day- or half-day-long training sessions with the A&R [Artist and Repertoire, field agents responsible for finding and developing new talent] people who are out there working with bands and watching them. If they had the ability to see these problems and could talk to the band about doing something about it--instead of just letting it go and then covering it up--it would be a lot better for the musicians. You have consultants for almost every other aspect of the music business--how to walk, talk, act, what to wear--except this."

It seems doubtful, however, that Van Blarcum and Hipple will ever sit down and talk. "Hey, doc," the tattooed punk says after another gale of laughter. "Psychoanalyze this: Fuck off."

Hipple is undeterred by the stereotypical rebel attitudes. A speaker on musician's health issues at SXSW for the last several years, he notes that "each year there are a few more people out there in the audience. It's just a little groundswell. But this year I've been invited to speak at the annual meeting of the Bluegrass Music Association. A record company executive saw me at SXSW and mentioned my name." Hipple is also encouraged by the fact that this year's Grammy Awards had a non-alcoholic area backstage in addition to the ceremony's famed Green Room.

Although money has been put aside since the time of Handel to provide for musicians who experienced health problems (England's Royal Society for Musicians), it wasn't until about 15 years ago that much thought was given to musicians' well-being in America. That was when Drs. Alice Brandfonbrener and Richard Lederman started the Chicago-based Medical Program for Performing Artists and co-edited the definitive textbook on the issues involved, the Textbook of Performing Arts Medicine.

Like the Royal Society, however, Brandfonbrener and Lederman's efforts centered on classical musicians. Spearheaded by Drs. Benjamin Cohen and David Shrader, deans of the UNT Health Center and College of Music respectively, plans have been under way for the last several years in Denton to expand this academic and scientific investigation in order to include all musicians, be they classical artists, rockers, jazz players, or marchers in a college or high school band.

"We have very little information on the world of musicians," says Dr. Kris Chesky, the director of UNT's Center for Musicians' Education who helped Hipple with last year's musicians' survey. Chesky, 38, is a Berklee-trained trumpet player who discovered a passion for scientific investigation into music therapy and education when he attended UNT to get his master's degree in music.

"We don't see anything before the fact of needing treatment, and then only those with the awareness--not to mention the resources and money--to travel to Chicago, or Cleveland, or New York get the specialized treatment they need," Chesky says. "When someone comes to me, I don't even know where to refer them, let alone being able to tell them something like 'Oh, the way you're practicing is wrong, the way you're holding your instrument is wrong, or you need to rest for this amount of time in between practicing.' We train so many musicians here, and right now, when they leave this place there's nothing.

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Matt Weitz