Feed a cold, starve a touring musician

Chris JonesLast week, I introduced the radical idea that the road life may not be the idyllic lifestyle it’s imagined to be. This week I’m ready to come right out and declare that it’s also downright unhealthy.

In a recent survey of occupations that are hazardous to your health, being a road musician scored in the top 20, right between “cigarette tester” and “Bashir al-Assad body double.”

One of the biggest hazards of this lifestyle is the tendency to pick up colds and various other viruses while traveling. Many believe this is due to a number of factors, like an unhealthy diet, unpredictable hours and sleep patterns, all of which can lead to a compromised immune system.

In fact, though, studies now show that the number one reason for on-the-road illness is forgetting which water bottle is yours backstage, which leads to the sharing of germs with most of the entire lineup of a bluegrass festival. This is an even more sure way to spread colds around than shaking hands with fans at the merchandise table, or kissing people you don’t know.

Still, a person who is in decent shape and is well-rested may be able to fend off these viruses, but someone who has just driven all night from Kansas City to Wheeling, subsisting on a diet of deep fried “things” with a side of super-sized other “things” may not be as resistant.

We all know that the standard in show business is that “the show must go on,” no matter whether you are in the early stages of a head cold or the early stages of spinal meningitis. This certainly gives you strong incentive to curb the oncoming illness any way you can.

But, really, what can you do once a cold is taking hold? A lot, at least according to social media “experts.” In spite of the fact that within the medical community, it’s considered an undisputed fact that there’s no cure for the common cold, millions of lay people disagree.

If you’ve had much experience with Facebook, you know that nothing inspires more comments than a simple statement like, “Uh oh! I feel a cold coming on.” This will very quickly surpass the comment totals generated by statements about gun control, or pictures of cats wearing sunglasses. No one needs to add, “anyone know any good home remedies?” either. Those remedies will come raining down in torrents, causing a virtual flash flood of virus-fighting schemes, whether you wanted them or not.

To date, friends on Facebook have suggested I do the following to combat a cold:

  • Make a wreath of oregano and chili peppers and wear it around my head like a crown for 48 hours.
  • Put two zinc tablets (50mg each) under my tongue and recite all the lyrics to Hot Corn Cold Corn 100 times.
  • Chew 15 cloves of fresh garlic, with a pomegranate juice chaser, then curl up in a ball and moan miserably for two days (this at least repels other people and reduces the risk of infecting co-workers or family members).
  • Drink a smoothie three times a day consisting of coconut milk, spinach, honey, and codeine.
  • Fill a neti-pot with chamomile tea and moonshine, then stare at it for a while in disbelief.

None of these will do much harm (especially if you don’t ingest any of them), but I still believe that cold is going to hang on for the usual seven to ten days, as the doctors say it will.

I prefer to stick with the basics: drink plenty of fluids, and get as much rest as possible under the circumstances.

Regarding liquid, for the road musicians who say “I already drink plenty of fluids,” I should clarify that those probably aren’t the kinds of fluids I’m referring to. I mean the fluids that don’t come with a percentage-by-volume listed on the side of the bottle.

Rest is always a challenge, maybe one of the reasons you have this cold in the first place. If what’s required to get some extra rest is bandmate sympathy, it would be worth practicing your “pitiful and pathetic” look. Your co-workers, probably used to your studied “moody and indifferent” face, may find themselves moved enough to at least let you out of some equipment-hauling, or maybe let you have the better seat or bed in the bus, van, or high-mileage Scion. Maybe you can even get out of your 2:00 to 7:00 a.m. driving shift. Perfecting this sympathy-garnering appearance may take some training, and I’m sure there is instructional material out there for it.

After that, you’ll just have to ride it out, always keeping in mind that the life you love is making music with your friends, and occasionally sharing their water bottles.

If, heaven forbid, the spinach/codeine smoothie and the pepper/oregano wreath are ineffective, and you actually get sicker, maybe even seriously ill, you may have to confront the question of just when it’s considered okay to cancel due to illness.

We’ll take up that issue next week.