Ruptured Testicles, Broken Backs, Bitten Bums And Scorched Hair: 10 Gruesome Onstage Injuries

Think you’ve had a tough week at work? Think again: none of the miserable commutes, horrible bosses or spirit-sapping tedium can compare to the experiences of Otto Schimmelpenninck, the bassist for metal band Delain. The band were playing in Birmingham back in 2014 when Schimmelpenninck, unfortunately, was hit in the groin by a streamer cannon. Ouch.

And yet, of course, the show must go on – and so Schimmelpenninck carried on with the gig, despite the fact he’d ruptured his testicle. “In my enthusiasm I did not pay attention, and happened to be VERY close when the streamer fired. It hit me from the back, in my genitals,” he said later. “Although pain was pretty bad right away, I was merely pissed off at myself for not paying attention.”

According to Schimmelpenninck, it was so nasty that his “scrotum was the size of a grapefruit”. He added: “More than 500ml of blood was removed from my scrotum and my testicle stitched up.”

In honour of metal’s toughest trooper, we’ve trawled through rock history to remember the most gruesome injuries: teeth knocked out by microphones, hair set on fire, faces burnt by pyrotechnics, projectiles lodged in eyes, bones broken by scary falls onto cement. And also, a clip of Olly Murs falling down some stars at Guilfest – because it’s always, always worth revisiting.

Keith Richards (California, 1965): The Electrocuted Rocker
Whenever there is a list of rock’n’rollers who’ve been injured, hurt, maimed or brought close to death, then there will be Keith Richards: indestructible and never-ending, a man who has cofounded doctors with his iron will and resilience to conventional medical science. In 1965, he had one of his most extreme mishaps ever: he was electrocuted onstage (and knocked unconscious) when he bumped his guitar into the microphone stand. Cue heavy voltage and one frazzled Richards, as he flew backwards into the crowd. Keef himself, though, rubbished ideas that he recovered due to his supernatural hearing powers – he claimed that he owed his recovery to the new, rubber-soled shoes he was wearing at the time.

NME

Pete Townshend (TV performance on ”The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour’, 1968): Alleged Hearing Loss Due To Explosive Drums
The Who’s Pete Townshend is no stranger to the onstage injury: in a 1989 gig in Tacoma, he went for his trademark windmill guitar stunt and sliced his hand open as a result. But while that must have been painful, his appearance on TV show The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour sounds even worse: allegedly, the guitarist suffered permanent hearing damage after Keith Moon overloaded his drum kit with explosives which would go off at the climax of their performance of ‘My Generation’. It worked – and made for a damn memorable TV slot – but it came at a price. Moon was injured by flying shrapnel from one of his cymbals, while Townshend – who was stood close to the kit – got an almighty BANG in his right lug hole. According to hearsay, he lost 90% of hearing in the ear as a result.

Frank Zappa (London, 1971): The Smashed Body On Concrete
Just a week before his show at the Rainbow Theatre, Zappa had escaped serious injury when, at a gig in Switzerland, one audience member fired a flare gun at the ceiling of the Montreux Casino. The venue was burnt to the ground, but Frank didn’t suffer any injuries.

Next time, though, he wouldn’t be so lucky. During the London gig, a ‘fan’ got the hump when he thought that Zappa was trying to give his girlfriend the eye. His response? He snuck onto the stage and shoved Zappa onto the concrete orchestra pit below, resulting in the singer suffering from a plethora of injuries including various fractures, trauma to the head and a crushed larynx.

NME

Michael Jackson (Pepsi TV commercial, 1984): The Hair On Fire
Technically, of course, this didn’t happen at a gig – but it’s still one of the most infamous musician mishaps of all time. Michael Jackson had been asked by Pepsi to film a TV commercial for them, which would involve him performing at LA’s Shrine Auditorium. It should have been an easy pay day, but the lucrative cash-in opportunity went awry when there was a problem with a pyrotechnic stunt: it went off too early, and Jackson’s hair caught aflame. He suffered third-degree burns to his scalp and, although Pepsi paid out a reported $1.5 million in compensation (which Jackson donated to a medical centre), it cost the singer more: it was later claimed that Jackson’s dependence on pain medication stemmed from the incident.

Lou Reed (Buffalo, 1972): Bitten On The Bum
The dearly-departed Lou Reed was a wonderfully cantankerous figure. How, then, must he have reacted when, in 1973, a fan leapt onto the stage and tried to take a huge chunk out of his backside with his teeth? It puts a much different spin on the phrase ‘A major pain in the ass’, eh?

Patti Smith (Florida, 1977): The Broken Back
Punk poet Patti Smith had one of the worst falls in rock’n’roll history back in the 70s: she tripped on a stage monitor and plummeted 14 feet to the pit below. It was such a hazardous fall that she broke two vertebrae in her back and had to spend a long, long time in a neck brace afterwards. Hitting out at anyone who suggested she was to blame for the fall, Smith later told Uncut: “There’ve been many rumors… ‘Oh, she was stoned.’ It wasn’t like that. I was being careful on the stage because there wasn’t as much room or light. I didn’t whirl around as much as usual, but when I hit the monitor with my foot, it was half hanging over the lip of the stage.”

And it still gives her trouble, even now. “I still suffer from it,” she revealed. “I still get discomfort, spinal discomfort. It’s nothing I can’t live with.”

NME

James Hetfield (Montreal, 1992): Frontman On Fire
Whatever Michael Jackson does, James Hetfield can do better/hotter/more gruesomely. At Metallica’s 1992 show in Montreal, the band had planned an explosive spectacle of pyrotechnics and flames – as per usual – only this time, Hetfield got in the way of a 12-foot flame. He got in the way so badly, in fact, that he suffered severe burns to his face and arms (he’d been standing directly over the pyrotechnic at the time). “So I’m burnt all up my arm,” he said later. “My hand completely down to the bone, the side of my face… my hair gone! I look down and just watch the skin just rising…”

Krist Novoselic (MTV VMAs, 1992): The Bass Bump On The Head
Nirvana’s slot at the VMAs was already a tense, twitchy affair: Kurt Cobain (already smarting from a backstage confrontation between he, Courtney Love and nemesis Axl Rose) had wanted to play ‘Rape Me’ from new album ‘In Utero’ but (somewhat inevitably) MTV weren’t so keen on the idea; they wanted them to play ‘Lithium’ instead. Nirvana went along with MTV’s wishes, but more drama was afoot: near the song’s climax, Krist Novoselic chucked his bass high up into the air and tried to catch it. Only… he didn’t. It thwacked him on the head instead. Hard.

It takes a happier turn next, though. After being tended to by paramedics, he got some more TLC from Queen legend Brian May. “Standing behind (the paramedics) was Brian May, the guitarist of Queen, with a glass of chilled champagne,” Krist recalled later. “I signed the release just to get the medics away from me so I could take a sip of Mr. May’s wonderful medicine. Ahh, yes!!! Moments later Dave Grohl burst in. He’d been looking all over for me, only to find me enjoying a calm glass of bubbly with Mr. May.”

David Bowie (Oslo, Norway, 2004): The Lollipop Stick To The Eye
Really, anyone who dared to throw a projectile – and a projectile as crude and infantile as a lollipop stick – at David Bowie’s face ought to have been tried for treason and hung in the Tower Of London. But in 2004, some wag at a music festival in Oslo thought it would be a top jape to try and hurl one into Bowie’s eye. And they succeeded, too – you can see the wince-inducing clip below, where the offending stick gets jammed in his eye. Bowie – who, of course, injured one of his eyes in a childhood fight – quipped: “Lucky you hit the bad one” – although he did admonish the culprit for hiding in the audience and not admitting to their act of confectionary-based violence.

Olly Murs (Guilfest, 2009): The Best Prat Fall Ever
X Factor reject Murs, laughably covering Stevie Wonder, at Guilfest in 2009 and tumbling down the stairs. Truly, it will never not be funny.