It’s Friday. Let’s all put down our history books and pick up our headphones. As my series inspired by Nicole Ver Kuilen‘s visit continues, I’d like to put the spotlight on an impressive pair of musicians who continue to play the music that they love despite having suffered what many would consider to be career-ending setbacks.
The Thunder God’s Missing Arm
Rick Allen has been drumming for Def Leppard since 1978, and is widely acknowledged as being one of the best drummers in the world. His legendary skill has earned him the fan nickname “The Thunder God,” and millions still come to Def Leppard concerts to hear him play. If your only experience with Def Leppard has been listening to their music on the radio, you may have missed the fact that Allen plays his custom-made drum set with only one arm.
Back in 1984, at the height of his band’s success, Allen was thrown from his car during an accident and lost his left arm in the process. Doctors initially re-attached it, but a nasty infection caused them to re-amputate it shortly thereafter. As you might imagine, Allen was devastated. It isn’t easy to make it big as a musician, and his career looked to be over just when it had finally taken off. Fortunately for his fans, Rick’s love of drumming was too great to walk away just because he could no longer hold both sticks.
It may seem to run counter to the theme of my series, but Allen was never fit with a prosthesis for his arm. Prosthetics aren’t just for replacing limbs and filling space, after all. In order to restore maximum function, Rick had his drums modified with a series of cables and foot pedals that allowed him to play the drums on the left side of his set with his feet. Through his use of this adaptive technology, Rick’s story and example have inspired countless amputees to adapt to their new circumstances and continue doing what they love.
The Force is Strong with This One
It’s easy to forget that Luke Skywalker was an amputee. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, his dad severed his right arm in one of the coolest sword fights ever captured on film. Things turned out all right for him though. By the end of the film, he got a prosthetic replacement that looked and worked just like the orginal. Back in 1983, Luke’s cybernetic arm was just as much of a fantasy as lightsabers or landspeeders, but recent developments have brought it a step closer to reality.
Jason Barnes was cleaning the exhaust vents on a restaurant roof in McDonough, Georgia when he was electrocuted by over 22,000 volts of electricity that arced to him from a nearby power line. Doctors managed to save his life, but not his right arm. Jason was devastated, as he believed that his chances of getting accepted to the Atlanta Institute of Music had been lost right along with it.
His hope was restored by researchers at Georgia Tech’s College of Design, who created a replacement hand and forearm for Jason that was inspired by Luke Skywalker. Jason’s prosthesis uses a combination of electromyogram (EMG) sensors, an ultrasound probe, and machine learning that allows it to read the movements of the muscles in Barnes’ residual limb while it adapts and learns to move as a natural hand would.
Barnes’ new hand has allowed him to play the piano, and another custom prosthesis provided by Georgia Tech has also restored his ability to play the drums. He was eventually accepted to the AIM, and his career is really starting to take off. He toured with Rick Allen during the summer of 2014, and continues to hone his skills and play in various venues to this day.