Tuesday 30 September 1997
"Many of Picasso's paintings," RJ Pickles says, "display disturbing signs of a rare form of anatomical dyslexia." Rossini's William Tell Overture is, in the opinion of Phil Worth, a clear indication of the immature sexual preoccupations of the composer. Why else would he have written the "Titty Bum, Titty Bum, Titty Bum Bum Bum" theme? Mr Worth also sees Mendelssohn's Song Without Words and John Philip Sousa's Colonel Bogey march as signs of laryngitis and nose-picking respectively. "Munch had lockjaw when he did The Scream, says Jack Dolan, while Judith Holmes sees Wordsworth's "host of golden daffodils" as a clear indication of colour-blindness. "More lemon than gold," she says. Len Clarke sees "a bad attack of the DTs" in both van Gogh's shaky cypresses and Rimsky Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee.
"Whistler obviously had tinnitus," says Steve Warner. He also thinks that Damien Hirst must have mad cow disease, though other readers see his work as evidence of a split personality. Norman Foster ascribed tinnitus to Alexander Graham Bell, who "invented the telephone to explain the ringing in his ears". Picasso had astigmatism, he adds.
John Harrison mentions the sudden attack of deafness suffered by John Cage, which lasted only for 4 minutes and 33 seconds. He also notes that "Bach had a chronic fugal infection around his G-string and Mussorgsky was an exhibitionist."
Martin Brown detects a distinct stutter at the start of Beethoven's fifth. He also supplies us with an interesting life history of George Sloth, the early Victorian artistic genius whose chronic indolence resulted in his never producing any works in his entire life.
"Botticelli was in a state of acute nervous tension about the huge bills the girls were running up at Laura Ashley," says Mollie Caird. "The pointillists all had acne," Fiona and John Earle diagnose. Michelangelo's spending all that time on his back painting the Sistine Chapel they see as a disorder of balance, possible Meniere's disease, or a middle-ear infection. John Ellis thinks that Camille and Lucien Pissarro both suffered from mild incontinence, while two loos Lautrec must have had a worse case.
"The sculptor of the Venus de Milo," says Duncan Bull, "was a sadistic murderer who specialised in hideous mutilations." Nicholas James reads Shakespeare's lines "There's a divinity that shapes our ends, Rough hew them how we may" as a clear indication that he was Jewish.
Peter B Thomas did not realise until recently that Jimi Hendrix had plaque. Maguy Higgs thinks that Wagner suffered from a simple misunderstanding when Mahler suggested he gave him a ring sometime. AP Staunton thinks that Houdini was probably premature.
Several readers have expressed concern about the absence of Miss Sian Cole from last week's things-to-do-with-an-unspecified-object" column. We are happy to reassure you that she is in the best of health, as far as we can diagnose from the unspecified pictures she sent us. She was the only one of our readers this week who attempted a self-diagnosis and concludes that "penis envy is the answer". Prizes to Phil Worth, John Harrison and Steve Warner.
Next week, things to do with negative space. Meanwhile, we seek things to do with millennium bugs, of which we have recently read a good deal. All ideas to: Creativity, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL. Chambers Dictionary prizes for the ones we like most.
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