A Plea for Music Fans to Protect Their Hearing

If you still think it’s cool to expose yourself to loud music without any sort of protection, read this from Noisey.

I remember the day the ringing in my ear started. I had been recording some guitar at my house, which went on to become the intro to “Acrobatica”, a song by my band Losers. It was the first time I had got my guitar out in a while and if you listen to that song, you can probably hear how much fun I had that day, blasting out music without a care in the world. In the evening I sat down to watch some TV. That was the moment that everything changed.

In the relative silence of my living room, I could hear a ringing in my ears that was so loud it distracted me from listening to the TV. Shrugging it off as an anomaly, I tried to forget about it. Instead of concentrating on the noise inside my ear, I fell asleep thinking about the positive day I’d had. The next morning I woke up and before I had time to open my eyes, my palms were sweating with fear. I felt sick. It was still there. Maybe I had just played guitar a bit too much yesterday? Once again, I told myself everything was okay, and that it would be gone by tomorrow.

When tomorrow came, it started to feel like I was starring in my very own Groundhog Day. Palms started to moisten again; the sick feeling in my stomach intensified; and, most importantly, the ringing remained. I lay motionless while my body turned itself inside out. I’d heard ringing in my ears many times before, but I knew this time was bad. This was different to the sound that remained after the countless gigs I’d seen or played over the past 20 years.

My tragic love affair with loud music began when I was fourteen, the year I went to Reading Festival. I was blown away by the experience, the music, and the atmosphere. I’d never witnessed such ritualistic burning of plastic on such a large scale, nor had I heard music played so loudly before. To me, this was the rock and roll I had read about in the NME, and I was ready to sign my life away.

By the time I was 20, I was signed to RCA in a band called The Cooper Temple Clause. A very small minority may remember us for having daft hair and making a lot of noise. We were young, full of energy, and very naive. But, most importantly, we loved making a racket. In fact, the louder it was the better. If someone told us that we had made their ears bleed, we would be over the moon.

As a kid, the ringing you get after a gig is a badge of honour, a sort of boastful trophy to wear with pride the next morning alongside a sneaky hangover. The thing is, that ringing is a sign from your body, telling you that something is wrong. It’s the sound of alarm bells, calling out to you, letting you know you’ve done something you shouldn’t have, and you need to stop. At this point, common sense should kick in and tell you to be more careful next time, but for all too many music fans, it spurs you on.

I vividly remember my doctor first telling me I had tinnitus. He told me that my labyrnthitis in my left ear may have contributed, but essentially, I’d caused a spike of hearing loss in my left ear, which confused my brain into thinking it had to make up for the loss by amplifying specific frequencies for me all the time, forever. To simplify, it sounds like a tiny person has jumped in my ear, stomped on all their distortion pedals, and then put put their tiny guitar next to their tiny amplifier to cause a wall of feedback. You know, like the end of a Mogwai gig or something. But in this scenario playing out in my skull, the crew don’t walk back on stage and switch off the amplifiers. It never ever stops.

Keep reading. It could save you from going deaf.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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