Ears: An appreciation (or ‘boo to tinnitus’)
My damned tinnitus is playing up at the moment. I’ve actually had an okay time of it this year. The discomfort in my ears - the blocked feeling - is always there but it’s not something I’ve thought about much; it’s settled into the background. I’ve only noticed the condition when, like now, the noises have kicked off.
When the hammering first started, a couple of years ago, I wondered whether it was ever going to stop. It sounded like someone was continually flicking my eardrum. It irritated me all day and kept me awake at night. For a few days, it felt like my life was over - that’s how distressing I found it. Thankfully, the attacks became more infrequent, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
When the consultant gave me her diagnosis, the first thing I asked was: “Has this been caused by the hundreds of gigs I’ve seen over the last 20 years?” To my amazement, she said that it probably hadn’t been - that it was just something that happened to some people. My second question was: “Should I be wearing earplugs to gigs?” I was told that it wouldn’t make much difference.
When I started having trouble with my ears in 2004, when the blocked feeling started but before the noises, I wore them to quite a few gigs. It was 24 hours after one of these shows - Dan Baird at the Mean Fiddler - that I first experienced the hammering sounds. This put me off using plugs for some time.
In spite of this little nugget of irony, as well as the fact that I don’t have any hearing loss, I’m not convinced that my tinnitus wasn’t caused by loud music. When I think back, I can remember some scarily loud shows - the kind of evenings where I genuinely feared for my hearing.
In, I guess, 1990, Motorhead pumped out so much volume at Guildford Civic Hall that I felt my body going into panic. I had a ‘fight or flight’ response - and, scared though I was, I stood and fought, like any self-respecting rocker. Round about the same time, I was a regular at The Almighty’s Marquee shows, where I’d stand by the speaker stack at the right of the stage and hope that the three bottles of Newcastle Brown I’d consumed would anaesthetise me enough not to care that I was hearing, pretty much, white noise.
In my early 20s, I saw Warrior Soul headline the Astoria and spent the next five days (and that’s no exaggeration) wondering whether the muffled version of everyday life I was hearing was normal in the circumstances. More recently, when I saw Silver Sun at the Barfly I could actually feel my eardrums vibrating. The feeling of wanting to get out of the venue was overwhelming.
These days, I carry earplugs to most gigs, just in case I get panicky about the volume. I’ve not used them for some time, though very few of the bands I see now have amps that go up to 11 - and, with those that do, I usually try not to get too close to the speaker stacks.
My current bout of discomfort was, I’m pretty sure, brought on by me watching a movie on DVD last Saturday. For late-night viewing, I often wear headphones. Sometimes I get a little carried away with the volume. For the same reason, I try to stay away from earphones as much as possible. The last time that my ears started impersonating Keith Moon was when I was listening to my MP3 player on the way to work. With the train/traffic noise and people yabbering, the temptation to keep cranking it up a notch was difficult to resist.
Anyway, the point of me spilling all this in a blog, apart from it feeling good to have a moan when I’m suffering, is just to say ‘hooray for ears’. Most of us take them for granted; it’s only when they start going wrong that we realise how much we owe the little blighters. Two holes plus some flappy bits of skin = a gateway to so much enjoyment: music, conversation, laughter… even the sound of a loved-one gently breathing as they sleep. (Ah, ya soppy git.) So three cheers for ears. Hip hip!
Ooh… could you keep it down a bit? Thanks.