When I was a teenager, I loved nothing better than putting on my headphones and listening to “Exile on Main Street” at a body-shaking volume (it being usually late at night when I got the chance). Later on in a misspent youth, quite below the legal drinking age, I made it in to a lot of the first punk bars in Detroit. Clubs like Bookie’s and the New Miami, for those who want to get nostalgic. And when tours were announced for bands other than Journey and Kansas and the Babys and whatever other kind of bastardized rock you can name, I snapped up tickets to those, too, and did everything I could to let the music pound through my body as if I were a jellyfish. After a triumvirate of the Ramones in November 1978, the Police two months later, and the Jam two months after that, I remember feeling like someone had rammed a spike down my ear canals, giving me unsettling pain to go along with the expected ringing in my ears.
The pain eventually stopped, but the ringing never has, and has actually gotten worse over the years.
We could never figure out why I got it quicker and more severely than any of my friends, some of whom were musicians (shouldn’t being in Big Black have had some kind of corrosive effect?). But such is life. Since losing my hearing was the worst thing that ever happened to me (how’d you like to be a writer and not be able to overhear conversations in public?) , I’ve badgered all my nieces and nephews to wear ear protection at concerts. Being smarter than me, they have actually followed my advice. And for anyone reading now, considered yourself badgered. Earplugs have never been easier to find at the store.
If you want to know what it feels like to have constant ringing in your head, check out this story on NPR about composer Brent Michael Davids. A sufferer of tinnitus (the medical name for the high-pitched ringing), Davids wrote “Tinnitus Quartet” to give audiences an idea of what it’s like to have this condition. Listen to that high A in the short snippet in the newsstory, and then imagine having that in your head day and night, every day of your life.
Ironically, even though The Jam was the band that broke my ear’s camel’s back, I didn’t even like them all that much. About three years later, they were one of my favorite bands