On Brian (not the Messiah)

First things first, sorry I haven’t written in a while. Laptop has been down and it’s difficult to write from the phone, as I’m doing now. But hey, if I was going to skip a month, at least it was the short one. Moving on…

Today, we all found out that AC/DC frontman Brian Johnson is having to step away from the band (for good?) lest he risk total hearing loss. I can’t claim to be the world’s biggest AC/DC fan. I don’t listen to them often and when I do it’s usually the Dirty Deeds record. But they’re part of the hard rock family tree. They’re pretty much the step between Blues and Heavy Metal. I grew up playing their songs in basements because they were catchy and easy enough to learn, but still a challenge for your lead guitarist. And I respect them.

There’s a lot up in the air for the band. Rumors are already flying about what they’re going to do (and who with) and as much of the community is compassionate as is understanding. And that bothers me. Brian should have everyone’s support. He’s had to stop doing something he’s done forever, and although he’s stated a desire to walk away for about 10 years, that’s a scary decision.  It’s made scarier by the threat of going deaf if you keep doing something you love.

I don’t talk about it too often outside of situations where it needs to be known, but I’m deaf in my left ear. 100%. Since birth. I think there are maybe some extreme high frequencies that slip through–like I can tell there’s a soundwave there if I’m wearing headphones, but if I take the right one away, I can’t distinguish what I’m listening to. (True story: The Velvet Underground has a song called “The Gift” where the spoken/vocal part is in the left channel. For more than a year when I first got into them, I had no idea and thought it was an instrumental.) In general, the left ear is just there to keep my glasses up. There are some issues that come with it. I have terrible balance, I have no depth perception to my hearing (no clue where emergency vehicle sirens are coming from in traffic), and 5.1 audio mixes are completely lost on me. But in general, since it’s been that way my whole life I don’t miss it.

But losing hearing in my right ear is my biggest fear. Yes. More than spiders. It’s that serious.

I’m not presently facing retirement for my hearing. It’s still reasonably good, because I do what I can to take care of it. And I’d like to make a handful of recommendations to anyone out there with at least one working ear…

1. Limit your headphone usage–especially ear buds. I know this is a big request in the days where all of our phones are MP3 players. But you’re damaging your ears with headphones. You ARE. You’re putting a speaker that is sending vibrations and compressed soundwaves right into your ear canal. You think that’s good for you? Even at low volumes, it’s doing damage. Ask any office worker who wears a headset to answer phone calls every day for 20 years if they’ve noticed a decline in their hearing. Their reply will be, “what?”  (Sadly, my headphone use at work has increased in recent weeks and I need to find a way to correct that. I’ve noticed a drop in clarity in my hearing that I think and hope is still recoverable.)

2. If you do use headphones, do it responsibly. If you’re wearing the type that are cans that cover your whole ear, put an ear plug in underneath them. If you’re using ear buds, play the music as softly as you can. If you use them at ALL, give yourself breaks from use. My “studio” rule is that for each day I use headphones, I take two days OFF from using them. As I mentioned, I have been wearing ear buds too often at work lately…so on weekends, I barely listen to music at ALL, but I especially leave the buds on my desk. By Monday, I’m usually mostly back to normal (but I still need to stop it–and the news about Brian was a good reminder of that).

3. Wear ear plugs at concerts. Even the quiet ones are louder than what you’re used to. A lot of times, I even wear them in movies if it’s a loud action flick. Every loud noise has the potential to be the last one you’ll hear. You might need to slip them out during the quieter moments, but better that than to never enjoy those moments again.

4. Clean out your ears and don’t take an earache lightly. If you’ve got an earache, you probably have an infection. The step after infection is expansion of the ear drum. Then perforation. Then rupture. And that’s it. You’re deaf. Do what you can to keep your ears clean and if you do start developing ear issues (likely from a headcold or similar) mention them to your doctor when you ask for antibiotics.

5. Turn it down. Seriously. I like my car to shake with the bass too…but it’s irresponsible. It’s damaging. (And it’s an irritant to people who think your music choices suck, to boot.) We’re all going to turn it up once in a while. But full-volume shouldn’t be your default. Save it for the special songs, when you really need it. Or if you’re going to turn it ip, open your windows. Give the sound somewhere to go.

Those are just a few tips. There are a lot more. But long and short…  Hearing loss is a scary thing. It’s something you and I shouldn’t take for granted. If I lose my hearing, I’ve got a few thousand dollars worth of musical equipment that’s useless to me. And I’ve also lost my primary passion and outlet. That shouldn’t be taken lightly. Even if you’re not a musician…it’d be nice to hear your spouse, kids, grandkids, and/or that weird guy at the deli tell you they love you, right? Appreciate your hearing and do what you can to hang on to it.

And lay off Brian Johnson. He’s doing the right thing. Angus might not be. But Brian shouldn’t be doubted. Here’s hoping the damage isn’t permanent and he can get better enough to keep enjoying hearing the music, even if he can’t still sing it himself.

For those about to rock…good God, don’t fire the cannons until we’ve all got ear plugs in!

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