The End of Silence

Things have been going well musically. You remember that rehearsal studio I started renting after I bought my new guitar and Marshall amp? I've upgraded since then. The first windowless room was in the basement and the size of a closet. The new room is absolutely huge with three impressively large windows overlooking downtown Portland and its lovely superhighway system. I manage this new room and sublet it to 1.5 other bands. We put in a small dorm fridge for everyone's beer. I put up posters featuring Black Sabbath and the green fairy of absinthe.

More importantly, I've started putting my new band together. I've got a drummer and a lead guitarist and we're about to start looking for a bassist. (I sing and play guitar and do most of the songwriting.) We've already got a number of tunes, the typical length of which is 8-10 minutes. That may sound long, but it's fairly common for the genre of down-tempo metal. With song titles like "The Ten Hells" and "Lair of Zargon," it's a ton of sludgey fun.

But there has been a downside to this. I have finally developed tinnitus.

Yes, that constant ringing-in-the-ears thing that ironically sounds like one of the high-pitched tones in a hearing test. I don't know whether it was the bassiness or volume of the guitar or some particularly loud cymbal crashes, but a few weeks ago the after-practice ringing just didn't go away. I confess I never wore earplugs: after two decades of playing loud music, performing about a hundred gigs, not to mention the many hundreds of loud bands I've seen live, I thought I was immune. True, being born with only one good ear, I should have taken extra good care of it, but I figured if I was going to get tinnitus it would have happened by now, right?

My lovely wife (Dollface) got tinnitus two years ago after a night of dancing too close to one of the club's speakers. In her blog post, she describes the maddeningly inescapable nature of the constant hissing noise that is her variation of the affliction. When she developed it, I felt so extremely bad for her. Even though I had nothing to do with her acquiring it, I felt it was unjust that though I had spent 20 years performing and listening to extremely loud music, she was the one who developed tinnitus after an innocent night of dancing. I wanted to do something to help — I might have even taken her affliction into myself if it was possible — but there was nothing to be done.

Generally speaking, there is really nothing you can do about tinnitus.

Fortunately, mine is still relatively quiet at this point. The first couple of days of it were stronger and far more distracting and distressing, but it has settled into a subtle persistence and volume that I only notice when all around is quiet. That said, it's the first thing I hear in the morning and the last thing I hear before going to sleep.

So, yes, I've taken to wearing an ear plug in my good ear during band practice. (I can't even fit an ear plug into my bad ear's miniature canal.) It fucking sucks. Try plugging your ears and then talking: you can't really hear anything external in the little contained echo chamber that is your ear-plugged skull. When I'm singing/screaming, it's hard to hear the other musicians or even what I'm playing on my guitar. Again, it fucking sucks.

But I'm trying to get used to it. I think I might get those expensive molded-to-your-ear type plugs as I understand that they're designed to more evenly diminish the volume across all the sound frequencies. They're also supposedly more comfortable than just shoving expanding foam cones into your ear. We'll see.

In the past, I have rarely sought silence. I always want to put in an album, or a movie, or play piano or something. But it was disappointing to realize that now if I did want total silence... I can no longer have it.

The album that played while composing this post (All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood by The Body) has just ended, and just like when television channels used to shut down for the evening and display that color bar test pattern, all I hear is one monotonous high-pitched tone.

I get the static sound when I'm in a quiet room but I only notice it in certain acoustical settings. I never thought of it as tinnitus since that's always described as what you're experiencing. I try to be good and wear hearing protection. I have a big set of earmuffs that I wear when I need to. I can also slip in-ear headphones underneath them for extra protection.

The worst part about getting old is you realize you were foolish in your youth when you poo-pooed everything you were told about getting old.

I'm going to have to awkwardly ask you to show me your funky ear next time I see you. I've never noticed it before but, then again, I'm always dreamily staring into your eyes, not your ears.
» Posted 11.12.2011 19:22:00 by Tom [Website]
My bands over the last 20 years have always been obnoxiously loud; in the practice space, in the studio, on stage... I've always considered myself immune to the effects this might have on my hearing, but at my stinking ripe age I decided a couple years ago to start wearing earplugs and stop tempting fate. I'd often get that subtle ringing in my ears after playing a particularly loud show or after a deafening practice session, but it would go away. I learned that the ringing was caused by the breakage of tiny fibers in your ear, of we are are all possessed of a finite amount. Particularly loud noise will cause the breakage, but will subside; at least until they are all broken and then you have the ringing all the time. At least, that's what I was led to believe. I also could have probably researched that better before making this post. As far as I know, I could only have one of those little fibers left. Anyways, the earplugs take some getting used to. In some ways, they are better for hearing subtle differences of pitch and tone in what is otherwise a wind-tunnel of noise. It also seems to help me sing in key a bit better, but the hum of my own voice often tends to overpower the now subdued sound of the instruments. Have you ever gotten to that point without earplugs where you can't discern tone or pitch because everything's too loud? I think you'll get used to wearing them, but my girlfriend struggles with tinnitis every day to the point that she can't stand to listen to any of the music I like because it actually aggravates it. Or maybe she's just saying that.
» Posted 11.12.2011 21:16:10 by Carcass [Website]
I think both my pet dogs and children have as much to do with my ringing ears as any concert. I bet the vast majority of people get this into there 30s or 40s. Fucking ridiculous. Thus far I don't think it is effecting my heearing, much.
» Posted 11.14.2011 23:11:13 by Ryan

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