"Pete Townshend Syndrome"

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at yahoo.com
Sun Jan 9 08:24:08 CST 2005

>From the Grand Rapids (Michigan) Press at:

Music lovers need not endorse deafness 
Sunday, January 09, 2005
By John Sinkevics
The Grand Rapids Press 
Rock bands brag about their ear-splitting music. 

Nigel of "This is Spinal Tap" fame flaunted an
amplifier with volume knobs that would spin to 11,
beyond the usual 10. 

It's "one louder," the guitarist deadpanned. 

The Who's Pete Townshend, rock's most famous
almost-deaf musician, craved louder and bigger amps
during the '60s, so he could drown out the audience
and the din from bandmates. 

And I still chortle about my band's impassioned pleas
to the sound guy during one noisy gig when in
mid-song, through blaring stage cacophony, the
guitarist screamed into the mic, "I can't hear
myself!" Oh, really? 

No laughing matter 

Many who play loud music and many who listen to it are

As energizing and vibrant as rock music can be, its
defiant and rebellious nature also has translated into
triple-digit decibel levels that have left too many
baby boomers asking, "What?" and "Can you repeat
that?" and "Did you say, 'Whoa, dude, this band is
really smokin' or 'Whoa, dude, your van just

Apparently, growing up with rock 'n' roll can be
hazardous to your health: A new "Baby Boomer Hearing
Loss Study" by The EAR Foundation and Clarity shows
half of U.S. residents between the ages of 40 and 59
-- that's 38 million of us -- suffer some hearing
loss. Now Led Zeppelin and Metallica can't be blamed
for all of that. But talk to anybody who's played in a
rock band for any length of time, and, if they can
figure out what you're saying, they'll admit to it. 

"I don't see people from the symphony coming in with
hearing loss," notes Pam Keenan, audiologist for
McDonald Audiology and Hearing, with four Grand
Rapids-area offices. Keenan does see rock musicians
who no longer hear the satisfying tone of a nicely
bent guitar string through all that ringing and
fuzziness. She calls it "Pete Townshend syndrome":
playing music ever louder because it's getting ever
harder to hear, a repeated exposure that damages hair
cells in the ear's cochlea, causing tinnitus, or
ringing in the ears. 

This also applies to sound techs, musicians'
significant others, bartenders, bouncers, regular
nightclub moshers. It's what the nonprofit H.E.A.R.
(Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers) calls
part of our "high-volume lifestyle." Anybody who's
heard a teen cruise by with a window-rattling car
stereo knows just how high-volume that gets. 

Don't deny it 

For many, the first things to go are high-end sounds,
distinguishing "skin" from "chin" from "thin" in
conversation, says Dr. Bruce Bylsma of Advanced
Audiology Hearing Service in Grand Rapids. Because the
amount of damage relates to the music's loudness and
length of exposure, an occasional concertgoer won't
suffer the hearing loss of a death-metal axeman who
blasts away nightly. But consider this: A rock concert
hitting 110-130 decibels is louder than a jackhammer.
Bylsma said that's why many musicians use special,
in-ear monitors that let them hear themselves without
boosting speaker volumes to harmful levels. Phil
Marsh, of West Michigan's 11-piece The Hip Pocket,
marvels at these, noting they greatly cut "sound
pressure levels" on stage. 

The moral for hard-core rockers? Have your hearing
tested (see "Audiologists" in the Yellow Pages) and
get custom-molded earplugs ($150-$250) that allow
quality sound to filter through. It's worth it if you
want to keep hearing and enjoying the music you play,
because once hearing is lost, it's gone forever. 

"We live in a noisier world," Bylsma says. So, maybe
it's time to turn that volume down from 11 to say, 6
or 7, eh? 

-Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month!

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