Thursday, October 24, 2013

You Rang?

This is sort of a musical topic, but I should probably warn you that it's also one with A MESSAGE.  No, nothing too heavy or preachy, but do I ask that you'll indulge me for a little bit, and if you enjoy music, I hope that might even consider some advice.

If you're of a certain age, or you like reruns of old back-and-white TV comedies, you might associate the title of this post with the image I posted.  That's Lurch (played by Ted Cassidy), the butler from the Addams Family, and he uttered his famous "you rang?" line after Gomez or Morticia summoned Lurch by pulling the cord and ringing the gong.

That's some classic schlock TV, complete with a omnipresent canned laugh track, and while I intentionally used that line to evoke a smile, I do have another reason for mentioning a reference to ringing.

Because I have tinnitus --  a constant ringing in my left ear.  To me it sounds like an ever-present high B-flat, with a pulse that matches my own heartbeat.

I've had a complete check-out by an audiologist and an otolaryngologist -- that's the fancy term for the common "Ear, Nose, and Throat" (ENT) physician that specializes in ear issues.  And so I know that it's "nothing serious", and just a sign of a significant loss of the ability to hear higher frequencies in that ear.  The doctor called tinnitus "the auditory equivalent of phantom limb syndrome," where my brain wants to fill in those missing frequencies with something and so it generates the sensation of hearing a ringing in those frequencies.

It's a relatively common condition, especially for people who have had frequent or long-term exposure to loud noises. My exposure?  Well, I bet you can guess...

I play electric guitar.  There were lots of times I used to play it LOUD, especially during my teen years. With my left ear facing the amp so the guitar pickups would be facing away to minimize feedback.  In my old teen garage bands, what we lacked in talent we usually tried to make up for in volume. 

Plus as a teenager I went to many concerts and usually tried to get as close to the stage as possible -- this was the days of open-floor "festival" seating.  I saw this in concert four or five times before the age of twenty, from very near the amps:

And Ted played very, VERY, VERYVERY LOUD!

I used to joke at school that my ears rang all day long the day after the concert.  Now I think that maybe it wasn't so funny after all.

In my twenties, I came to my senses and started wearing ear protection when I played, and trying to get everyone to turn down during practice, and sitting much further back at concerts.

But the damage had already been done -- I just didn't realize it until my late 40's. And now in my 50's the ringing is there all the time.

It's just something I have to live with -- there's really no cure.  And most times I do OK.  I've gotten to where I don't notice it most of the time, but then other times it's maddening.  

Plus, even without the ringing, I know that I'm missing high frequencies.  There's a gap in what I hear, particularly in my left ear. I try not to over-compensate and crank the treble, especially on anything I record.  

But my ears are forever damaged, and no matter how long it keeps ringing, Lurch is never going to come in and ask if, "I rang?"  Because it's not a joke.  It's serious and it sucks.

<MESSAGE>  Please don't let it happen to you. Protect your hearing. </MESSAGE>


  1. Sorry about that! My ears would usually ring for the rest of the night but wear off by morning. Wasn't until an exceptionally loud concert (I believe it was Whitesnake) that I had ringing the next day. After that, I always took earplugs to concerts.

  2. 'There's a gap in what I hear, particularly in my left ear. I try not to over-compensate and crank the treble, especially on anything I record.'

    I found this very interesting. The idea that you would be cognizant of a discrepancy and try to compensate for it 'blind.'

    I am so sorry to read of this, Chris. But it does give a certain quality to your musical efforts at this stage of your development as an artist. Color.

  3. Oh my gosh, Chris! I had tinnitus in my right ear for almost a year due to undiagnosed sinus problems and you are right ... it does suck. It was the kind of thing where if I got a notion to notice it, I was nuts until something came along to grab my attention. But it was always there and it was especially hard to fall asleep at night, not because of the ringing (my husband can't sleep unless a fan is running ...) but because of the heartbeat thing. The sinus condition was cleared up with two courses of antibiotics and the tinnitus, miraculously, went away.

    I am so sorry, you have to deal with this, but double sorry since you are a musician.

    I love the Lurch hook, by the way. "You rang?" is a great way to get folk's attention.

  4. That must be a terrible affliction, all the more so because the damage was done so long ago and can't be corrected now. :(

    As I approach 50, I find myself more and more intolerant of background noise. I can't concentrate when there's too much background noise -- nor when there is a dominant noise competing with what I want to hear. (ie: having a conversation with a colleague while somebody is making a tediously long announcement over the PA system.) I am aggravated by the TV being on if I'm not watching it, and I wear noise cancelling headphones when I'm trying to read or write. The neighbor's lawn mower makes me feel homicidal. (My neighbors mow their lawn 2x per day.)

    Not tinnitus by any stretch, I realize.
    Sometimes I wonder if I'm becoming autistic in my middle age. Many of the autistic children at school wear headphones because they are unable to tune out background noise. Late Onset Autism. That might be my thing.

  5. >>... In my old teen garage bands, what we lacked in talent we usually tried to make up for in volume.

    Ah-Ha! You were turning it "up to eleven", weren't ya?

    Sorry to hear about your hearing loss (pun unintended), and especially sorry that Nugent's 'STRANGLEHOLD' may have played a part in it. That's one of the dumbest songs - lyrically and musically - ever to gain FM hit status. The bass line is pretty cool, but everything else about it is Spinal Tap-like.

    Today, I respect Ted more for his political views than I ever did for his dunder-headed musical "vision". He was sort of the Sylvester Stallone of Rock 'N' Roll.

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

  6. @Alex: If there's ringing, it means that at least some damage has already been done. But the earplugs idea is a very good one, and one I wholeheartedly agree with, although one level it seems ridiculous to bring earplugs: "This way I don't have to hear what I paid entirely-too-much-money for the opportunity to go hear." ;^)

    @Suze: Thanks! I appreciate your thoughts and support. Although... Is the "color" an adjective or a verb? As in, "your musical efforts now have a certain colorful beauty to them, especially since I now know you try to avoid boosting the treble so it sounds 'right' to you, because you recognize it would then sound brittle and tinny to others"? Or as in, "Yeah, unfortunately, your musical efforts are never going to be fully developed because of your tinnitus and will always have a certain lacking quality to them. So you should probably stop trying and just go get some crayons and color instead..."? ;^)

    @R.T.: That's interesting -- in my 40's, when I first started noticing it, my tinnitus was intermittent and not really an issue for me. Then I had a bad sinus infection with an associated earache in the last year or so. After that, the tinnitus became a very annoying presence and led me to the doctors. So that sinus/inner-ear infection seems to definitely be a trigger. And trying to sleep in a quiet room can be the time I notice it most, but I and my wife also sleep with a fan and a wind machine, so it's never too bad for me. And I'm glad you liked the Lurch 'teaser'. ;)

    @Dianne: I totally understand. I think that's a common trait associated with 'normal' hearing loss as we age. My wife and I both have it. Background music in restaurants can be particularly annoying. Most times it seems to be just loud enough to interfere with being able to hear the conversation from across the table. ;^) But I love the "Late Onset Autism" idea. I could have that, too -- "I'm not dozing off! My LOA is just making me hyper-focus on something. With inner self-talk that just happens to sound like snoring..." ;^)

    @Stephen: LOL! Yep -- eleventy-eleven, even! But Stranglehold was actually one of my favorite Nugent songs. True, the lyrics are stupid (unlike the subtle and clever charm of Ted's other lyrics, such as the quaint and understated, "wang-dang, sweet poontang"), but I did love the long slow jamming parts with the guitar fills. It was a nice contrast to Ted's normal frenetic gonzo-guitar assault. And "the Sylvester Stallone of Rock 'N' Roll" -- that's a brilliantly awesome analogy, lol!

  7. Thank you for this message! My mom has tinnitus, and I have been very careful to wear ear protection at rock concerts, and mainly go to outdoor concert venues (which seem less loud). I don't want to get tinnitus, and it bothers me that so many places have loud soundtracks - including movie theatres.

  8. I've hat tinnitis for about 12 years. Some days its so loud I can't stand it. I hate it especially at night. I miss the luxury of listening to music at the office - it gets worse with the head phones, no matter how low the volume. And talking - or should I say hearing - on the phone is ghastly.

    Hey, I never thanked you for your insightful feedback on my excerpts for Write Club. I truly appreciated your comments. I was Gordon Holmes btw.


  9. My husband's a keyboard player and singer, and here in Egypt, they literally judge good music by how loud it is -- the louder the better -- so he grew up doing that and now he has hearing problems, too. I sang with him for many years and we always fought about how loud it should be. My songs would be normal range; his would be cranked to a painful level. Customers (Europeans) sitting close would clap more for me; customers sitting far away would clap more for him. It took me a long time to realize he was cranking up his music so loud not just to show off but because he was partly deaf. I'm sorry for your tinnitus. It's a sad price to pay. :(

  10. Aw, that's rough, dude. Very sorry to hear it. It's strange, but there's a perverse comfort to be had in spontaneous afflictions - you know, the ones for which you can shake your fist at the heavens and rage freely at the unfairness of it all. Being saddled with the additional burden of "MAN I wish I hadn't done that" just makes it worse.

    On a sympathetic note, I watched this hearing test video - - which rates my ears a good ten years older than the rest of me. I wish like the dickens I could figure out how that happened. I never go to concerts, I hate loud music - I used to wear earplugs the few times I went out to a club with friends - and I can't figure out whether it's living right next to an airport that's worn my acoustic love-hairs down, or just years of using earbuds. (I try to keep the volume down, but there must be something unhealthy about piping noise directly into your skull.)

    So I guess what I'm saying is, I hope you're not too hard on yourself. The world is full of athletes who've ruined their joints, mothers who sacrificed bladder control for natural childbirth, ballet dancers with hideously mangled feet. You do what you can to take care of yourself and make good choices, but the rest is collateral damage from a life well-lived.

  11. My father has a ringing in his ears due to high blood pressure and I'm not unfamiliar with how much of a pain in the ass this can be. My husband played the electric guitar, too, and spent most of his early youth around amps and loud, loud concerts. I'm now crossing my fingers that he won't have problems like this in the future. My best wishes to you!

  12. That truly stinks, Chris. I think I'd go maaaaaaaaad. If you play your guitar really loud now, does it drown out the ringing? Or if you keep your earbuds in all day long? Sorry. Just trying to cheer you up. Between all the loud concerts and the sunburns when I was a kid, I'm sure to be a real mess in a few years...

  13. @Tyrean: You're welcome! Tell your mom she has my best wishes. I think I'm fortunate that I've trained myself to mostly be able to ignore it, but it can be frustrating at times. I do wish I'd been wiser with my hearing in my younger years. Knowing that it was largely self-inflicted make it a bit worse. ;)

    @Donna: I'm so sorry. I'm fortunate that I can focus on music and enjoy it through headphones, although conversation on digitized cell-phones with a lot of background noise can be nearly impossible. And you are more than weldome about my WRiTE Club feedback -- I hope I was never too negative. I always wanted to be constructive and helpful even if I was voting for the other piece.

    @Lexa: I'm sorry about your husband's hearing! I've discovered that tinnitus is a pretty common condition, particularly for older musicians. Ironic that the thing we love is what causes damage to us, isn't it?

    @Tex: Well, with earphones, I can hear the 15kHz in my right ear, but only the 8kHz in my left. At age 53, my right ear is still pretty good for my age, and I'm not "hearing impaired" in my left, but I do have to turn it up to get past the tinnitus background ring. So no, I'm not too hard on myself. And "collateral damage from a life well-lived" is a beautiful phrase, Tex! Dang, you're a good writer -- you absolutely deserved that WRiTE Club victory.

    @Georgina: Thank you! And he might, but he might not -- I hope not. It's fluky how it seems to affect some people and not others. But I really hope he manages his high blood pressure -- tinnitus is just a pain in the ass, and high blood pressure is much more serious. My best wishes to you and him, too!

    @Milo: LOL! And thanks but actually, softer music is MUCH better. Not necessarily soft music -- just music played at low volumes. ;) It lets me distinguish all the parts clearly. And you have my best wishes for no ringing or peeling in your future -- or should I say no pealing or peeling. ;)


Don't be shy -- feel free to comment. I really appreciate your thoughts.