Andersen: Free music — earplugs recommended
The free Xavier Rudd concert last week lured my son, Tait, to a stoned-fest. But the most important paraphernalia he packed was not a one-hitter; it was earplugs.
Jamming expandable plastic foam into each ear enables him to endure the ultrasonic impact of music blasting from huge banks of powerful speakers that literally shake your booty with a visceral bombardment of sensational soundwaves.
Going far beyond the parody “Spinal Tap,” today’s popular bands and the techies who run their shows crank up their amplifiers to where they peg out at 15 instead of the old-school 10.
Popular bands deafen their young acolytes with eardrum-piercing polyphonies while audiences spasm like marionettes whose strings are jerked by Parkinson’s sufferers. Perhaps faithful fans are actually writhing in excruciating pain due to inner-ear trauma.
Incredibly loud music also deafens devotees to all other sounds. Many are the gyrating celebrants who suffer damage to the inner ear for a lifetime. Perhaps the acts and their crews own stock in hearing-aid companies. Maybe their closest relatives are audiologists who stand to gain by treating the hard of hearing. No, the only conspiracy is that wrought by contemporary society against the finer sensory faculties of feckless humans supplicating to sensation.
Hearing loss is no laughing matter. When willfully pursued by standing before a wall of enormous boom boxes, sufferers perpetrate an odd form of self-sabotage. This is yet another realm in a bizarre ritual for adulterating bodies already replete with piercings and tattoos.
Let it be known that I once stood in glory at the foot of towering speakers at rock concerts back in the day when amps only dialed up to 10. I went to great efforts to subject myself to the driving pulsations of Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Eric Clapton, Mountain, Johnny Winter and dozens more who rocked my young world with the coolest vibes.
At concerts, I pushed my way into the inner circle of psycho rock celebrants and wedged myself up against the very lip of the star-studded stage. This was a formidable achievement, as it meant dangerous contact with swooning hippie chicks, all the while bruising the delicate ears I still use today.
Trying to sleep after a concert while the internal, infernal ringing of Big Ben echoed through my cochlea should have been a signal that I could be doing harm to my hearing. Refusing to heed it, I sought the loudest bands (The Who) and rocked it louder and louder.
At my parents’ home, I perpetrated blasphemy by inflicting upon my dad’s hand-built hi-fi stereo system the grossly magnified sounds of guitar, bass and drums, which I played from vinyl at top volume on his sensitive stereophonic equipment.
Where my dad imbibed the strains of Mozart, Vivaldi and Wagnerian opera, I led the charge with the British Invasion — when he wasn’t home, of course. It was amazing what ear-splitting amplitudes came from cranking the big round dial that stretched every speaker membrane to the breaking point.
Miraculously, my ears (and my dad’s stereo) survived these musical onslaughts, and my hearing at age 65 is incredibly acute. Now I take delight in the faintest birdsong, the lightest breeze sighing in the trees and the hushed murmur of mountain streams through snow and tundra.
Today I pique my ears to classical music that will never require earplugs or cause the hangover of concert tinnitus. I attribute my sensitivity to years of hearing recovery amid the quietude of mountain living and desert sojourns where silence became dear to me as essential to my well-being.
Now I cringe at movie theaters that are ramped up to ear-splitting decibels that pierce my hearing like knitting needles. I wear soundproof headphones to operate my circular saw. I ask people to speak quietly where some are inclined to shout. I avoid sound pollution like the plague, especially egregious assaults like parade sirens. I am not at all self-conscious about plugging my ears with forefingers with a “hear no evil” mimic.
Free music is great as long as you wear earplugs. If you want to know the impact on those who don’t, just ask them. But make sure you speak up.
Paul Andersen’s column appears Mondays. He may be reached at email@example.com.
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