TBT May 25, 2006 — What you hear too loud CAN hurt you…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , , , , — @ 12:51 pm May 26, 2016
Good ol' ear plugs...

Good ol’ ear plugs…

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

For Throwback Thursday, a bit of a public service announcement —  a column I wrote 10 years ago about hearing protection at concerts and what was at the time considered an epidemic of people playing their iPods too loud, damaging their hearing.

I’m happy to say that my hearing remains intact after 10 more years of attending rock concerts, thanks to constant use of ear plugs at shows. These days people not wearing hearing protection is the exception rather than the rule, which is a good thing.

Lazy-i – May 25, 2006 – OK, consider this week’s column a public service announcement. I listen to a lot of music, both in live settings and with a variety of headphones. Within the last few months there has been a ton of press about the dangers of iPods to your hearing. In some articles, that fear bleached over to concern about wearing headphones in general. So I packed up my iPod along with my iPod earbuds, my Etymotic ER*6 earphones and my Ultrasone HFI-700 headphones and dropped in on earguy extraordinaire Dr. Britt Thedinger, who’s name I got from commercials heard every morning on NPR affiliate KIOS 91.5 FM.

We spent about five minutes talking about iPods and headphones and spent the rest of our two hours together talking about rock shows and earplugs. An area of focus that didn’t make it into the column was concerns faced specifically by musicians who are bombarded by loud music every night. He said being behind the stack protects them somewhat — it’s louder in front of the speakers. But that ultimately there are risks for rock stars. Just look at Pete Townshend, who has become a spokesperson for hearing loss.

“The point is, musicians are realizing that they’re at risk,” Thedinger said, “Old rock stars saying, ‘You young people, this will happen to you.'” Thedinger recommends making an appointment and getting fitted for “musicians earplugs” which cost around $150 but are effective in blocking out only dangerous frequencies and not all frequencies — like my trusty yellow earplugs do. It’s a small price to pay to be able to rock when your 65.

Column 78: Don’t be a Tough Guy

There are a few things that can make you feel like “an old guy” at a rock show. I won’t get into the gloomy specifics involving people looking young enough to be your children or bartenders not even looking for the fluorescent wrist-band — everyone knows you’re old enough to drink, pops.

Earplugs are another one. I’ve been wearing them to rock shows starting back in ’93 when I road-tripped with Lincoln band Mercy Rule to a show at Harry Mary’s in Des Moines. Before their set, bassist/frontwoman Heidi Ore strolled through the crowd of angry punks with a prescription vial in hand.

She wasn’t passing out drugs, she was handing out earplugs. She ambled up to one big guy with his arms crossed and made an offering. He just nodded his head. He didn’t need them. The pixie-ish, bespeckled, five-foot-nothing dynamo responded flatly, “Don’t be a tough guy, just take them.” He did. So did I. And she was right, we needed them. Few bands play as loudly as Mercy Rule did, thanks to Jon Taylor’s roaring guitar.

That was the first time I wore earplugs at a show. I’ve been wearing them ever since — little yellow pieces of foam tied together by a handy blue cord, the kind railroad workers wear in the field and in the shops. I’ve had a case of them in my cupboard all these years and always keep extra pairs in my car in case I forget to take them with me. Dr. Britt Thedinger, an otologist at Ear Specialists of Omaha, says the practice may well have saved my hearing.

I know, I know, you’ve read a gazillion stories about the dangers of loud rock music. I don’t blame you if you stop reading. And to be honest, I didn’t seek out Thedinger to do a story on earplugs. It was my iPod that motivated me, along with the dozens or recent stories about how prolonged listening to iPods could cause hearing damage. Could I have wasted all those years wearing earplugs only to be butchering my hearing with my iPod while cycling the Keystone Trail?

I dropped by Thedinger’s midtown clinic last Saturday morning. What I heard surprised me. I expected gloom and doom. In fact, things aren’t that bad.

Turns out the iPod scare is mostly hype. “I don’t think there’s a huge iPod crisis of people losing their hearing right and left,” he said. Still, too much of anything can’t be a good thing. Thedinger said a sign that you’re listening to your iPod too loudly is if the person next to you can clearly make out what you’re listening to. That’s pretty freaking loud. But what about my trusty Etymotic in-ear isolator earphones? “If they’re turned up so loud that they hurt your ears, you’re damaging your hearing,” he said.

Pretty simple advice. Okay, so while I’m here, what about those standard yellow, foam earplugs that cost about 50 cents at the Quik Pik? Are they doing the trick? Thedinger said they block about 29 dBs, more than adequate to protect me at a typical rock show, which he says can get as loud as 115 dBs. Wadded up toilet paper, by the way, blocks only 3 to 5 dBs — in other words, it doesn’t work.

But even if I didn’t wear earplugs at every show, Thedinger said I’d probably be okay. Hearing damage occurs from prolonged high-decibel noise exposure. “At that level, it has to be continuous,” Thedinger said. “The quiet few minutes between songs is usually enough to recover.”

It also depends on the room’s acoustics and where you stand, like right in front of speakers that can blow out up to 125 dBs. Even a short exposure at that level can erode your ability to hear frequencies between 2,000 to 8,000 hz — the range where human speech makes lispy syllables, like “sh,” “th,” p’s, and f’s.

Which brings us to tinnitus — the ringing in your ears that everyone’s experienced after a night at The Qwest Center. Turns out that ringing is always there. We just don’t notice it until our hearing has been damaged — then it’s all we hear.

“When I was doing my residency in a Boston emergency room, we’d have patients come in after a concert at The Garden saying, ‘My ears are ringing and it’s driving me nuts.’ The membranes had swollen in their ears resulting in decreased hearing capability, so they could hear the tinnitus. After a few days the swelling went down, their hearing improved and the tinnitus went away.”

Unless, of course, they sheered off the nerves, permanently damaging their hearing.

You might recover just fine after a few loud concerts without earplugs, but night after night of unprotected hearing will sneak up on you. “It’s an insidious process,” Thedinger said. “People don’t realize the damage they’ve done until it’s too late. And once you’ve lost it, it’s gone.”

It still amazes me every time I look around at rock shows and notice that I’m the only one wearing earplugs. The excuse that they “ruin the experience” is lame. They allow me to actually focus more on the bands and worry less about damage — even if they may make me look like an old wuss in the eyes of guys too tough to wear them.

“You can be as tough as you want,” the good doctor said, “but it’s a real pain in the ass being hearing impaired.” — Lazy-i, May 25, 2006

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A quick thank you to those who donated yesterday to Hear Nebraska during Omaha Gives!

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2016 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Live Review: Domestica; Travelling Mercies launches Kickstarter for Motel…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , — @ 1:49 pm February 25, 2013
Domestica at The Sydney, Feb. 22, 2013.

Domestica at The Sydney, Feb. 22, 2013.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Who remembers this, circa Nov. 1994?

Who remembers these guys, circa Nov. 1994? Tisdale is the one in the hat.

Domestica unveiled a lineup change at the Sydney Friday night with the addition of Paul Tisdale on drums. The last time I saw Tisdale play live was way back in ’93 with his classic band, Sideshow. Back then, Tisdale became a slashing, violent blur every time the guitars kicked in. Twenty years later and time hasn’t diminished Tisdale’s insane percussion skills. Not in the least.

In fact, Tisdale is the first drummer (including Ron Albertson) whose drumming was so big that it drowned out Jon Taylor’s and Heidi Ore’s usual mammoth roar… at least during the first part of Friday night’s set. Tisdale hits those friggin’ drums hard hard hard, and as a result, they’re loud loud loud. So loud that two songs in, the sound guy passed a message to Taylor, who responded with: “Those are the words I love to hear.” The “words” (I think) were “turn your guitar up,” because that’s exactly what Taylor did, and would again a couple songs later.

Does any band really need to be that loud. The answer, of course, is yes. With Taylor pushing it to 11, the earth’s tilt was restored and all was right with the world once again.  Now if only the Sydney could have turned up Heidi’s vocals, which were lost where I stood on the opposite side of the room from the stacked PA and on the other side of Tisdale. It’s a balancing act that’s been around as long as I can remember seeing Heidi and Jon play. Add Tisdale and the equation becomes that much more difficult. Something tells me that over time, they’ll work it out. So is Tisdale a permanent part of Domestica? Let’s hope so.

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Last week the folks in Travelling Mercies launched a Kickstarter campaign for their sophomore full-length album Motel. They’re trying to raise $4,000 to help cover their recording and production costs. After one weekend, they’re already 1/4 of the way there.

I’m trying to remember the last time I saw this band perform and think it had to have been years and years ago, way back in the old Saddle Creek Bar days. Back then, the band was sort of a laidback Americana/Folk band. That, apparently, no longer is the case, based on the couple demos that frontman Jeremy Holan passed along. We’re talking breakneck buzzsaw rock with a hint of Americana to give it a rural tilt. Holan sees Kickstarter as a simple way to presale the record, and to me, that’s the best way to use Kickstarter (if you’re a musician). Check it out.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2013 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.