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.

Lazy-i

Column 279: Lincoln Invasion recap; Benson hostel benefit tonight; now open ’til 2 a.m…

Mercy Rule at The Waiting Room, July 9, 2010.

Mercy Rule at The Waiting Room, Lincoln Invasion, July 9, 2010.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Lincoln Invasion organizer Jeremy Buckley e-mailed late yesterday to say that bands who took part in this year’s festival took home $80 each vs. $30 each at least year’s event — quite a bump in pay. Yeah, I know, $80 ain’t much, but at least it’s something, especially considering that the bands had to make the drive from Lincoln — most of them in gas-guzzling Econolines. Ain’t nothing wrong with getting paid…


Column 279: Attack from Star City!!!!

Live Review: Lincoln Invasion, Pt. II

Another Lincoln Invasion has come and gone. And so the question begs to be asked: Which city — Omaha or Lincoln — has the better band roster?

But before we get to that, Lincoln Invasion organizer Jeremy Buckley chimed in to say that last Friday night’s “festival,” featuring more than 20 Lincoln bands at six Benson venues, was a moderate success. “The attendance numbers will be impossible to calculate completely accurately, but if we assume that every patron paid $8 to attend ($5 got you into one venue) then we had about 326 paid,” he said. “So that would be the low end for overall attendance. For last year I’d have to guess but I’d bet we had about 300 paid over the course of two days. So yeah, better all around. Here’s to hoping next year we have even better luck, though this year was more than we could’ve expected.”

Fewer bands but higher attendance should have translated into more money per band — that’s right, unlike the OEAA Benson festivals, bands actually get paid to play Lincoln Invasion via a split of the overall door take — a novel idea. Here’s my recap:

Singer/songwriter Ember Schrag closed out the early bill at Benson Grind. With her ’70s chop haircut and plaid skirt, Schrag reminded me of one of the Tuscadaro sisters — Leather or Pinky, I’m not sure which — but sounded like Regina Spektor backed by a bass player and Omahan Gary Foster on drums. Her easy-going acoustic ballads had the rural flair of Basia Bulat and the sophistication of Suzanne Vega, though Schrag sings as well or better than either of them. Too bad an ever-present buzzing from the PA effectively killed my buzz throughout her set.

Next up down at The Barley Street was Shipbuilding Company, a five-piece with keyboards and wobbly voiced frontman Mike Elsener (ex-Head of Femur) on acoustic guitar. Their music seemed to target a slacker / Pavement / low-fi crowd, and most of the time just missed the mark as it wandered over a baroque landscape that was a bit too frilly for my taste. That is until their finale, when the keyboardist pulled out a melodica and it all came crashing together on a roaring indie pop rocker that I’d like to hear again right now.

Masses at The Waiting Room was an endurance test. The guitar-heavy four-piece launched its set with some spacey, trance-y stuff that quickly shifted into catchy math. But it was all downhill after that, as the instrumental-only outfit poured it on way too heavy, and turned into a messy cacophony of noise where everything blurred into everything else until you began to wonder if they knew what they were doing. Did I mention it was loud — thunderously, painfully loud? People escaped onto the sidewalk in front of the club holding their ears, catching a break from the throbbing, raw din that rolled and rolled and rolled always at the same plodding, Excedrine headache pace. How about some dynamics, boys? Without it, you’re just making intricate, painful noise. The set became a sonic wrestling match between the band and the crowd, and by the end it felt like a bully standing on your neck, testing to see how much more you could take.

After the feedback cleared, the crowd slowly funneled back into The Waiting Room for legendary ’90s band Mercy Rule. What can I say that hasn’t already been said about the trio other than their sound never seems to age? Earnest, stoic working-man guitarist Jon Taylor hasn’t lost his angry touch, nor his love for ear-bleeding volume.  So just like every other Mercy Rule shows from back in the day, lead vocalist Heidi Ore’s delicate crooning was lost and buried beneath the guitar-fueled tonnage — and it’s still a shame.

The band took the opportunity to try out a few new songs that were harder and harsher than anything from a catalog that spans 20 years. But it was the old familiar songs that the crowd fully embraced and none more so than set closer “Summer,” where Heidi belted out the tune’s signature line, “I love summer when it’s HOT, HOT HOT.” Mercy Rule continues to be one of Nebraska’s most dynamic and fun bands (and most photogenic, thanks to their trademark floor-mounted flood lights). Their heroic anthems are as relentless as a semi-truck barreling down on you, growing ever larger in the rear-view, about to crush everything in its path. If we’re lucky, it’ll never slow down.

Last stop was at The Barley Street Tavern where punk duo Once A Pawn closed out the evening. Drummer/frontwoman Catherine Balta’s voice kinda/sorta reminded me of Gabby Glaser of Luscious Jackson belting out her punk rants in a slightly atonal caterwaul, while guitarist/co-pilot Eric Scrivens gleefully spun in circles like a dog chasing its tail. As cute as they were angsty, the duo’s Achilles heel was the similitude of their compositions — after awhile, they all began to sound the same, but I guess you could also say that about The Ramones.

So which music scene — Omaha’s or Lincoln’s — has the better collection of bands? These days, Lincoln has the upper hand when it comes to sheer variety, especially when Omaha seems content with its ever-growing parade of Americana folk bands. I guess we’ll have to wait until after this weekend’s Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards Summer Showcase before we can deterimine a real winner.

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Moments after posting yesterday’s blog update, the listing for the $299 “buy now”-priced pair of Concert for Equality tickets on ebay disappeared. I guess the seller must read Lazy-i or the tickets sold. Then this morning a different pair went up on ebay (here), this time for a buy-now price of $315!

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Earlier this year (or maybe it was late last year?) Singer/songwriter/musician Brad Hoshaw shared an idea with me: To create a musicians’ hostel out of his Benson apartment where out-of-towners could find a cheap, clean, safe place to sleep while in town on tour. If Benson is going to become Omaha’s version of Austin’s 6th Street, there has to be a lodging option besides asking from stage if anyone can spare some floorspace, or spending precious tour revenue on a hotel room located miles away.

Well, months later the Benson Musicians Hostel is open for business. Located at 6051 1/2 Maple St. Apt. #2, the hostel has bed-space for six people, though more can crash on the floor if need be. The price is $10 per bed or $40 for your entire posse. Amenities include a kitchen, stereo (w/turntable and records), an empty “mini-bar” and, of course, a full bathroom.  Judging by the photos on the hostel’s Facebook page, the place looks rather cozy. Sayeth Mr. Hoshaw: “Other than providing a convenience for those that bring art/entertainment into our city, my hope is that the bands will linger in the mornings and spend money on Maple St, before they leave town. Thus helping the retail shops, restaurants, auto mechanics, grocery stores, etc.”

Bravo! To help get the ball rolling, a fundraising concert is beind held tonight at The Barley Street Tavern to raise cash to cover some basic operational expenses and add amenities such as a washer/dryer and WiFi. The cover is $5, and there will be a donation jar on the bar.

The performance line-up:

9 p.m.: Chad Wallin
9:30 p.m.: All Young Girls are Machine Guns –
10 p.m.: Doug Flynn (Comedian)
10:15 p.m.: Brad Hoshaw (Brad Hoshaw & the Seven Deadlies)
10:45 p.m.: Jake Bellows
11:15 p.m.: Justin Lamoureux (Midwest Dilemma)

Midnight: Cass Brostad (Cass Fifty and the Family Gram, Traveling Mercies)

12:30 a.m.: Andrew Bailie (It’s True!, Riverside Anthology, The Wholes)

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The new 2 a.m. closing time for Omaha bars begins tonight. As I reported earlier, One Percent Productions has no intention of pushing band start-times back at its shows. Only time will tell if their approach will also make sense for less-savory places like O’Leaver’s (where I definitely could see shows going later) or fancy-smancy Slowdown (very unlikely  — they rarely run past 12:30 now). In the end, it’s much ado about nothing, at least for me.

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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 © 2010 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i