Tinnitus Awareness Week: Turn on, tune in, just don’t remove my plugs

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Tinnitus affects at least one in 10 of the UK population and there’s no cure – Getintothis‘ Matthew Eland gives an insight into his tinnitus and suggests there’s no time like the present to invest in a pair of ear plugs to safeguard your precious hearing.


I was at a Mogwai gig a few years ago, waiting for the band to come on, when a girl behind me started to poke me in the ear.

Or, more specifically, at the squeezey little cylinder of foam I’d rolled up between both index fingers and allowed to decompress in my external acoustic meatus.

Her objection didn’t seem to be that instead of buying the cheap airline/swimming pool pharmacy ones I could have shelled out a few more quid and invested in proper silicon ear defenders – which instead of cutting out all the high end equalised the volume – but that I was wearing them at all.

Take them out,’ she said, actually removing one from my ear, which I quickly had to snatch back. I had spares, as always, just in case I dropped one into the urinal trough, but I prefer to use them only as a last resort.
Luckily she wandered off shortly afterwards and I didn’t have to spend the whole gig ducking and cringing at every digit that strayed into my peripheral vision. But what was it about my earplugs that provoked such derision?

The bands certainly wear them – you don’t play hundreds of gigs a year without safeguarding what is, as a musician, your primary asset.

Why is it so, then, that I’m always ready, around other punters, to imagine whoever’s behind me nudging their friend in the side and mumbling, with a smirk, an invitation to check out the nerd in front? Why don’t audiences seem to be wearing them?

Perhaps it’s because you’re there for the volume. Why shell out for a gig in the first place if you’re going to wilfully prevent half of the experience from reaching you? Maybe it’s just not very rock and roll, especially if you’re at a louder gig and being sensible, thinking of the future instead of living in the moment.

These were a couple of the reasons I told myself when I first started playing in bands as a teenager. Our practise spaces were always small with immediate acoustics. It was fun to turn our amps up as high as they’d go, with everything louder than everything else, and pleasing to walk around afterwards with your voice dulled and distant behind a ringing, sibilant pitch.

You felt like you’d worked and rocked harder. As the gigs and practises piled up, however, it didn’t fade away as the day went by, and sometimes you’d lie in bed with a ringing noise in your ears, wondering if it really was the sound of that particular frequency dying forever.

I once asked a bandmate if it worried him. He said he found it therapeutic to listen to at the end of the day as he drifted off to sleep. I, however, got sick of listening to it roaring away in my ears all the time.

Was I the only one who was mildly concerned? Wasn’t everyone else being a bit cavalier about it? Especially after hearing stories about people who were half deaf through industrial exposure to very loud noise, or who’d seen Sabbath in the seventies and not been right since. I started to think that hearing damage might be a macho rite worth skipping.

Perhaps these are bills – just like diabetes, liver disease, emphysema, traffic congestion, rapid population growth, the slow erosion of the countryside to urban sprawl, and rising emissions – that can be dealt with later.

Or maybe not. If you’re convulsing on the floor at a SunnO))) show, with the doom throbbing at your kidneys, isn’t a little part of you considering the aural hangover, which is in a way the most immediate form of permanent damage you can do to yourself?

If you’re one of those people who says they don’t mind, or that their cochlea structures are impervious to trauma, then I’d say to you a) you’re listening to boring music and b) your time will come. Maybe you’re happy not wearing them. Good. I’m glad you’re happy. I’m happy as well.

I’m no longer disturbed by unwelcome frequencies keening in my ears until I have to live with it as a default setting. It’s still there, in quiet rooms with only the pulse of my heartbeat thundering in my forehead to compete, but it’s under control – it could be worse.

To all my fellow ear-defender comrades, I say lets not be ashamed any more; let us no longer be self conscious. There are more of us out there than we think. Treat it as a badge of honour, proof of more gigs, more practise, more volume.

And for the non-earplug wearers, with your smug exhortations and derisory laughter – don’t go poking me in the ears. Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never make me remove my plugs.


For another excellent blog on tinnitus awareness, read Simon Pursehouse‘s account on Sentric here.
British Tinnitus Association.
Further reading on Getintothis
Getintothis on one of the best, and loudest gigs we’ve ever witnessed, Swans live in Manchester.
Getintothis on Sunn O))): Monoliths & Dimensions.
Getintothis on Mogwai at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall.

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