Famous Musicians Who Lost Their Hearing

by C. Kilkelly

For musicians, you'd think hearing loss would spell financial ruin, coupled with a fate worse than debt: loving the subtleties of sound with all your might, but knowing your experience of music no longer measures up. But thankfully, there are many musical maestros who've suffered the onset of hearing loss and staved-off the silence long enough to dazzle audiences with some of their finest works.

 

BEETHOVEN TASTES THE MUSIC

Well, it would be a pretty shabby blog post on hearing impaired musicians without the master himself, wouldn't it? Famously composing his masterpiece and final work, the 9th symphony, completely deaf, Beethoven is nothing short of a musical marvel. But how did he manage to compose? Caretakers of his household noted as his hearing deteriorated, Beethoven would bite down on a pencil and position the other end onto the soundboard of the piano. This allowed the sound to travel down the makeshift sound conductor, allowing Beethoven to pick up higher frequencies of notes. In this period Beethoven composed the much-loved piece, Moonlight Sonata, clearly demonstrating he retained an exceptional taste for music.

 

STING’S RINGIN’

 

Police front-man and avid Grammy collector - so far 16 and counting – Sting describes himself as “fairly deaf”, and the word “what” his “favorite word”. Though making light of his battle with tinnitus, the multi-instrumentalist fights a good battle as ambassador for the Hear the World Foundation, campaigning for safer hearing practices and awareness.

 

NEIL YOUNG AND THE DAMAGE DONE

 

Neil Young blasted onto the music scene as a hard-rocking, guitar-shredding member of Buffalo Springfield. But it wasn't until the recording of his more mellow solo record, Harvest, that Young became a household name. Not an artist to his retrace his steps, Young reeled against melodic numbers for the best part of two decades. Oddly enough, there's a case to suggest hearing loss played a big part in making his spiritual successor to Harvest with 1992's Harvest Moon. Experiencing severe tinnitus, Young wished to make music that was easier on the ears, quieter and softer than his usual tastes, saying simply he “didn’t want to hear any loud sound”. The result was one of his highest selling albums to date, with critical acclaim to boot. Goes to show, a little peace and quiet can go a long way.

 

The Majority in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

 

On the topic of hard-rockers, according to H.E.A.R (Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers), a non-profit organization campaigning for better hearing health practices, over 60% of inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame experience hearing loss. It's no wonder when previous recipients such as bluesman, Eric Clapton, said that during rehearsals with his first band, Cream, he “probably had two 100-watt stacks at the height of things” and would “turn one on for guitar solos” cranking each giant speaker “to eleven”! Yes, it's exactly as dumb as it sounds, but he's since seen the error of his ways, giving the advice “take care and wear ear plugs”.

 

Take the Mimi Hearing Test

Musician or not, hearing loss is a real concern with one in five people aged between 65 and 74 experiencing presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss. If you too have spent too many nights rocking out next to the speaker, or find your friends and family have taken to the recent trend of constant mumbling, perhaps it's time for a check-up. Find out how your hearing's holding up in six minutes by taking the Mimi Hearing Test. Who knows, you may still have a musical masterpiece left in you.  

serena gorman