Finding inspiration in the success of others
I recently woke up deaf in my left ear. As you can imagine, it wasn’t one of my favourite experiences. Whilst my hearing didn’t disappear completely (and has now mostly returned), at the time, my world was enveloped by something all too consuming – tinnitus.
I’ve heard a high-pitched ringing in my ears for years now, yet it never seemed to truly bother me, hovering displaced somewhere in the background. However, this day a new sound entered that was far louder than anything I’d ever heard. It was the sound of a running waterfall, roaring into my consciousness, overpowering everything from my concentration to my ability to properly hear music. Worst of all, it had a strong tonal element sitting solidly around 515 Hz (or so I measured), which just happens to be a slightly flat C5.
As a musician, I now had a constant off-key distraction to work against and initially felt completely unsure as to whether it was indeed possible to continue. Fortunately, this thought eventually led to something more positive – surely other musicians had faced something similar? Surely other artists had learned to live with the challenges of this internal distraction? And surely others had managed to not only create but succeed at doing so. Eventually I wound up here, searching for a list of inspiration to help pull me out of despair and realising there wasn’t one. So, here’s my list, and I hope it helps you too.
Chris Martin (Coldplay)
I’ve been a huge fan of Chris Martin’s since stumbling across Coldplay’s EP, The Blue Room. Co-creation of the phrase ‘conscious uncoupling’ aside, the man is a genius. However, he is also an artist who has gone on the record about his experience with tinnitus and the need to care for your ears. Martin apparently started hearing tinnitus at the age of 25, which would place this in the same year that he and Coldplay worked on and released their breakthrough album, A Rush of Blood to the Head. Impressive.
Ryan Adams is undoubtedly a huge inspiration for me. Not only does he experience tinnitus, but he lives with Meniere’s Disease, a condition of progressive deafness and balance issues (to say the least). He first started hearing tinnitus in 2005, describing it as “an overwhelming noise that never stopped in my left ear, 24 hours a day…. on a good day, it sounded like the wind was howling and there was a siren. On a bad day, it sounded like I was standing in front of a jet engine in front of my left ear”. While he may have taken a two-year break from music to get on top of it all, he came back soaring to achieve more success than he ever had, working on a prolific number of songs and an album reaching No. 7 in the Billboard charts.
When you’ve one 10 Grammy Awards, can you call yourself a success? I damn well think so, and these make up only a small handful of the overall accolades Streisand has received over a lifetime of achievement. And yet, she too has done it all with ‘strange noises’ in her ears, ones that started as early for her as the sixth grade, meaning she has gone her entire performance career living with and conquering tinnitus. Streisand has been vocal about her experiences, using her platform to help raise awareness and demystify it all.
I have a guilty confession to make: I love Sting. I grew up remotely, where the majority of my musical exposure came from the limited collection of my parents’ CDs, and you can bet they were played on repeat. With Sting’s Fields of Gold: The Best of Sting 1984-1994 being one of them, how could I not become a fan? He too has written, recorded and performed hearing not only with tinnitus, but also with deafness at the hands of sound over-exposure and age. Neither of which appear to have slowed him down, and having seen him recently perform with Paul Simon in 2015, I’d say he’s still sounding top notch.
Both the singer (Thomas Yorke) and bassist (Colin Greenwood) have gone on the record as hearing tinnitus during their lives. Greenwood in particular suffered a rather sudden and scary incident, going deaf during the recording of the band’s album, In Rainbows. While his hearing mostly returned, he joined the ranks of fellow bandmate, Yorke, to experience tinnitus. As challenging as this must have been for both, Radiohead continued to power through to not only release In Rainbows in 2007, but a further two records since, including their most recent instalment, A Moon Shaped Pool, which once again took the band to No. 1 in the UK’s Official Albums Chart.
No one can deny how difficult living with tinnitus can be. It impacts us all uniquely, making it a very individual journey. For me, however, I found comfort in the knowledge that other musicians had not only experienced something similar, but continued to write, record and perform.
I hope it does the same for you too.
By Siobhan McGinnity
BSc., MClinAud, MAud, PhD Candidate