Dire Straits bass player John Illsley is suffering from hearing loss after years of loud music and concerts. The 64-year-old rocker recently spoke to the BBC about the hearing problems he’s experiencing. Illsley told the BBC that he can no longer listen to loud music and that he often hears music as no more than noise, unable to distinguish the words and melodies.
A Problem Just for Rockers?
Illsley is hardly the first rock musician to suffer from premature hearing loss. Just among Brits, Oasis’s Noel Gallagher, Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Phil Collins, and The Who’s Pete Townshend have publicly discussed their difficulties hearing. As Illsley said to the BBC, "It's an occupational hazard... It's difficult to play a gig quietly... You just get damaged; it's one of those things... It really needs looking at pretty seriously."
While Illsley highlights the problem for rock musicians, they aren’t the only ones susceptible to hearing problems from loud music; the audience is also at risk, especially if they frequently expose themselves to the decibel levels of rock concerts (or any other loud concert event). Illsley related a story to the BBC: "My son went to a club in London about seven or eight years ago and he had tinnitus for three years after it.”
Illsley went on to say "I've noticed a lot more people my age and younger wearing hearing aids... There's just a problem... It really needs looking at."
The Musical Link
Recent studies are investigating the connection between listening to loud music and hearing loss. One UK study is gathering data through an interactive online survey that tests volunteers’ hearing and asks about their music-listening habits. The link between loud music (or any loud noise) is intuitive and widely accepted, but the study seeks to pinpoint what volume, and at what frequency of exposure, causes what level of hearing loss.
Martin, for one, believes that his hearing troubles began before his performing career, due to his listening habits. In 2012 he spoke to the Daily Mail, explaining that he had been experiencing tinnitus for a decade and blaming his hearing problems on listening to loud music as a teenager. He went on to say that since doctors warned him that his tinnitus could end his career prematurely, he has worn earplugs when performing or attending concerts and that his symptoms stopped worsening once he took protective measures.
Specially-designed ear plugs like the ones Martin employs may offer help to performers (as Illsley says, it’s tough to have a quiet rock concert), but for music fans, there are simpler ways to protect their hearing. Keeping volume at reasonable levels, especially when listening to portable MP3 players with earbuds or headphones, is a good start. If the person next to you can hear your music, it’s probably loud enough to do damage. Being careful about how loud you play your music now may allow you to still be able to enjoy it decades from now.