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10 Famous Musicians With Hearing Damage

Andrew Mendelson

Music can be plaintive, peaceful, bitter, aggressive—but most of all it can be loud. Very, very loud. Think about the best concert you ever attended. The music was delightful and immersing, but on the way back home you couldn’t manage to get that ringing out of your ears. Now, imagine the stress performance places on the musicians themselves, wailing away every night for legions of adoring fans, all the while standing next to mammoth speakers blaring for hours at a time. Yup, it can get loud out there, which can cause significant hearing damage over time for the performers. Yet these musicians managed to create immensely popular, long-lasting music, which in some cases seems like a miracle. Rock and Roll may not be noise pollution, but it sure can hurt.

10

Neil Young

One of the all-time greatest musicians and songwriters, Neil Young has left an indelible mark on the world of music, twice elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He has created over thirty unique albums and contributed to countless more, all the while retaining an unusually consistent quality. With acclaimed protest songs (e.g. “Ohio”), plaintive ballads (“Heart of Gold”), and hard rock masterpieces (“Cowgirl in the Sand”), he has enjoyed unbelievable popular and critical success. Through it all, he has suffered from tinnitus, a common affliction for rock stars, that involves a persistent ringing in the ears, more often than not connected with some degree of hearing loss. In fact, his obsession with softer, acoustic music in the ‘90s may owe itself to this hearing condition.

9

Ozzy Osbourne

A pioneering force in heavy metal’s early history, Ozzy has become one of the most successful musicians of all time. In addition to his acclaimed career, with and without Black Sabbath, he also helped to revive the concert extravaganzas of recent by establishing Ozzfest, one of the most thriving concert series of all time. However, due to years of metal and, let’s say, an ‘alternate lifestyle,’ the Wizard of Ozz has suffered significant hearing loss. Watch an episode of “The Osbournes,” and you’ll know what I mean.

8

Phil Collins

With accolades ranging from Oscars to Grammys and Golden Globes, you could say Phil Collins owns an impressive array of trophies. After forming Genesis, a seminal band of the ‘70s and ‘80s, Collins enjoyed a long lasting, greatly rewarding solo career. Unfortunately, this year he announced that he would no longer tour, citing a hearing condition that has plagued the performer for years. That said, I believe “Tarzan” has the greatest soundtrack ever, and on this issue I will not budge.

7

George Martin

Evidently, not only the musicians themselves are susceptible. Martin, of course, was catapulted to worldwide fame as a producer for The Beatles. Exhibiting heavy influence on the group, Martin has been referred to by various sources as the “Fifth Beatle.” Of course, he shares this ‘distinction’ with about twenty other people. Aside from working with the world’s greatest rock band, Martin also produced hits by many distinguished artists, including Elton John and America. Like Collins, Martin was recently forced to retire because his ears lost the precise touch that made the producer famous.

6

will.i.am

Critics may not necessarily believe that he is a great artist, but nobody can deny the massive influence will.i.am has exerted over the musical world, both as a founding member of The Black Eyed Peas and as a producer. He has released highly successful albums, such as Monkey Business and Elephunk, and in the latter utility has produced artists as distinguished as Michael Jackson, Rihanna and Britney Spears. According to will.i.am, every silence is interrupted by a painful ringing, which drives him to create music at all hours of the day.

5

Brian Wilson

Whereas most musicians on this page owe their hearing damage to loud music over the span of many years, Wilson has had little to no hearing in his right ear since his early days. Despite this condition, he orchestrated one of the most sonically gorgeous albums of all time, The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds.” Such an accomplishment was especially impressive, considering he essentially recorded them with one working ear, a fact Bob Dylan pointed out in his usual acerbic way, by saying, “Jesus, look at that ear. He should donate it to the Smithsonian.”

4

Jeff Beck

Through his fervent desire to achieve the ultimate sound, Jeff Beck has put his guitars through every possible test. His influence is expansive, branching out to heavy metal, electronica and progressive rock. He was ranked as the fourteenth greatest guitarist of all time by Rolling Stone. Here again, years of loud music day in and day out left Beck with a moderately painful onset of tinnitus. It should be noted that Beck got his big break playing lead guitar for the hugely influential Yardbirds. Of course, he replaced a legend…

3

Eric Clapton

How can one start to describe a legend? Let’s just say that Clapton made the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame three times, the only artist to accomplish this feat. By catapulting acts like The Yardbirds, Cream and Derek & The Dominoes to worldwide fame, Clapton has made a name for himself as, well, an immortal. Little did we know that he has had to face drug addiction, alcoholism and incessant tinnitus while creating such timeless music. He lived hard, he rocked hard, and now he’s hard of hearing. Much like…

2

Pete Townshend

Who? PETE TOWNSHEND! You know, that guy who composed the first rock opera, made smashing one’s guitar a cultural phenomenon, and wrote some of the most timeless songs, such as “My Generation,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” and “Pinball Wizard.” A penchant for being the world’s loudest band gave all four members of The Who lifelong battles with hearing loss, an issue most problematic with Townshend. The loud music, in conjunction with pyrotechnic equipment demolishing acts, such as their infamous performance on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, has given the rock star a debilitating case of hearing loss. Despite this difficulty, he, like every other member of this list, has persisted, continuing to play extravagant live shows.

1

Ludwig van Beethoven

Who else but history’s most legendary deaf composer? Whereas most members of this list have dealt with frustrating inconveniences, Beethoven was completely shut off from the world of noise by 1814, although he continued creating masterpieces, such as his Ninth Symphony. Historians have debated endlessly over the cause of his deafness, pointing to potential culprits such as the high amount of lead in his body, and his ritual of dousing himself with frigid water to remain awake. Why he lost his hearing may remain a mystery; however, his music will live on forever, heard and enjoyed by every new generation.

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