Music can be happy, 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 adorning 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 be may not be noise pollution, but it sure can hurt.
The Hearing Professionals has come up with our list of Top 10 Musicians With Hearing Loss.
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 – John Michael “Ozzy” Osbourne is an English heavy metal vocalist and songwriter, whose musical career has spanned over 40 years. Osbourne rose to prominence as lead singer of the pioneering English bend Black Sabbath, whose dark and hard sound helped spawn the heavy metal genre. Due to the dark style, Osbourne became known as the “Prince of Darkness” and as the “Godfather of Heavy Metal.” Osbourne has achieved multi-platinum status as a solo artist and with Black Sabbath and has sold over 100 million albums worldwide. In 2010 Osbourne was fit with new hearing aids. He later admitted that decades of loud, pounding music caused him to suffer from hearing loss. Today he is a spokesperson for several musician-related hearing loss associations.
8. Phil Collins – Phil Collins is an English singer-songwriter, drummer, pianist and actor best known as a drummer and vocalist for the British rock group Genesis and as a solo artist. Collins has won numerous music awards throughout his career, including seven Grammy Awards, five Brit Awards (winning Best British Male three times) an Academy Award, and two Golden Globes for his solo work. He was introduced into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Genesis in 2010. Collins is one of only three recoding artists (along with Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson) who have sold over 100 million albums worldwide. In 2000 Collins announced he was suffering from tinnitus and hearing loss in his right ear and that he would be retiring from performing. He came back in 2007 for a Genesis reunion tour, a solo album in 2010 and then officially retired in 2011.
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 andAmerica. 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 Von Beetoven – 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.
Do you know of other musicians with hearing loss that you think should be on this list? If so, let me know. I’m all ears!!