The sounds of silence
Guilt attends my absence from these metaphorical pages. Not because I seek community — I’m too much a misanthrope for that — but because I am obliged to submit to the discipline of regular writing. To make the words dance, as I once hoped. And because, try as I may, I remain captive to waves of sound which wrap around my head and dive through my ears into some unseen place. To the endless search for delight.
My father, from whom I gained a love of bluegrass (and some other things of less regular service), began to suffer hearing loss a decade or so back. Some of this, doubtless, is age. Most of it, he thinks, has to do with the very large naval guns which were stationed right next to his radar shack during his small part of World War II.
Many years ago I saw the Ramones at the Showbox in Seattle. Before the Showbox had been renovated into the finery which now adorns it. Back when First Avenue was the kind of place Tom Waits wrote about, not the kind of place tourists sought out, where developers erected condominiums. I stood in the back of that fairly large room. And my ears rang for two days after. Ever since, up until my last few years in Nashville, I wore earplugs. Always. They rested in my pants pocket. Those last few years, when much of what I saw was acoustic, I took to leaving the earplugs out. And I never invested in the good ones.
Point being I’ve tried to take good care of my hearing. In part this is because my eyesight started going bad in second grade. Nobody has been able to write a prescription for me which allows me to read freeway signs before it’s too late, and driving back roads at night is a dodgy proposition, and probably not safe for anybody involved. I love to drive, but have learned that one of the virtues of having married a younger woman is that she can still see where we’re going. (Plus she has a sense of direction.)
So some weeks back when I began to awaken to something less than the clear sounds of morning to which I am accustomed, it troubled me a bit. But it passed, an hour or two into the day, and I chalked it up to allergies. Which may yet prove the case. But they’ve gotten worse, not better, and haven’t cleared up entirely for a week. It still ebbs and flows, my hearing, but it’s not good, and no matter how much I tease my wife about marital deafness, it’s an increasing pain.
Happily, I have a doctor friend in town. Unhappily, he tells me that this clogging of my Eustachian tubes may last six weeks. And so I wait.
Now…I am mindful of a couple things as I type this. First, that some of my readers, those familiar with my body of work (ahem!), will come to the conclusion that I’ve been deaf ever since I began writing about music. And second, that this seems the opening for a pity party.
The first you can decide for yourself. The second…no. It is what it is. It will pass. Or, perhaps, it won’t pass, in which case…perhaps I won’t need earplugs when it comes time to pick up the chainsaw next.
In the meantime, I am learning some things.
The world is not kind to those who don’t hear well. (I’m sure this doesn’t come as a surprise.) I can remember my dad talking too softly when first he got hearing aids, because he’d lost the sense of how much volume his muscles produced. He got it back, but it was an awkward couple months before he did. My wife, for the moment, has to tell me to speak up. Sometimes. And we have long been aware that he can’t hear much in large, public places — like restaurants.
Having spent last weekend at a booksellers’ convention in Dearborn, Michigan, I can attest to that. One learns quickly enough to cover for the impairment, to nod, to seem curt or uninterested or to look elsewhere. To let somebody else talk. To tell your spouse to hold that thought for a quieter place, which sometimes works.
And then there’s the whole Beethoven thing, the writing of his ninth symphony in absolute silence. My hunch is that, past his brilliance, he was doing a thing he had done (well, eight times) before, and that the writing of a symphony is largely an imaginative exercise held within one’s head, not something one really accomplishes with fingers on a keyboard. The sounds one generates are, I suspect, simply reminders.
I’m not writing a symphony. But I am in the process of cobbling together another radio show. Ordinarily this involves pouring song after song into iTunes, sequencing them, putting them on shuffle until the strongest win out. In this case, I’m trying to come up with a Thanksgiving show (and you’re invited at this point to do some of my work for me and come up with suggestions; it doesn’t seem a holiday which has inspired a great body of work, “Alice’s Restaurant” notwithstanding). And, because I can hear a bit, but not well, not well enough truly to enjoy what I’m hearing, it’s become a speculative, imaginative exercise.
Not a bad thing, but not something I should like to accustom myself to.
And so it goes.
Anyhow. That’s why I’m a bit less present here than I should like. No sympathy, no worries. I’ll get to that Jamey Johnson blog in a bit, once I find both CDs and can hear them without torturing the entire neighborhood.