So there I was, age 14 or 15 or so, at an outdoor punk rock show featuring Dynamite Boy and Pennywise. Yes, I'm old.
The son of a composer and conductor, I had been told early and often about the damage that concert levels of sound can do to my hearing over the long term. "Always wear earplugs," quoth Dad, whose hearing is good but could be better if he'd heeded (or even heard) these warnings in his youth.
The punk show was LOUD. So loud that even being a teenager in a punk band myself and enjoying loud distorted guitar, I was in pain. Perhaps if I had been of drinking age, I wouldn't have cared as much after a few beers in, but I was stone cold sober and looking for a solution.
I didn't want to leave the show — I couldn't, because I didn't drive there — and I didn't want to miss any of the awesome bands, so the best I could come up with was to visit the bathroom and make a pair of earplugs for myself out of toilet paper.
It was tricky making them big enough, but I jammed 'em in there, breathed a sigh of relief and went back to the show. Afterward, I took them out and thought little of it until a few days later when I started getting headaches and pain in one of my ears. I went to the doctor and, after some looking and digging, he pulled a hidden piece of my plug out from deep in my ear.
While he commended me on protecting my hearing, he offered that tissue paper is not the way to get it done. Besides not providing a very good seal to keep sound levels down, they had an obvious flaw that was clear to see as he pulled the thing out.
The more people I talk to about hearing loss and how to prevent it, the more I hear stories like this. So many folks attend shows where the sound is deafeningly loud and they're in pain, but they look around, and nobody else seems to be wincing or holding their ears. Everyone's holding their beers and, I guess, suffering through it until it doesn't hurt any more.
Our bodies have a couple of systems in place to deal with excessive volume, but these offer limited, short-term help. We need to be the adult in the room and remove ourselves from dangerous volumes so these features can reset and our hearing can normalize.
I was talking to my friend Dan about this, and he had some interesting insight. He used to work at the Gothic, Bluebird and Fillmore music venues in Denver, and he clued me into exactly where I went wrong as a teen at the show.
Almost all music venues have earplugs. They stock them mostly for the staff, but if you ask nicely, they will likely be able to provide you a pair. Some venues even sell earplugs behind the bar.
Do what I did, but don't do exactly what I did. Don't ignore the pain — ask a bartender for a little help, and enjoy your show.