Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A personal note on the Hamasaki Ayumi announcement

In a nation that gave the world the Walkman and where every other person seems to have earphones on, the news that pop princess Hamasaki Ayumi has lost all hearing in her left ear may instigate, at long last, a discussion of what constitutes a reasonable fear of sonic pollution and auditory damage.

First, the news reports are confusing matters a bit. Hamasaki has gone deaf in her left ear, probably from nerve ending death. Her condition may spread to her remaining good ear or may stabilize. Hamasaki may also be suffering from tinnitus, a constant ringing or buzzing in the ear resulting usually from a loud sounds bending or breaking the sensory hairs in the ear, leaving the sound sensor permanently in the "ON" position. Tinnitus is a common condition of musicians, soldiers and race car enthusiasts.

Tinnitus does not cause deafness or even precede it. Beethoven, who is always trotted out at any time one talks about musicians going deaf, suffered from both deafness and tinnitus--but the combination of the two has no single identifiable medical cause.

I have had fun at Hamasaki's expense in the past (it wasn't until I did a search that I realized how many times I have mentioned her). Her contribution to the musical life of the country has been risible. The news of her deafness, however, is sad--particular as the odds are not good for her retaining hearing in her remaining good ear.

Typically--and infuriatingly--she has vowed to continue singing for as long as she can. Gaman and gambaru are all fine and dandy but putting on a show of a fighting spirit against deafness is pointless. The body will fail before the will--if her condition worsens listeners will begin squirming as each performance goes increasingly awry.

If Hamasaki indeed also has tinnitus, the very last thing she should do is expose herself to loud sound again. It is not that the damage will get worse (though it could) but that the ringing is quantized--certain sounds at certain volumes will trigger a torrent hiss that can takes days or weeks to die down to a murmur.

Given the large number of musicians with noise-caused tinnitus, Hamasaki's handlers and her music company know full she should not be near amplified sound ever again.

They do not care.

The psychological impact of both conditions is huge. Deafness, particularly deafness that comes after the onset of adulthood, cuts oneself off from the two most fundamental of human joys, conversation and music. Tinnitus is debilitating: the buzzing and whooshing makes it difficult to rest or even think.

I wish Ms. Hamasaki well...and wish that someone would take responsibility for preparing her for the worst.

MTC has had tinnitus since March 10, 2000.

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