H.E.A R. and Now! - Loud Clubs and Hearing Loss From the
San Francisco Examiner, February 24, 2002 H.E.A.R. and now
By Bill Picture of The Examiner Staff
Don't mistake that annoying ringing in your ears the
morning after a concert or a night out clubbing for an indication
of good times. It actually may be a warning sign of permanent
damage to your ears.
Kathy Peck, executive director of San Francisco-based Hearing
Education and Awareness for Rockers (H.E.A.R.), learned that
the hard way. And for the last 13 years, she has dedicated
her time and energy to letting musicians and music lovers
know that while earplugs may not exactly be cool or sexy,
neither is having to wear a hearing aid.
Peck co-founded H.E.A.R. in 1988 with San Francisco physician
Dr. Flash Gordon (that's his real name), and the organization
now boasts such big-name supporters as Perry Farrell of Jane's
Addiction, Chuck D. of Public Enemy, Lars Ulrich of Metallica,
Green Day, Ray Charles and George Clinton, to name a few.
Many of these artists have contributed both their money and
their celebrity,filming public service announcements which
air on national television and can be accessed via H.E.A.R.'s
Into the ring Such high profile connections are the
result of Peck's years in the music biz, many of them spent
tearing up the bass and touring the country with her band
The Contractions, an all-female rock trio that emerged from
the punk/New Wave scene of the late '70s and early '80s. The
band's unconventional style allowed the girls to break out
of the confines of the local punk scene and scored them a
number of opening spots on tours with headliners like Duran
Duran and the Go-Go's.
In fact, it was after opening for Duran Duran across the
Bay at the Oakland Coliseum one night in 1984 that Peck finally
recognized the damage caused by the more-than-a-decade's worth
of exposure to higher-than-normal sound levels. "I woke up
the next morning and my ears were ringing really bad," she
says. "They rang for days, and it just got worse and worse,
to the point where I couldn't hear at all." Peck says she
had to wear hearing aids in both ears for the next 10 years
before she was eventually able to undergo corrective laser
surgery which restored some of her hearing. "I was lucky,"
she admits. "I got a second chance."
But during that decade of silence, Peck decided to share
her story with fellow rockers in the hope that she might help
them avoid a similar fate. With Gordon's help, she set up
hearing clinics at the Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic,
where musicians and music fans were invited to come down for
free hearing tests and to pick up a pair of ear plugs. But
Peck knew it was going totake more than that to get her message
out. Around the same time, Pete Townsend of The Who went public
with information about his hearing loss. Upon reading an article
about it in Rolling Stone, Peck sprung into action, utilizing
her industry contacts to reach Townsend in hopes that she
might convince him to help her organization grow beyond just
a free hearing clinic held a couple times a month. Townsend
was impressed and, almost on the spot, cut a check to H.E.A.R.
to help get them going.
Taking it to the streets Taking a proactive approach
to educating people is a crucial part of H.E.A.R.'s mission.
Take a look around you on the street or on the bus: Most young
people won't even leave the house without portable cassette
or CD players strapped to their side. These are the people
that Peck knew she had to reach. So she joined forces with
an education publisher, It's About Time, and went to work
making a video, "Can't Hear You Knocking," which now is used
as a part of the active curriculum of some 10,000 school districts
around the country to let kids know about the dangers of loud
music, be it from speakers or headphones.
At its core, H.E.A.R. remains a grassroots organization,
and spreading the word has been a labor of love for Peck.
Her staff is made up of volunteers who share her passion for
preventing hearing loss, and she relies heavily on artists
-- both big and small -- to help get the word out.
The newest addition to H.E.A.R.'s growing list of celebrity
endorsers is Daly City turntable wizard Q-Bert of The Invisibl
Skratch Piklz. Now that Peck has spread the word in the rock
community, she's directing her focus on the DJ and dance music
scene. "These DJs' ears are getting pounded out there night
after night," explains Peck. "So I've been doing a lot of
outreach to the DJ community, especially here in the Bay Area
with the help of Q-Bert and Spundae, Spesh and Polywog (from
H.E.A.R. has joined forces with other club-scene advocacy
groups like the San Francisco Late Night Coalition, Electric
Dreams Foundation and Dancesafe to distribute free earplugs
in the clubs, as well as postcards outlining the risks to
patrons' ears. Peck says the sound level in many dance clubs
can cause damage to ears within just a few seconds, and she
cites a study commissioned in Great Britain in which 62 percent
of respondents who said they regularly go out clubbing reported
symptoms of hearing loss.
The Internet has made it easier for H.E.A.R. to reach more
people; Peck reports the organization's Web site receives
nearly a million hits each year. But she says there is still
a lot of work to be done, and she hopes to launch a nationwide
-- and maybe even worldwide --
street team program, where volunteers can set up a local
chapter of H.E.A.R. in their own community. "I'd like for
H.E.A.R. to be like the Boy Scouts," she jokes.
The plug Peck admits she's still tempted to turn up the volume
herself, comparing loud music to an aphrodisiac: "It's uplifting
and energizing. It just makes you feel good." But she says
people must be aware of the associated risks. If you like
it loud and spend a fair amount of time in clubs listening
or dancing to high-decibel music, Peck offers a simple piece
of advice: WEAR EARPLUGS! "A good pair of ear plugs will reduce
the sound pressure level but still allow you to hear all the
frequencies -- high, middle and low," she says. "Protect your
hearing, guys, 'cause if you can't hear it, you can't enjoy
it." Contact H.E.A.R. at P.O. Box 460847, San Francisco 94146;
(415) > 773-9590; or www.hearnet.com.