Reclaiming A Musical Life After Decades Of Hearing Loss

Reclaiming A Musical Life After Decades Of Hearing Loss
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Original illustration by Jake Reeves.
Original illustration by Jake Reeves.

I have been on a musical journey since I was four years old -- a journey that ended precipitously in my late 20s with life-altering consequences, and several dramatic episodes playing out along the way. I am now 66.

In 1974, I was a recording artist with two songs on the U.S. pop charts and a #1 record in Brazil. I would later write and sing on national radio and TV jingles and I wrote a popular parade theme for Disney called "I'm Walking Right Down the Middle of Main Street USA."

But between 1978 and 1982, I lost much of my hearing and -- along with it -- any aspirations for a life in music. Technically speaking, I suffered from moderate to severe "sensori-neural" hearing loss of unknown cause -- not noise-related. It was sudden and unexpected; 50 percent of hearing in my left ear was gone in April 1978 within 24 hours.

In 1984, I suffered a detachment of both retinas and regained sight in my right eye only after surgery. For the next 30 years I lived without music of any kind as it was either too frustrating emotionally or too painful physically to play or to listen to. Not only were the activities of my daily life challenged, but my professional and financial survival was also at great risk after a successful music career.

The road forward started with a passion, simply, to regain my health and stabilize, if possible, my fluctuating hearing. With no medicinal or surgical options, I embraced a series of dietary and other health practices that I have maintained throughout my life, and established some non-musical platforms focused on food where my experiences and talents provided an income and would inspire others.

For a time, I worked in the natural products industry, presenting workshops and trainings for consumers and industry groups, and working alongside farmers and agricultural professionals. By the mid '90's I traveled around the country to tell my story before audiences in government, education, food safety and public health. Eventually, I started up two non-profits dedicated to the issues I had embraced in my quest to be well and felt as if that might be the final chapter of my professional life.

While my work gave me purpose and satisfaction, it was never able to provide the full expression and soulful joy I experienced in making music. But never did I believe in all that time that I would be able to play, sing or record music ever again. Then, as if the world turned suddenly upside down, a conspiracy of things started to move me in the right direction.

In 2008, a fan found my 1973 album and contacted me to ask where I had been since then. He conducted an interview with me for his Classic Rock Music blog on the Internet and from that interview I discovered that I had fans from around the world for more than 30 years -- fans I never knew existed but who now were encouraging me to get back into music -- whatever it would take.

That same year, my wife was diagnosed with a rare cancer and I shifted my attentions to her care. After she passed away in 2010, her death became another compelling nudge to try to find my own joy again by taking up my musical life -- whatever it would take.

My timing was good. Hearing aid technology had advanced and with my first digital hearing aid I was able to hear a much broader audio spectrum than I had for more than three decades. Research into the brain told me that even with a damaged hearing apparatus, I might improve my "ability" to hear through various exercises and the adjustments the brain can sometimes make in response.

In 2013 I began work with a hearing rehab specialist, resumed vocal training, and found that along with the higher tech hearing aid, I was at last able to complete a kind of "hearing circuit" from my voice through my body to the brain and back to my ears. I started playing the piano and guitar once again and I found that musical tones had become much sharper. I collaborated with a hearing professional to customize special ear monitors for me to use in the studio and for live performances that allow me to hear my voice and instruments in the same feed, much as headphones had allowed me to do so many years before.

In November of 2014, I launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to help fund my healing process and conduct preliminary activities toward making new recordings. At the same moment, one of Brazil's leading lifestyle magazines published a special feature on my story and the impact of my music in Brazil -- 40 years after the fact. In all, this remarkable confluence of events has propelled me forward.

In 2015, with the wind at my back, I repackaged and launched my first album from 1973 via CD and download and am about to start a series of live House Concerts with the recording of new songs planned for fall. I am also writing articles for "Open Ears" an international hearing loss blog published by Phonak, my hearing aid company, to offer insights into my life and work to rebuild my musical self, and inspiration to others about how to negotiate the hard terrain of a lifetime with hearing loss.

And I am launching two speaking campaigns called "Talk to Me -- The Messenger is the Message" and "Rebuilding the Musical Self," designed to inspire musicians and singers with hearing loss to continue their own musical journeys -- whatever it takes.

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