Tone Deaf will now be Tone Mute for a fortnight. But here’s a salutary story.
Nick Coleman woke up one morning with all hearing lost in one ear. For a time he was totally deaf, deprived of a sense of balance, ill and traumatised beyond belief. Over many months he taught himself to hear again, but in an imperfect way. Losing stereophony meant that all sounds were “flat” and hard to identify. What hearing he had was shockingly sensitive. Tinnitus bedevils him. Also people tend to be irritated by those with hearing impairment, rather than sympathetic.
But there was more. Coleman’s great passion is music, all kinds. He was in fact a music writer.
He describes his experiences in A Train In The Night, well reviewed in The Guardian. He also spoke movingly and factually at the Hay Festival and members of the audience revealed that they too had suffered similarly. It is a more common ailment than most would imagine.
He was good on metaphor. With perfect hearing music resembles architecture: one may “enter” the structure. With his reduced hearing the experience is reduced to an architectural drawing: a two-dimensional form of information which identifies but does not integrate the parts. As a result his interest in what TD calls posh music stops short of the nineteenth century; thick-textured orchestral pieces become a blur and Beethoven’s Ninth is lost. Bach’s separated “lines” are all he can take.
Once Coleman loved the visceral, body-vibrating experience of live reggae. Now the volume would cause him to faint. But he talks warmly of John Coltrane’s tenor sax delicately picking out Equinox and the resumption of his love affair with Marvin Gaye.