Pete Townshend’s struggles with hearing loss: A musician’s risk

Pete Townshend's hearing loss limits how much time he can spend in the studio.

To put it simply, Pete Townshend is a rock and roll icon.

The brilliant guitarist from The Who has done it all. He's smashed guitars, written timeless tunes and even boasts a distinguished literary career. Now, like many other aging rockers, the multi-talented artist and musician suffers from hearing loss. In Townshend's case, perhaps this seems somewhat ironic considering one of his epitomizing works, the rock opera "Tommy," about a deaf, mute and blind boy. Yet, the British rocker doesn't blame his years of destroying instruments and performing in clubs as the cause of his hearing loss. Instead, Townshend cites his years spent listening to headphones in the studio. 

"It may only be studio earphones that cause bad damage," Townhend said on the Steve Hoffman Music Forums. "I only have long experience of the studio side of things (though I've listened to music for pleasure on earphones for years, long before the Walkman was introduced). But my intuition tells me there is terrible trouble [for audiophiles] ahead."

Townshend must now take 36-hour breaks between sessions in the studio for his hearing to recover. These delays slow down his ability to produce music and express his creativity. He further laments that he helped create an industry that leaves many of its passionate professionals deaf or close to it. Furthermore, Townshend's hearing loss limits his ability to hear high frequencies, which has inhibited his ability to create new music without restrictions. However, Townshend fee;s that he's one of the lucky ones, as he stopped touring routinely early in his career. Townshend now regularly wears hearing aids in both ears.

Hearing loss effects musicians more than any other demographic

A German study found that musicians are up to four times as likely to experience hearing loss than any other group of people. Evidence of this truth is borne out in the lives of many musicians. While Pete Townshend's public concerns on the issues have made him a prime example, he is joined by legendary musicians, including Neil Young, Brian Wilson, Ozzy Osbourne, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Phil Collins. 

Notably, Phil Collins stopped touring in 2011, citing hearing difficulties as one of his reasons for retiring from music. Collins was an avid performer before a career-span of noise exposure prevented him from continuing his passion. Collins now relies on hearing aids to mitigate the damage done by a lifetime of music. The tragedy for many musicians is losing the ability to enjoy and perform the music they have created.

Musicians experience years if not decades of exposure that can lead to noise-induced hearing loss. If you are experiencing any symptoms of hearing loss or tinnitus (a constant ringing or buzzing in the ears), contact a local AccuQuest hearing health care professional today and schedule an appointment.

To put it simply, Pete Townshend is a rock and roll icon.

Julie Pabst
Julie Pabst
Julie Pabst is an M.A., CCC-A Certified Audiologist at AccuQuest Hearing Centers. I chose Audiology to combine science, health care, technical skills and excellent customer service to best service those that do not hear correctly.