This past year has been very quiet but when we are back to concerts, loud concerts, our ears will be once again tested. I rarely wear earplugs during concerts because it’s really not the same experience, but I often worry about how much hearing loss I will experience later in life. I am sure I have already lost some of my hearing, it naturally decreases with aging, but as long as I don’t notice it, it’s not a problem. However, a large amount people have significant hearing loss in their ‘70s and ‘80s… and it has to be much worse for people exposed to loud sounds. ‘Sound of Metal,’ a movie that was just nominated for 6 Oscars, precisely tells the story of a heavy metal drummer (Riz Ahmed, ‘Venom’) whose world begins to unravel as he starts to lose his hearing. It’s easy to understand why.
To overly simplify the hearing process, let’s just say that our inner ear, the cochlea, contains 16,000 sensory receptors, called hair cells. These hair cells have a cluster of fine cylindrical rods (and this is why they are called ‘hair cells’) standing upright and responsible for converting sound vibrations into electrical responses that the brain can then interpret. In other words, they are essential in the hearing process.
According to neuroscientist Jim Hudspeth, professor at Rockefeller University in New York City, ‘basically, any noise that’s loud enough to be uncomfortable, to make your ears hurt is doing some damage to the cells of the ear. The little hairs no longer actively amplify the incoming sound, and therefore, hearing becomes harder and harder.’
Over time, we lose those tiny hair cells in our ears and unlike our skin cells, our liver cells, or our intestine cells, these hair cells are not replaced by cell division. When they die, it’s forever.
Then enter the chicken in the story. Apparently, birds but also fish, amphibians, reptiles can regenerate their hair cells. Hudspeth even claims that these animals lose these cells all the time and regenerate them constantly, just like new skin. This was first noticed when people took pigeons and chickens to heavy metal concerts, exposed the animals to very loud noise, and within days, observed that new hair cells would begin to sprout in their ears. Who are those people (real scientists?) taking chickens to a Motorhead concert?
For reasons like longevity and protection against cancer, mammals like us have lost the ability to regenerate hair cells, but lizards can also regenerate body parts, so hair cells are no big deal for them. When it comes to loud noise, birds and reptiles are superior beings. Next time you go to a loud concert (when this happens again) think about this, iguanas and chicken are more metal than you.
return to the top of country
Creem – America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, Reviewed Issue By Issue – January 1983 (Volume 14, Number 8)
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