Hilburn fesses up: earplugs

Longtime L.A. Times rock critic Robert Hilburn is asked by a reader in today's Calendar Weekend section: "What do you do to protect your hearing at concerts?"

Hilburn: I'm not big on more government regulation, but there's one notice I'm in favor of putting on concert tickets: "Loud music can damage your hearing."

It took me years to accept that simple statement, and I'm sure I paid the price for it. I have to ask people to repeat themselves more than I should, and most of the reason, I fear, is all the nights sitting right in front of booming speakers. There was a time when I saw it as a badge of honor to walk out of a club or arena with my ears ringing. It was a sign that I had really been caught up in the experience.

Sure, there were occasional articles about how loud music could hurt your hearing and how that ringing is a possible sign of ear damage, but I didn't pay much attention for years. Finally, I noticed some of that ringing even on days when I hadn't gone to a concert the night before.

I started putting pieces of napkins in my ears at concerts, gradually switching over to those rubbery earplugs that you throw away after using.

Eventually, I found something I'd recommend to all frequent concertgoers: custom earplugs. I got mine at an ear specialist. They make a mold of your ear opening and design a rubber device that slips into it, truly blocking the sound. You can then wash and reuse.

These custom plugs are easier to use than the throwaway kind and, in my experience, do a more complete job of blocking the sound. I always wear them at loud shows now — and wish I had started using them years ago.

Here was Hilburn's Critic's Notebook from June 14 recalling Michael Jackson's descent from artist to freakish celebrity.

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