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H.E.A R. and Now! - Loud Clubs and Hearing Loss From the San Francisco Examiner, February 24, 2002 H.E.A.R. and now By Bill Picture of The Examiner Staff

Don't mistake that annoying ringing in your ears the morning after a concert or a night out clubbing for an indication of good times. It actually may be a warning sign of permanent damage to your ears.

Kathy Peck, executive director of San Francisco-based Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers (H.E.A.R.), learned that the hard way. And for the last 13 years, she has dedicated her time and energy to letting musicians and music lovers know that while earplugs may not exactly be cool or sexy, neither is having to wear a hearing aid.

Peck co-founded H.E.A.R. in 1988 with San Francisco physician Dr. Flash Gordon (that's his real name), and the organization now boasts such big-name supporters as Perry Farrell of Jane's Addiction, Chuck D. of Public Enemy, Lars Ulrich of Metallica, Green Day, Ray Charles and George Clinton, to name a few. Many of these artists have contributed both their money and their celebrity,filming public service announcements which air on national television and can be accessed via H.E.A.R.'s Web site.

Into the ring Such high profile connections are the result of Peck's years in the music biz, many of them spent tearing up the bass and touring the country with her band The Contractions, an all-female rock trio that emerged from the punk/New Wave scene of the late '70s and early '80s. The band's unconventional style allowed the girls to break out of the confines of the local punk scene and scored them a number of opening spots on tours with headliners like Duran Duran and the Go-Go's.

In fact, it was after opening for Duran Duran across the Bay at the Oakland Coliseum one night in 1984 that Peck finally recognized the damage caused by the more-than-a-decade's worth of exposure to higher-than-normal sound levels. "I woke up the next morning and my ears were ringing really bad," she says. "They rang for days, and it just got worse and worse, to the point where I couldn't hear at all." Peck says she had to wear hearing aids in both ears for the next 10 years before she was eventually able to undergo corrective laser surgery which restored some of her hearing. "I was lucky," she admits. "I got a second chance."

But during that decade of silence, Peck decided to share her story with fellow rockers in the hope that she might help them avoid a similar fate. With Gordon's help, she set up hearing clinics at the Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic, where musicians and music fans were invited to come down for free hearing tests and to pick up a pair of ear plugs. But Peck knew it was going totake more than that to get her message out. Around the same time, Pete Townsend of The Who went public with information about his hearing loss. Upon reading an article about it in Rolling Stone, Peck sprung into action, utilizing her industry contacts to reach Townsend in hopes that she might convince him to help her organization grow beyond just a free hearing clinic held a couple times a month. Townsend was impressed and, almost on the spot, cut a check to H.E.A.R. to help get them going.

Taking it to the streets Taking a proactive approach to educating people is a crucial part of H.E.A.R.'s mission. Take a look around you on the street or on the bus: Most young people won't even leave the house without portable cassette or CD players strapped to their side. These are the people that Peck knew she had to reach. So she joined forces with an education publisher, It's About Time, and went to work making a video, "Can't Hear You Knocking," which now is used as a part of the active curriculum of some 10,000 school districts around the country to let kids know about the dangers of loud music, be it from speakers or headphones.

At its core, H.E.A.R. remains a grassroots organization, and spreading the word has been a labor of love for Peck. Her staff is made up of volunteers who share her passion for preventing hearing loss, and she relies heavily on artists -- both big and small -- to help get the word out.

The newest addition to H.E.A.R.'s growing list of celebrity endorsers is Daly City turntable wizard Q-Bert of The Invisibl Skratch Piklz. Now that Peck has spread the word in the rock community, she's directing her focus on the DJ and dance music scene. "These DJs' ears are getting pounded out there night after night," explains Peck. "So I've been doing a lot of outreach to the DJ community, especially here in the Bay Area with the help of Q-Bert and Spundae, Spesh and Polywog (from Sister SF)."

H.E.A.R. has joined forces with other club-scene advocacy groups like the San Francisco Late Night Coalition, Electric Dreams Foundation and Dancesafe to distribute free earplugs in the clubs, as well as postcards outlining the risks to patrons' ears. Peck says the sound level in many dance clubs can cause damage to ears within just a few seconds, and she cites a study commissioned in Great Britain in which 62 percent of respondents who said they regularly go out clubbing reported symptoms of hearing loss.

The Internet has made it easier for H.E.A.R. to reach more people; Peck reports the organization's Web site receives nearly a million hits each year. But she says there is still a lot of work to be done, and she hopes to launch a nationwide -- and maybe even worldwide -- street team program, where volunteers can set up a local chapter of H.E.A.R. in their own community. "I'd like for H.E.A.R. to be like the Boy Scouts," she jokes.

The plug Peck admits she's still tempted to turn up the volume herself, comparing loud music to an aphrodisiac: "It's uplifting and energizing. It just makes you feel good." But she says people must be aware of the associated risks. If you like it loud and spend a fair amount of time in clubs listening or dancing to high-decibel music, Peck offers a simple piece of advice: WEAR EARPLUGS! "A good pair of ear plugs will reduce the sound pressure level but still allow you to hear all the frequencies -- high, middle and low," she says. "Protect your hearing, guys, 'cause if you can't hear it, you can't enjoy it." Contact H.E.A.R. at P.O. Box 460847, San Francisco 94146; (415) > 773-9590; or www.hearnet.com.


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