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A Story of Music and Loss

by Nick Coleman

Pub Date: Sept. 10th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-61902-185-3
Publisher: Counterpoint

One of the most widely read music journalists in the U.K. loses his hearing and very nearly his mind.

Not quite an autobiography, nor a focused memoir of illness, this tragic recollection by prolific rock journalist Coleman examines a lifetime’s worth of choices in the wake of a devastating illness. In his mid-40s, the author experienced a form of tinnitus so severe that he imagined the inside of his skull was occupied by “a tiny monkey playing a tiny pipe organ.” Stricken with sudden neurosensory hearing loss, a maddening syndrome with undiagnosable causes ranging from genetics to stroke, Coleman was understandably grief-stricken, given his profession. He punctuates his journey to his new existence with memories of his old one, the grim upbringing of a boy born in 1960, with many flashbacks focusing on the girl whom he loved from afar. The medical segments are harrowing, as Coleman describes in intimate detail procedures like having steroids injected directly into his inner ear. Early on, he broached the topic of assisted suicide with his wife, who told him, “Don’t you DARE talk to me like that.” The teenage autobiographical segments are readable but unremarkable, but Coleman’s self-examination of his identity via music and his new interpretation of it are thoughtful and complex, recalling something of David Byrne’s rich How Music Works (2012). “What was really interesting was that, as I sat there shuddering and trickling, I began to hear the music better,” he writes. “Melody, metre, a little bit of timbre, the puffiest cloud of harmony. Yes, yes: that’s a trombone all right, not just a note. And I began to sense the tiniest swelling of architectural form in my head. You wouldn’t have called it the Taj Mahal, but equally, this was no papery squiggle.”

A disquieting but ultimately resilient reflection on the sound and the fury.