Tommy, can you hear me?
Vittoria Hohman barely can. The former real estate agent from St. Petersburg, Fla., says she has been hard of hearing since December 1985, when she took her daughter, Kellie, then 14, to a Mötley Crüe concert. The outing was designed to be a mother-daughter bonding experience. Hohman even bought front-row seats. The two sat less than 10 feet from the stage — right next to a wall of speakers.
It was the first and last rock concert Hohman ever attended, she says, and Tommy Lee’s pounding drumbeats and Mick Mars’ guitar were the last sounds she ever heard properly. By the time she left St. Petersburg’s Bayfront Center, Hohman claims, she had lost all the hearing in one ear and partial hearing in the other. Kellie suffered damage as well, though only temporarily.
Hohman filed suit against Mötley Crüe and the concert promoter, Beach Club Promotions, on June 17, 1987. Two years later, the group’s attorneys confirm, the case was settled out of court by mutual agreement. The band’s insurance company forked over $30,000. But as Hohman, 60, sees it, the money wasn’t enough. ”It ruined me,” she says of the concert. ”It caused me a lot of pain.” She claims she was forced to give up her job selling real estate, since she couldn’t hear her clients. ”If someone on the phone asked me if the house had a pool, I would hear, ‘Does the house have an ool?’ I had to leave my career. And I have been forced to do jobs that I didn’t care to do. Manual jobs.”
A lot of attention has been paid to the supposed dangers of heavy-metal lyrics, but the Hohman case indicates that the real peril lies less in what’s heard than in how loudly it’s heard. David Lee Roth and Neil Young have been similarly sued, and a raft of rockers from Eric Clapton to Ted Nugent have themselves suffered hearing loss. Most famously — and most ironically, given that he created the deaf pinball wizard, Tommy — the Who’s Pete Townshend suffers from tinnitus, which causes a persistent ringing in his ears. Townshend claims that the condition was caused by listening to himself too loudly on headphones in the studio, though it seems likely that years and years of performing next to, say, a 30-foot stack of speakers didn’t help either. Hohman’s case served to point out that it’s a very good idea for rock concert attendees of all ages to protect their ears.
”Most rock concerts range between 90 and 120 decibels and up,” says Alan Danz, an auditory physiologist and attorney in Fort Lauderdale. ”It depend on who you’re listening to. But 120 decibels, for even short exposure — it could be minutes — can cause permanent hearing loss.”
The good doctor’s expert advice for concert-goers: Wear earplugs.
June 17, 1987
Atlantic Starr’s ”Always” shone at the top of the pop charts; Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis lit up TV screens with Moonlighting; The Witches of Eastwick cast a box office spell; and Stephen King’s Misery was a mad success.