West Virginia DJ listens up to a warning about hearing loss from KISS guitarist
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Bill France owes a double debt to KISS vocalist and guitarist Paul Stanley.
If you're not as serious a KISS fan as France is, here's an assist: Among the white grease painted faces of the legendary rock outfit, Stanley is the one with the black star painted over his right eye.
France's first debt is to Stanley and the band's costumed rock music, since it isn't quite accurate to call the Logan County resident a "serious" fan of KISS's raucous, over-the-top stagecraft.
He's a super-fan.
"Gosh, my first KISS concert was in 1978, and I've probably seen them a couple dozen times," said the 40-year-old France, who teaches language arts and broadcasting at Logan High School.
"I've met them several times, and I've actually done some artwork they used on their website. I kind of know all the outer circle. A couple of band members know me by my name -- Paul doesn't."
That will change later this year. France is supposed to meet the band again this summer during the group's 2012 "Monster" tour. "Paul is going to sign my custom Washburn guitar," he said.
The guitar will no doubt earn pride of place in France's impressive collection of KISS memorabilia and tchotkes, which fills a room in his house, including a life-size model of Gene Simmons in full concert regalia glaring from a corner.
"I'm pretty diehard," France conceded.
So, it was with some interest he went to the KISS website in May 2011 and noticed Stanley warning the band's followers about hearing loss from overly loud music -- this from a performer who for decades has sung "Shout It Out Loud" at concerts.
For France, it was a wake-up call.
He's a busy mobile DJ on the side -- djbillfrance.com is where you'll find out everything about his alter ego, DJ Bill France. He specializes in DJing music for weddings, reunions, birthday parties and -- crank it up, please! -- high school dances.
"The kids love it loud," France noted.
Stanley's message inspired France to have his hearing checked, given how much time he spends in front of blaring speakers, being the sort of DJ who works a crowd. He'd also lately been having trouble hearing students when they asked questions from the back of the room.
He had a series of tests done at a Logan hearing center. The news was both good and not-so-good. "They told me my hearing was on the verge of getting bad," he said.
It wasn't that he had to have hearing aids. But his ears did show some damage, and it was obvious it came from long exposure to loud music, he said. He was told he needed to start wearing what are called "musicians' earplugs," which he special ordered.
The earplugs don't muffle the music but they do stop some of the more damaging frequencies, he said. "I put them on every show. I can wear my headphones with them in. I can hear fine when I wear them. The funny thing is that just within a short amount of time, I can hear better."
He used to end his shows and his ears would ring for hours. With the earplugs, that no longer happens. The earplugs have not completely solved the loudness issue, and the damage already done cannot be undone. But he'd never go back on this new line of defense for his hearing.
"I'll tell you what -- boy, you can really tell the difference after you protect your ears for four to six hours," said France.
He has taken to advising his students to turn it down when they plug in their ear buds or to wear earplugs to concerts.
"I tell my kids every day in class -- they know I'm a DJ -- I say, 'Guys! You're damaging your hearing and you don't even know it.'"
France has taken up the banner that Stanley, one of his KISS icons, is now waving.
Stanley, who was born with a condition that left him mostly deaf in his right ear, has said this made him especially vigilant about preserving hearing in left ear and that he has always worn earplugs to concerts.
He is now on something of a crusade to warn teenagers, advising the use of earplugs at concerts and encouraging them to turn the volume down on their iPods and other music sources. Stanley has been taking part in events sponsored by http://SoundRules.org">SoundRules.org, in connection with the House Research Institute, an organization devoted to improving the quality of life for people with hearing loss.
"I think what young people don't realize is that when you lose your hearing you don't get it back, and there are easy ways of preventing that from happening," Stanley told a reporter last year.
In various interviews, he has pointed out that when your ears end up ringing after a show "that's their way of telling you that it's dangerous."
In a May 2011 ABC news interview, he described hearing loss as "insidious," as it usually happens over a period of time. The average rock concert -- KISS shows included -- can top out at 105 decibels, which is loud enough to damage hearing in less than five minutes, Stanley said.
DJ Bill France said that now that he has heard the word, so to speak, from the KISS guitarist, he is passing it on to the young people he encounters.
"If I can influence them," France said, "they just gotta turn it down."
Reach Douglas Imbrogno at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-3017.