Laura Ashley Skirts and Acoustic Guitars

4 October 2012

by Victoria McEwan

2012 intern


Being a music critic demands one skill above most: being able to listen to and

understand music. But what happens when you are faced with the double tragedy of
not being able to hear music the way you once did and it causing you actual physical
Nick Coleman has been a music critic for over 25 years and is forced to deal with this
exact problem due to neurosensory hearing loss, a condition which has a devastating
effect. The way Coleman explained his first couple of days after the illness hit is
terrifying. His description of the frustration of being stuck in bed unable to move
and not knowing exactly what was wrong but with a constant ringing in his ears
that alarmed him that something was very wrong makes the most calm person feel
He spoke at Wigtown Book Festival where he promoted his book The Train in the
Night: A Story of Music and Loss. You might think that the event would be a bit of
sob story but it was actually the opposite. Any music lover hearing him talk will learn
to appreciate music on a whole new level and anyone who suffers from any medical
ailment will find his strength inspiring.
"Am I going to get it back?" I asked, repeatedly, trying not to be a bore. "My hearing
is my most important sense. Well, to me it is. I need both ears for work. Music is my
greatest passion in life. I do it a bit, too. I'd rather lose an eye, a foot…"
One of his first difficulties after being diagnosed was to go to see his team Arsenal
play. He described the aftermath of this challenge as feeling the highest he has ever
been legally due to the happiness he felt at having began his journey towards living
with this illness.
He also talked about how his relationship with music has changed. The use of the
word relationship could not be more appropriate. When music is such an intrinsic
part of you it does become like a friendship. If you’ve had a bad day you stick your
favourite record on. If you’re feeling sad you stick on a song that you can relate to so
you no longer feel so alone.
His perception of himself and who he is changed so profoundly that everything felt
different. Anyone who has suffered from either a physical or mental illness will relate
to the book on this level; for these are events that can either make or break you as a
person but Coleman’s courage in pulling himself out of the darkness is palpable.
He spoke about how he has to use his memory to listen to music since physically was
no longer an option. It’s your brain that makes music meaningful and therefore it is
possible to ‘listen’ to music without actually hearing it. We have all had days whereby
you have a song sticks in your head – nine out of ten times it’s one you don’t actually
like. When you apply this to a song that you have a deep emotional relationship with
it can be very moving.