I am the scratchy old Victrola at my grandmother’s house

I am a transistor radio shaped like a little rocket ship

I am a tan & white portable phonograph that spins 45s and 33s

I am a frayed blue Methodist hymnal at a Wednesday night sing

I am the blinking Wurlitzer jukebox at the Choo Choo Grill

Full up with Marty Robbins and James Brown

Sam the Sham and Brenda Lee

I am the stereo with fat JBL speakers that helped me and The Who to rattle a dormitory

I can see for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles

I am a rock, I am an island

I am woman, hear me roar

I’m a man, yes, I am, and I can’t help but love you so

I don’t care if it rains or freezes

Long as I got… you, babe

I got you,  ba-buh-ba-buh-buh-buh-buh-baby

I wanna play house…of the rising sun… sun, sun, here it comes… again, mmmm-um-mmmm

Catch me if you can…I get a witness

Can I get a witness?

Listen, people, to what I say

I have been to Funkytown

I have boogaloo’d down  Broadway

I have come to the garden alone while the dew is still on the roses

I’ve got the music in me

And I think I’m going out of my head

Yes, I think I’m going out of my head

But it’s all right, Ma, I’m only

That tinny old Victrola at my grandma’s house

I’m that little rocket-ship radio

I’m that boxy portable phonograph and a pile of 45s

I’m that hymnal (please turn to Number 68, “The Old Rugged Cross”)

I’m that throbbing, grinning jukebox at the Choo Choo Grill

Full up with truck-driver songs and Roy Orbison operas

Skeeter Davis keening “It’s the end of the world” and young Van buzzing ’bout his brown-eyed girl

I’m that stereo component system with the big-ass speakers that rattled a dorm

I am downloads of Modern Skirts and Buddy Miller and Alison Krauss

And when I go deaf — and I am doing just that — I will still hear it all

Nothing that went in one ear went out the other

I will still hear it all

*        *        *        *

I composed this in early March as I was contemplating the slowly fading hearing in what was then my one halfway decent ear. I was going to read it the evening of March 6 at Word of Mouth,  poet Aralee Strange’s monthly spoken-word gathering at The Globe in downtown Athens. But then I woke up that morning and was barely able to hear my own voice.  My hearing has been up and down, mostly the latter, ever since, as specialists have tried treating me with everything from steroids to a drug usually prescribed for organ-transplant recipients. So far, nothing has worked very well. Most days lately I can only understand people talking to me if they get close enough to nibble my earlobe, and even then, it’s not a sure bet. I may be getting a cochlear implant in the late September.

It has been interesting, to say the least. I’m going to try to write another piece or two about my experience of a world that is occasionally silent but, more often, just filled with a bizarre array of “sounds” that are in fact being manufactured by my malfunctioning inner ear and my brain. Until next time, let me just say that the ability I described above — to sort of “drop the needle” mentally on a deeply ingrained recording — has served me pretty well. The last recorded music I actually heard with any fidelity was a studio outtake of Elvis goofing on Chuck Berry’s “Too Much Monkey Business.” Too much indeed.

Noel Holston

Noel Holston

Noel Holston, originally from Laurel, Miss., is a freelance journalist, songwriter, storyteller and actor who lives in Athens, Ga., with his wife, singer-songwriter Marty Winkler. In a previous life, he was the TV critic at Newsday in New York and, before that, a critic and feature writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and The Orlando Sentinel.