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"It's almost like it goes in one ear and out the other," says Chris Cory, flashing a grin as he describes the irony of what happens when people learn he suffers from tinnitus. "It doesn't really make too much sense to them -- it's something that doesn't get better. They're like, ŒYou still got that? Oh, that sucks.'"
Yes, it does.
It's a little after midnight on a chilly Thursday in late October. Cory, aka DJ Idiom, and I are on the patio outside Mario's Double Daughter's Salotto in LoDo, where, in a few minutes, he'll step behind the decks for the last time. One of Denver's most highly regarded DJs, Cory has garnered reams of praise for his impeccable ear and turntable skills. Last year, in our annual Best of Denver issue, Westword readers tapped him as Best Hip-Hop DJ/Turntablist; this year he earned the editorial nod in the Best of Denver 2005 as the Best Down-Tempo DJ and also took home a Westword Music Showcase award. After tonight, though, he says he'll hang up the headphones -- a decision prompted by the constant ringing in his ears. The condition is degenerative and irreversible, something that few folks seemed to grasp as Cory scaled back his schedule over the past six months. He'd tell them about the tinnitus, he says, "and then the next time I see them, they'll ask me, 'Why aren't you deejaying anymore?' And I tell them again."
Fact is, most of us wouldn't know tinnitus from tendonitis. But according to the American Tinnitus Association, more than fifty million people in this country suffer from the hearing disorder to some degree. Although various factors can contribute to the malady, the most common is prolonged exposure to loud environments, which destroys the hair cells in the inner ear. Cory thinks he's probably suffered from tinnitus since his teens, but he didn't really become aware of it until a few years ago. "I remember I was laying in my bed, and I could hear cars going by on the street behind me," he recalls. "At the same time, I heard this ringing." Things have gotten progressively worse since then, and although thus far his condition hasn't impeded his ability to perform, Cory's not taking any chances.
"It's not noticeable to where every time I play I notice my tinnitus getting worse, but it is cumulative," he explains. "In a year, if I kept playing for three hours at a time in some sort of loud environment, it could be a lot worse. So it's just not a smart decision to keep deejaying."
For someone like me, who makes a living from his ears, Cory's decision is understandable. I'm keenly aware of the importance of preserving my hearing, but even so, there have been times when I've neglected to use earplugs. For example, a while back I was at a Motörheadshow at the Ogden with my pal Bigolo and discovered I'd forgotten to bring the plugs. Bad move: Lemmy and his crew cranked the amps to eleven, and the levels were seriously painful. In an effort to escape the deafening roar, I broke the filters off my smokes and shoved them into my ears. Big -- and everyone else around me, for that matter -- got a kick out of that. But while I'm sure it was funny as hell, losing your hearing is no laughing matter. Still, a surprising number of people take their hearing for granted. And not all that long ago, Cory was one of them.
"I think a lot of it is also attentiveness," he points out. "Right at that time, I heard someone talking about having tinnitus: 'Dude, I've got tinnitus, and it sucks. My friend's got it really bad. I don't want to get to that point.' Once I heard that, I think I started paying more attention to it. It's like if I go to a loud show -- like anyone, sometimes the day after, your ears ring -- I'll notice the ring is a little bit louder. It's pretty much all the time, though.
"Obviously, when I was in there," he adds, motioning back to the bar, "I couldn't hear it, because it was being masked by all the music. It really depends on how loud it is, and it depends on how much attention I'm paying to it. If I'm really thinking about it, if I'm in a coffee shop, I can notice it."
In the coming months, Cory will have plenty of quiet time on his hands, and you'd think the silence would be deafening. Yet he's surprisingly upbeat about the prospect of burying his head in books -- which always provide him with inspiration, he says -- in hopes that he can start making his own music. His hearing problems aside, deejaying was already losing some of its luster.
"To be honest, I've played almost everywhere I've wanted to in Denver," he says. "And I've played all the shows I've wanted to. But the other side of the coin is, I'm a little burnt out just from playing and playing all my records over and over. For a while it was nice to make a living off of something I really enjoyed, but at the same time, like any type of music, it's very political. So it was somewhat daunting to think about my future as a DJ. I knew that I needed to produce my own music. In order to not only be successful but to feel fulfilled, I would have to start making my own music, which is something I've wanted to do for a while. I haven't really learned how to use my programs yet, and I haven't been trying to make music. I've been mostly just reading and trying to satisfy myself with books. Usually, when I start reading again, then I get inspired to do music. I'm kind of hoping that will happen."