Acoustic rocker Bill Jasper cannot hear out of his left ear, but that’s not enough to keep him off the stage.
Jasper was in a punk band called ShortLong, but in 2006 he noticed he was having hearing problems. He said it became difficult to keep in line with his bandmates.
“Whenever I was playing with the band, I couldn’t distinguish the sounds,” he said.
Soon enough, he was forced to step away from the group, and the band eventually fell apart.
As his hearing slowly faded, he was diagnosed with cholesteatoma, an abnormal growth behind the eardrum, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology. Or, as Jasper described it, “tumors in the middle ear.” He said the condition slowly destroys the hearing before you even realize it.
When the diagnosis hit, he said music was not his biggest concern.
“I was thinking just hearing in general,” he said. “Because it was definitely one of those things where I could notice the change. I had a hard time understanding people. For about a year, I had to wear a headset with an amplifier.”
He said from 2006 to 2012, he went through many surgeries, and they didn’t seem to be helping.
“Yeah, music is a big part of my life, but I could tell you right now, for those six years, it was pointless for me to even go out because I couldn’t even understand people.”
Jasper didn’t stop strumming though. He said he would lay his head on the body of his acoustic guitar, feeling the vibrations like Beethoven did. This is how he kept music in his life and how he continued songwriting.
“It was a little deeper sounding,” he said about this method. “But not too far off from sounding normal. My ears couldn’t project the sound to my inner ear, so I did what I had to do.”
In 2012, UPMC was able to reconstruct his right ear, reestablishing his hearing. Since then, he has reentered the music scene, reincarnated as a solo artist. Despite hearing only half of what he used to, he’s still able to create music that entertains the whole crowd.
He said he stomps his foot, slaps his guitar, and rocks out.
“I enjoy when people say it sounds like a full band, a full sound,” he said.
His music is gritty, earthy acoustic rock. It’s when “punk-rock roots meet rustbelt melodies,” as he describes it on his Facebook page.
While playing at a Pittsburgh venue called The Smiling Moose, he said the attendance started out sparse. As he played his set, people began to fill the room, coming down from the second floor and telling their friends to come listen.
Who says a half-hearing man can’t create crowd-pleasing music?
“If you don’t feel it,” he said, “The crowd ain’t going to feel it.”