What a versatile, fluid, moving voice! Fantastic songwriter. Daring, inspired arrangements, otherworldly. A jazz-like approach. He riffed with his vocal instrument like a wigged out horn player. He spoke volumes with an acoustic guitar.

“I Must Have Been Blind,” was one of his better-known songs. Blind. A loaded concept, a scary thought for those of us who can see. It’s a powerful metaphor, used often in songwriting. Dramatic. Romantic, even, in a way.

Then there’s, literally, Ray Charles, George Shearing, Stevie Wonder, Doc Watson, many more.

Tim Buckley might have joined that club if he had had macular degeneration. There was no indication of it. But if he did, or polio or MS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, it didn’t matter, because he died at 28 of a heroin/morphine/ethanol overdose. (Don’t jump to conclusions; it’s a complicated, tragic tale.) The funeral was in Santa Monica, the Wilshire Funeral Home, 1975. What a loss.

I was diagnosed a few years ago with macular degeneration, an eye disease that has blinded millions of Americans, more than cataracts and glaucoma combined. There are several factors but the biggest is age. Avoid 55, if possible. About 10 million are now dealing with that time bomb, the number expected to double by 2050 because of the prominent, still dominant Baby Boomers. I know, there we go again.

I try to not think about it much, but sometimes I do. I’ve always figured, whatever you’ve got going on, no sense worrying about it. You have no idea how the cards are going to play out. If you’re walking around with cancer in remission and worrying every day about a terrible death, then you step in front of a bus, cancer was irrelevant, wasn’t it? All that time, lousy tortured time, worrying, for what? Sit down and listen to the birds sing. Or a Tim Buckley album.

But I did have to think about it last week, in an affecting way. I had to look blindness right in the eye, so to speak, in a way I really hadn’t before.

Twice a year I go see my eye doc in Torrance and he examines and measures my eyes thoroughly and I breathe a sigh of relief when at the end he tells me, as he always has, “No change. You’re good. See you in six months.”

That’s what went down again just a couple of weeks ago. As I left he reminded me, as always, if you notice any symptoms, call me right away. Like, spots or those flashes of light, right? Those have been mentioned. “No, the main thing is, if you can’t read, and it goes on for an hour or so.”

There are two types of macular degeneration, dry and wet. I, like 85-90 percent of those in our club, have the dry. The macula is in the center of the retina, that surface on the back of the eye that catches the light, the images, and transmits the data to your brain. That’s a rock, that’s a tree, that’s a nude beach. It helps to be able to distinguish.

When something happens to your retina, like drying up in the macula middle, you’re screwed, because that image becomes distorted or blocked out. Same thing with the wet variety where that perfect retina surface becomes distorted because of a fluid bump underneath.

Macular degeneration is incurable, and surgery has a very small chance of being effective. Doc: “You have the dry kind, nothing we can do except give you eye vitamins, fairly expensive, might have a delaying effect… or might not. You could die with that kind of macular degeneration and never suffer any loss of vision. Or it could start to deteriorate, sometimes rapidly, at any moment.”

“Or it could, at any moment, turn into the wet kind, in which case you won’t be able to see clearly or read. If that happens, call me immediately. You may at that point require surgery.” Will that fix it? “No. It will only prevent massive damage to the entire eye.” Great. So my eyeball won’t explode, but I’ll still be blind.

I know, I just ruined your lunch. But imagine how I feel? And the rest of my De-generation? (I feel a twisted version of a Who anthem coming on…)

So last week, just after my semi-annual clean bill of health, I started experiencing those spots, “floaters,” then later the flashes of light. I freaked, slightly. Called for my doc the next day and he wasn’t in, made an appointment in the morning to see his associate. “Can you come in this afternoon?” Not a good sign. So I spent the better (??) part of two days thinking, this is it.

Still hoping for the best, I nonetheless allowed my thoughts to contemplate the now very possible. Okay, I’ll still have full auditory. Music, very important, check. Learning to walk outside without getting mowed down by cars or skaters, tough. No trees, clouds, the ocean, faces of loved ones, very tough.

Reading. I started thinking of all the implications, that I hadn’t considered before, and that’s what really got to me. And how could I write? I go over and over each sentence, each word. (Could’ve fooled me, I hear you thinking. Shaddup.) That seemed not only harder, but almost impossible to envision.

Long story short, it was something else going on in my eye, that also could blind me, but seems alright for now. (I only have one good eye, thanks to covering a student anti-war march in college and catching a randomly thrown very large rock in my right eye.) But…


At Memorial Sports Arena Monday night. Lots of people I know were there. Also lots of young people, very encouraging. The crowd was extremely diverse. No surprises (except Sarah Silverman!), I knew everything he was going to stand up for, but I had to be there, to have my body counted, and it was a huge turnout. Maybe 10,000 couldn’t get in.

I’ve been interested in politics since I was 13 and worked for JFK’s election. I have never, ever, seen a candidate like Sanders. Zero charisma, unquestionable integrity. It is a political revolution, and I hope, I pray, the time has come. If not now, when?

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” – Helen Keller

Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for almost 30 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at therealmrmusic@gmail.com.

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