Andy Slater, blind musician 

First-person accounts from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford

"I was the first legally blind student that the School of the Art Institute really had. There are two other students there now in the same boat. I'm in the sound department, studying composition and recording.

"I have a disease called retinitis pigmentosa. I'm incredibly light sensitive—some days I have to wear three pairs of sunglasses—and my center vision is really bad. If I'm looking straight ahead, I don't see anything. If I need to make eye contact with somebody, I'll look out of the corner of my eye.

"On top of that, these little squiggly lines that kind of look like puffy Cheetos sometimes cross my eyes in little pulses that clog up my vision. My depth perception is affected too; going up and down stairs is kind of a mess. So I'm slow and I'm late to a lot of things, but that's just how it works.

"It's gotten worse. Ten years ago I was able to look at a computer monitor without having to adjust the size of the text. Now I zoom in really close. When I was in high school, that was the last time I read a book cover to cover. It was Naked Lunch. I fear I'm going to lose my sight completely, so I take advantage of doing stuff as long as I can.

"I'm one of the lead singers in the Velcro Lewis Group. There's this instrument that I built called a monochord. It's a two-by-four with a string on it, and I amplify it. It can do a whole bunch of stuff for one string. I had been playing bass, and I just wasn't able to see the fretboard, so I wanted something to play that I didn't have to look at.

"My hearing is pretty hyperactive. I just focus better than a lot of people, because my hearing is a major tool in how I get around and how I know if I'm safe. The coolest sound I ever heard was Niagara Falls. Millions of gallons of water just dropping. When I'm mixing records for my band, I'm always so picky about stuff that nobody else even notices. I'm sure it gets on the nerves of the rest of the guys. But it satisfies me.

"My goal is to either teach composition or work in a recording studio. I want to jump into a career, 'cause I'm getting too old and I have no money, and I don't want my son to grow up to be poor. If we could be middle-class, that'd be awesome.

"Some people are total sweethearts and want to be a Good Samaritan, and that's always appreciated, but it's not always needed. You really shouldn't grab a blind person. They don't know if you're going to mug 'em or throw 'em into traffic or what. People in my situation are always on the defense, and they're going to flip their shit if they think somebody's trying to assault them.

The Velcro Lewis Group plays Sun 9/18, 10 PM, at the Empty Bottle.

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