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08 Dec 2014

A Book With a Vision: Local Musician John Robbins Tells the Story of His Eyesight Problems Via a New Young-Adult Novel

Written by 
John Robbins. John Robbins.

John Robbins is best known as a drummer for the local band Sunday Funeral, although he’s actually a talented multi-instrumentalist.

The musician has accomplished much despite his eyesight: He’s completely blind in one eye, and only has a small percentage of his vision left the other. He recently wrote a book about his journey, Echo of Sight. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 27, he’ll host a release party and book-signing at Schmidy’s Tavern in Palm Desert. The party will feature performances from Burning Bettie, Bridger, Blasting Echo and Boycott Radio.

Robbins is originally from the San Francisco area and has lived in the Coachella Valley since 2001. He plays the guitar, ukulele, piano and drums, but his main passion these days is writing.

“I’m always writing,” Robbins said during a recent interview. “Even when I’m out, I’m always writing on my cell phone. … I have an idea; I write it down, and when I get home, I expand upon the idea, and it just goes from there. … A lot of my inspirations come from my relationships here in the valley—and the music I listen to out here has such an impact on everything that I write.”

Robbins has had vision troubles his entire life.

“It’s a congenital condition,” Robbins said. “My mother has vision problems as well, and unfortunately, for her, while she was growing up, she didn’t know she had vision problems. When I was born, we figured out that I was blind in my left eye. With technological advances in the medical world, optometry and ophthalmology are more advanced. We figured out that I had these same exact problems my mom has, but on a more grand scale. We always thought my right eye would be my good eye, and I had no vision problems (in that eye) from the time I was born up until I was 22.”

He noticed his vision was starting to decline while working one day. When he told his parents, they all went to LensCrafters to determine whether or not he needed a new prescription.

“It turned out it was a worse case than we thought,” Robbins said. “The optometrist there referred me to the Retina Institute of California, and I was told a blood vessel was expanding, and it was leaking, which was causing my retina to detach. Luckily we went when we did, because I needed to have immediate surgery, or I was going to go completely blind.

“The surgery happened three days later, and it was successful. Now, my vision is more stable, and I can do the things I love.”

He demonstrated his vision problems by explaining what he had to do just to see my face while I was seated directly in front of him.

“I’ve lost a major percentage of my vision. I have absolutely no peripheral vision any more,” he said “About 50 percent to 60 percent of my central vision is blocked. Basically, I’m using the lower half of my right eye to see.”

Aside from writing, music has been his escape.

“I remember hearing one of my cousins playing piano one day, and I sat down next to her, and I asked her, ‘Hey, can you teach me how to play what you’re playing?’” he said. Fifteen minutes later, I learned how to play that same song she was playing, with both hands. That’s how I knew I liked playing music. From then on, my dad took it upon himself to teach me piano, and introduced me to all the contemporary artists he liked at the time. He also showed me Led Zeppelin and The Doors. The first instrument I took a major interest in was the guitar around the age of 8.”

Robbins used fictional characters and situations to write about his personal journey while being visually impaired in Echo of Sight, which is being touted as a young-adult novel.

“The book means a lot to me in the sense that it shows what it means to be visually impaired, and the steps that you have to go through to adapt to life,” Robbins said. “I was in a bad place when I first started writing the book. I thought that I had no direction, and I didn’t know if my life would get any better, despite going to the Braille Institute for a couple of years. There was still something I needed to get out into the open. …  I wanted everybody to see how a blind person lives and to understand what they’re going through, and for people to have empathy.”

Robbins said he is happy with how the book turned out. “I feel that it’s my masterpiece, and I’m really proud of the book, and I really hope a lot of people read it and enjoy it.”

He also has a positive perspective regarding his vision issues.

“I’ve always said I view being visually impaired as a blessing in disguise,” he said. “I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it didn’t happen.”

Echo of Sight: The Release Party takes place at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 27, at Schmidy’s Tavern, 72286 Highway 111, in Palm Desert. Admission is free; copies of the book will be available for $8. The event will include performances by Burning Bettie, Boycott Radio, Bridger and Blastic Echo. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/echoofsight.

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