Lewis explained in the statement, “Two and a half months ago, just before a show in Dallas, I lost most of my hearing. Although I can still hear a little, one on one and on the phone, I can’t hear music well enough to sing. The lower frequencies distort violently making it impossible to find pitch… The doctors believe I have Meniere’s Disease and have agreed that I can’t perform until I improve.”
Meniere’s Disease “is a disorder of the inner ear that causes episodes in which you feel as if you’re spinning (vertigo), and you have fluctuating hearing loss with a progressive, ultimately permanent loss of hearing, ringing in the ear (tinnitus), and sometimes a feeling of fullness or pressure in your ear,” according to the Mayo Clinic’s website.
The cancellation likely disappoints local fans of the band who were excited to see the hometown heroes perform right in their backyard at Outside Lands in San Francisco in August. Lewis and his longtime bandmates have deep connections to Mill Valley, most notably with 1983’s multi-platinum Sports featuring the band at the 2am Clu.
Lewis was born in New York and moved to Mill Valley at age four. He attended Tamalpais Valley Elementary for a year and then Strawberry Point Elementary before moving on to Edna Maguire, which was a junior high school at the time. In an expansive Q&A with with author and columnist Joan Ryan at the Throckmorton Theatre in 2010, Lewis recalled that his mother Magda was a regular at Sausalito’s famous no name bar, a gathering place in the 60s for beat poets, writers, jazz musicians and an array of free spirits.
“I woke up at the age of nine with Allen Ginsberg in my living room,” he said. “She would bring the no name bar home with her every once in a while.”
After Edna Maguire, Lewis shipped off to the Lawrenceville School, an all-boys boarding school in New Jersey, where he graduated a year early, scored a perfect 800 on the math portion of the SAT and got into Cornell University. Before going to Cornell, he took a year to travel Europe, hitchhiking all over and developed a love for the harmonica.
After a year and a half at Cornell, Lewis dropped out and came back to the Bay Area. He started a landscaping company and a natural foods distribution business, but kept playing music. He eventually became a member of Clover, a jazz-funk-rock fusion group that developed a following in England in the mid-1970s. Before Clover broke up in 1978, the band played its last gig at the Throckmorton.
Lewis then started a Monday jam session at Uncle Charley’s on Paradise Drive in Corte Madera, inviting future News members to join him in his Monday Night Live house band. They eventually recorded a song called “Exo-Disco,” a disco version of the theme from the film Exodus, featuring Pee Wee Ellis on saxophone.
The group’s debut album garnered no attention. Its next three were just the opposite, riding a wave of MTV hits, from “Do You Believe in Love,” and “I Want a New Drug” to “The Heart of Rock & Roll” and “If This is It,” to massive success. The band sold tens of millions of albums, and 1983’s Sports sold 10 million copies alone. Along the way, they powered the Back to the Future soundtrack, collaborated with some San Francisco 49ers on “Hip to be Square” and Lewis landed a slot on the hit charity single “We Are the World.” That moment had Lewis standing shoulder to shoulder with the some of the biggest names in the history of recorded music, including Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and others.
Though he’s lived elsewhere, Lewis has remained connected to the 94941. In 2015, the band played a benefit for The Redwoods senior living community, and two years later, they performed a pair of shows on the closing night of the 40th Mill Valley Film Festival as a fundraiser for festival producer California Film Institute’s plans to eventually renovate the Sequoia Theatre, which has long been the centerpiece of MVFF and which CFI bought for $2.5 million in 2008 after an expansive community fundraising campaign.
“Needless to say, I feel horrible about this, and wish to sincerely apologize to all the fans who’ve already bought tickets and were planning to come see us,” Lewis added in his statement. “I’m going to concentrate on getting better, and hope that one day soon I’ll be able to perform again.”