Huey Lewis, the polo-shirted, red-suited king of the pop charts during the last throes of pop monoculture in the 1980s, is struggling with hearing problems as his enters his 70s. Will his hearing normalize? As Dave Holmes reveals in this profile at Esquire, it’s anybody’s guess.
Huey was backstage at a News gig in Dallas, and all at once the opening act turned into distortion. “They’re playing, and it sounds like it’s warfare … like there’s an airplane taking off.” He went through with the gig, but even the sound in his in-ear monitors was a jumble. He couldn’t find pitch in his own music. “It was the worst night of my life.” An ear specialist put him on a steroid regimen for twenty-eight days. No change. He saw a rheumatologist, then an immunologist, then an otolaryngologist at Stanford. The best any of them could do was to diagnose it, and barely. “They tell me I have Ménière’s disease, but nobody knows what Ménière’s is. It’s a syndrome based on the symptoms. If you have vertigo, stuffed ears—like it feels like you just got out of a swimming pool—and hearing loss and tinnitus,” all of which Huey has experienced, “then they call it Ménière’s.” He shrugs. “But they don’t know what it is.” They also don’t know what causes it or how to cure it. His doctors have put him on a low-salt diet, but he’s not sure it’s helping. The condition might go away as it came on. It also might not.
Huey wears hearing aids that play a series of five tones when he puts them in each morning—“It’s an F chord,” he tells me—and if he can hear all of them, that’s a level 6 hearing day. Today is his twenty-fifth level 6 hearing day in a row, a new record. If he racks up another week or two of 6’s, he’ll try to sing along to loud music. “What I got to do is get stabilized for a month, and if this works, then we’ll try a little rehearsal experiment. If that works, then we’ll try a full-blown rehearsal. If that works, then maybe book a gig. But I’m a ways away from that yet.”