On Valentine's Day, Huey Lewis and The News released Weather — what might be the last album in a career that has spanned four decades. That's because the band's frontman and namesake can no longer hear his own music as it sounds.
Two years ago, Huey Lewis was diagnosed with Meniere's disease, a disorder affecting the inner ear that can trigger spells of dizziness and hearing loss.
"I can't hear the notes — I just hear cacophony," Lewis says.
Lewis can still hear out of his left ear, but he says it's sporadic and distorted.
He says his left ear was once his good ear. He'd lost most of his hearing in his right ear about 35 years ago, around the same time that the 1985 film Back To The Future featured the Huey Lewis and the News song "Power of Love," shooting the Bay Area band to new levels of pop stardom.
In April 2018, the band called off a tour, announcing that Lewis "can't hear music well enough to sing."
With their album, the band is releasing its first record of original music in nearly 20 years. It's a collection of seven-songs that the band worked on before Lewis' hearing problems became more pronounced.
"It may be [my final album]," Lewis says. "It's hard for me to find pitch so I can't sing to the music."
The diagnosis was "incredibly depressing" at first, he says.
"I spent two months in bed, really, fasting and trying all kinds of protocols, including steroids."
Last year, the musician told the Whitefish Review, a Montana-based journal, that he was suicidal at the time.
Lewis says that over time he's found ways to cope with his hearing challenges.
"First of all, you can kind of get used to almost anything," he says. "And number two, I remind myself that there's lots of people that are worse off than I am ... I'm still, overall, a lucky guy."
But he hasn't ruled out the possibility of returning to the stage.
"I'm hoping to recover my hearing so we can get the band back together and play live, but can't right now, and I can't tell you that I'm certain that I ever will again," he says. "In the meantime, I'm staying as creative as I can."
Lewis is using the time he once spent singing to pursue other projects.
For the past 10 years, in collaboration with the Tony Award-winning producer Hunter Arnold, Lewis has been songwriting for a musical based on Huey Lewis and The News' tunes, The Heart of Rock & Roll.
Since his hearing grew debilitating, Lewis says he has been able to write one song for the production.
When it comes to song craft, he says, "generally, it's the idea that's the most important part ... and the hook — the title or what the song is about — and that's the hardest part."
Luckily, he hasn't lost that sense.
"I can't do the minutiae. I can kind of see the forest. I just have a little trouble with the trees."
NPR's Robert Baldwin III and William Troop produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Emma Bowman adapted it for the Web.
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
And finally today, I'm sure many of you remember this song.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE POWER OF LOVE")
HUEY LEWIS AND THE NEWS: (Singing) That's the power of love. That's the power of love.
FADEL: "The Power Of Love" helped make Huey Lewis and the News one of the most iconic musical acts of the 1980s. Now they're back with a new album, "Weather," the band's first album of original songs in nearly 20 years.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHILE WE'RE YOUNG")
HUEY LEWIS AND THE NEWS: (Singing) While we're young, let's go out and have some fun. Oh, baby, but we're done. Let's go back and give it some. We better do it while we're young.
FADEL: Thing is, this new album from Huey Lewis could possibly be his last. Lewis suffers from Meniere's disease, which is an inner-ear disorder that causes spells of dizziness and hearing loss, both of which the singer has experienced. Huey Lewis stopped by our studios in Culver City, Calif., to talk about his new album and how his diagnosis directly influenced the timing of its release.
HUEY LEWIS: I lost my hearing two years ago, and we - you know, we were - the plan was to just, you know, record 10 songs and - record until we had an album and then release the album. And we're not the most prolific bunch in the world, and besides which, we were doing 75 shows a year. And with travel, that occupies at least half the year. So we - when we got an idea, we would record it and put it in the can. And we had kind of seven of those things done. And then my hearing collapsed two years ago.
LEWIS: We kind of waited a year to see if my hearing were to recover, and it didn't. And so we decided to share the songs with our fans.
FADEL: How did you find out? And what was your reaction when you first found out you were losing your hearing?
LEWIS: Well, I lost my right ear 35 ago. I had a couple of intense vertigo attacks almost five years apart. And between them, I lost my right ear, or at least 80% of my right ear, and existed on my left ear until two years ago - January 27, 2018 to be exact. And I lost my left ear. It just went belly-up. And now - although the left ear still fluctuates, and so I'm hoping it'll improve. I've been better, and then I get worse. It's kind of episodic. It's very strange. But I've been everywhere and tried everything, and so far, no help.
FADEL: So does this diagnosis mean that you have to stop music? Is this your final album?
LEWIS: It may be. It may be. I can't hear music at the moment. It's too - you know, music is a hundred times harder to listen to than speech because even one note occurs in all frequencies with, you know, harmonics and overtones and all that. And so what happens with my particular condition is the lower frequencies on my left side distort violently so that I can't hear the notes. I just hear cacophony. And it's hard for me to find pitch, so I can't sing to the music.
FADEL: So right now, when you hear your own songs, you hear cacophony.
LEWIS: Exactly. I cannot tell you what song it is. You're playing me the song, I couldn't even you what song it is.
FADEL: Wow. I mean, this is - must have been a devastating diagnosis. And I know it's been two years now, but for a person who's done music all their lives, all their life, what do you - how do you deal with it?
LEWIS: The short answer is as best you can. You know, it was incredibly depressing in the very beginning. I spent - you know, I kind of spent two months in bed, really, fasting and trying all kinds of protocols, including steroids. And I lost 18 pounds, and, you know, and all.
But finally, you know, you kind of - first of all, you can kind of get used to almost anything. And No. 2, I remind myself that there's lots of people that are worse off than I am. It's not easy sometimes. But I think it's important to remember that. And I'm still overall, you know, a lucky guy. And so I try to remember that.
FADEL: Despite his condition, Huey Lewis says he's not giving up on making music. He can still write lyrics for new songs, and his bandmates help him with the rest. What hasn't changed is the band's sound, as you can hear in another of his new songs called "Remind Me Why I Love You Again."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REMIND ME WHY I LOVE YOU AGAIN")
HUEY LEWIS AND THE NEWS: (Singing) You don't cook, and you won't clean, can't even operate a washing machine.
LEWIS: Obviously, there's a little tongue-in-cheek there. And...
LEWIS: You know, it's I'm blue, you're red. Thank God we got a Sleep Number bed.
LEWIS: You know, what is it? It's you don't cook, and you won't clean. I can't even - you don't even...
FADEL: You can't even...
LEWIS: You don't know how to operate a washing machine.
FADEL: So it's upbeat. It's fun, opposites in love. But it's also 2020. People don't necessarily look for cooking, cleaning, washing machine anymore.
LEWIS: That's it. That's it. That's it. And the bridge says exactly that - opposites attract. Well, you know that's a fact. But our love goes deeper than that.
FADEL: Your career has spanned across four decades. And how have you evolved with the sound, the technology, culture around music? How have you changed with your music?
LEWIS: You know, I don't think we have changed, actually. I think we were sort of anachronistic to begin with, and we're anachronistic now. You know, one thing that is kind of interesting is we formed just before music television, so our first - we formed as an audio, you know, when audio was king.
And to that end, the songs we wrote - we tried to write - were - we wanted to be timeless. We didn't want them to be time-sensitive. And interestingly, a lot of the songs that we wrote when we were in our 20s and 30s somehow are now more appropriate that we're in our 40s and 50s and 60s.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I AM THERE FOR YOU")
HUEY LEWIS AND THE NEWS: (Singing) So if you ever need a friend, well, I'll be there until the end 'cause you do it for me...
FADEL: That was Huey Lewis of Huey Lewis and the News. Their new album is called "Weather," and it's out now.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I AM THERE FOR YOU")
HUEY LEWIS AND THE NEWS: (Singing) When you need me, I am there for you, guarantee you I am there for you. I will comfort you if you want me to anywhere you go, baby, you should know I am there for you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.