A Very Special Concert

The enduring bond between Huey Lewis and the developmentally disabled

So back to the stereotypes about retarded people. When I tell people that I love my work with my retarded clients, they invariably conjure up a picture of a drooling monobrow with one arm curled into his chest and a shit-eating grin on his face. This is a stereotype of a retarded person. Here are some others: All retarded people are happy-go-lucky; all retarded people pull their shorts up as high as they can; all retarded people have bathroom accidents; all retarded people want to hug you. In reality, retarded people are just like you and me: They come in all shapes and sizes. They, too, put their pants on one leg at a time. It's just that sometimes they put theirs on backward.

Here are some facts about retarded people. First, they are zero-bullshit. If you are a jerk, they will call you on it. If you have a booger hanging out, they'll damn sure let you know. That's all I've ever asked for from a friend.

Retarded people never make fun of someone else, never point and laugh at anybody. In fact, my clients generally see the good in everyone. All of these are generalizations, and of course there are exceptions to the rule, but mostly these are the reasons why I love my work.

There is, however, one stereotype about retarded people that is true, one broad brushstroke that one can make about them all: Good gosh a'mighty, retarded people love them some Huey Lewis. Part of the reason is that Huey is apparently a sweetheart who does a lot of volunteer work with people who have developmental disabilities. But another big part is the music.

My clients have a favorite record, and it's not Fore! or Picture This. Nope, everyone loves the soundtrack to Back to the Future, on which one finds the song "Back in Time." It's a testament to the songwriting prowess of the News, who were asked to write a song for a movie in which the protagonist goes back in time. They put their heads together and came up with the perfect song, a song called "Back in Time." You see, there's no pathos or back story to News songs. They are straightforward ("Stuck With You"), energetic ("The Power of Love"), and easy to relate to ("Hip to Be Square"). These truths are appreciated by a wide variety of music lovers, some of whom just happen to be mentally retarded.

The county fair takes place at the base of the Marin Civic Center, a Disney-ish building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Huey would be playing on an island in the middle of a lake.

Bobbi, my date for the evening, is one of my best friends in the program. She is all heart, with an easy laugh, Down syndrome, and a wicked crush on Huey. She first met the songster when she was just 7 years old. She was sure that Huey would remember her.

Bobbi and I arrived a full three hours before the show was set to start, certain we would find decent seating. Bobbi's about 5 feet tall with poor eyesight, and wouldn't be able to see shit if we were stuck in the back. Unfortunately, sitting on my shoulders would be out of the question, because she weighs 200 pounds. When we got there, all of the seats were taken up with retirees in visors and their various beach towels, jackets, and backpacks that they had used to save seats for their brood. I had a hard time not going up to them and saying, "No savesies!," especially after circling the joint for 15 minutes with Bobbi to no avail.

The chivalry of people, or lack thereof, never ceases to amaze me. Bobbi cannot walk very well; she has a sort of circular gait like Billy Barty's. It's easy to see that she has to struggle to get around. Yet no one offered a chair for her to sit in, afraid that he would lose his valuable Huey-viewy. Either that or the two of us were invisible. I've found that it's easy to tune out people with disabilities, and most people do. We ended up standing on the lawn to the right of the stage.

Bobbi had brought her 25th-anniversary DVD that I had given her for her birthday, a couple of Huey tapes, and a Sharpie so the singer could sign them. I went to buy her a Coke and a Polish sausage before we settled in.

"No beans," she reminded me, our inside joke. Whenever we go anywhere -- hamburger joint, Chinese restaurant, Mexican place -- she always tells the waiter to "hold the beans." Apparently she had a bad reaction a while back, and has been vigilant about legumes in her diet ever since.

"Right," I replied as usual, "extra beans, comin' up."

As I walked to the sausage hut, my attention was immediately drawn to a middle-aged woman in the front row who was crying hysterically. She was clutching a CD, wearing mismatched, age-inappropriate clothes, and rocking back and forth. "They won't let me go up to the stage!" she yelled. "I won't see Huey!" She was telling this to anyone who would listen as if the people around her had known her all her life. She was retarded. Among the several hundred or so gathered for the concert, roughly 10 percent seemed to have some sort of developmental disability. Huey really is a phenomenon; it's not just with my clients.

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