S1: Episode 8 - Juanito Castillo

Portrait of Juanito Castillo

Episode Information

[Intro Music]

Narrator:          Welcome to My Heart is Not Blind. Narrative histories about blindness and perception. A traveling exhibition and book published by Trinity University Press, supported by Gronkowski Charitable Foundation, edited and hosted by Michael Nye. Every person. Every place is a map to somewhere else. Episode eight Juanito Castillo.

Juanito:            My birth certificate says John Eric Castillo. But on stage everyone knows me as Juanito Castillo my life cares, wants, needs craves is nothing but music. So I’ve done since I was three. So I do it to the day I die. When I was born, they put me in an incubator and they gave me oxygen. That oxygen was a little too much for my small one pound, 10 ounce self. And they ended up damaging my retina and some of my optical nerves. And that left me with light perception. I adapted to being blind. Just naturally. Light perception means you can only see light, you can’t see shadows, you can’t see colors, you can’t see faces, you can only see when there’s something bright that’s on or something bright that’s soft.

I was known for in school being restless. And uh, I guess doctors nowadays would say I had a case of ADD I really never got in trouble much for anything other than being loud and banging my little toy drum set while everyone was taking their naps. I was real adamant by the time I was 14 that I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted do nothing but write and create and record music. I said that and teachers mocked me for the next four years.

On my 18th birthday as a birthday president, my dad withdrew me out of school. You cannot be taught soul through books. You can only be taught soul through some street smarts and through some pain and blues and suffering. You know, you can’t play the blues without feeling the blues. You know? And, and, and that’s something that scholastic teachings will never give a musician.

I didn’t want that. I wanted the real feel. The real rice and beans. Echo location is sonar. It’s a blind person’s sonar. I do a certain click sound. <click sounds> You can hear the echo bounce back.

So I use it on a day to day basis to walk from point A to point B and uh, to ride my bike. You can locate, uh, the distance between you and the wall, the distance between you and where a car is at, even where a person is moving.

It’s just a simple clicks just like that <click sounds>. It’s almost like not seeing a shadow, but hearing a shadow. My teacher was the oldest teacher since the Dino era, common sense. Music is with me 24/7, 365 days a year. It’s always there from when I’m going to sleep, and I tuck myself, in even in my dreams music is there. Are you kidding? Some of my songs come out of dreams. All I can tell you is the truth is in the notes. The notes never lie. I had this girlfriend of mine at one point, she was tremendously mad at me.

She said, Babe, you only hear what you want to hear and you only remember what you want to remember. I stopped and thought about that for a minute. I said, Ain’t that the truth? You know, you, you gotta look behind the masks. Some of the misconceptions here, here’s my favorite. I’m gonna start as my favorite one. I walked into a store one time with my bass player and we were gonna get an 18 pack of beer store Clerk goes, uh, I’m sorry, uh, gentlemen, uh, y’all can’t get no more beer because he’s too drunk.

Simply because I was holding onto a shoulder. And I said, Well, I’m freaking blind. I’m blind. What do you expect? And another thing I believe they think that we can’t live on our own, much less have a family on our own. The only difference is our eyes do not work. That’s it. There’s, I mean, and our, and our sense of touch is a little more, It’s, it’s way more sensitive. I never ever, ever, ever, ever had time to feel sorry for myself. Music was what took up all of my time. It took up all of my hours. I, I could pretty much do anything I wanted to do except, uh, walk strange places. But that was just fine by me.

Not every day is going to be perfect. Not every drum set’s gonna be in tune. You gotta work with what you have. And, and it’s the only way that you’ll fulfill your purpose without, uh, being spoon fed the baby food.

[Outro Music]

Host:                This is Michael Nye, and you have been listening to a podcast of narrative histories. Juanito is proficient in 14 instruments and widely considered to be the Jimi Hendrix of the accordion. When I’m playing music, it feels like I’m literally flying. I’m a little kid again, having fun. He said, “My blindness has given me a humble look on life. You’ve got to work with what you have, and it’s the only way that you fulfill your purpose without being spoon fed the baby food.”

Join me next week. Two new episodes will be released. Please subscribe, rate, and review this podcast. You can also go to my website, michaelnye.org/podcast for transcripts and other information. There are so many ways. Different ways to experience moments to their fullest. Thank you for listening.