Reid My Mind Radio: On Music & Identity with Graham Norwood

Full body picture of Graham in all denim in front of a brown wooden background with a white framed door.
“It’s been a long time coming…” and we’re finally here. Back with another episode and finally bringing you a request from a listener. NYC based Musician Graham Norwood spoke with me about his music, the process of becoming a part of the disability community and more. Plus hear some samples of his music and become a fan!

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Transcript

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TR:
Hello RMM Radio family.
I hope you all are doing well.
And I mean that with real sincerity.
I honestly miss you!
Before we get into this week’s episode I feel as though I should apologize. I’m truly committed to producing this show so when things get
reprioritized in my life I still want to make it happen.
Missing the last installment really bothered me but we’re back today with a new episode and a special one at that.
This one itself is long over do
Last year I received a request from a listener of RMM Radio asking me to interview a musician she followed on Instagram.
I know, it sounds like I am a private investigator for hire minus the fees. Actually, I think it’s pretty cool. She wanted to know more about this person and thought he would be a good fit for the podcast. She was correct and for that I send a sincere thanks.
It took some time for he and I to find some common ground in our schedules, but because it was a request, I couldn’t drop the ball on this one.
So here we go.
Audio: RMMRadio Intro
TR:
You’re listening to Graham Norwood, a New York City based musician.
He currently also serves as the Director of Foundations and
Corporate Relations for the Partnership for the Homeless a
New York City based nonprofit.
GN: I grew up a town called San Mateo which is about twenty miles south of San Francisco. I have a condition called L.C.A. Labor’s congenital amaurosis which is similar to R.P. Actually I thought I had R.P. my whole life until I had genetic testing a couple years ago and they said it was actually L.C.A.
TR:
LCA or Leber’s congenital amaurosis
has similarities to RP or retinitis pigmentosa and many
eye doctors consider it to be an early-onset form of RP.
Just like RP or retinitis pigmentosa,
LCA is a slowly progressive condition that
also has several forms, each with
different genetic causes.
As Graham experienced this all of his life it was his normal.
GN:
I honestly didn’t give it that much thought. All the schools I went to really kind of were willing to provide whatever accommodations were necessary but I don’t know I didn’t really need a ton of accommodations. Growing up my sight was a little bit better. I was able to kind of follow along okay, so wasn’t it wasn’t that big of a deal.
TR:
Music came pretty natural to Graham.
Starting with the piano around 7 or 8 years old, moving on to the guitar at 10.
He later realized he could sing and since then music was a central part of his life.
GN:
Music is kind of like a level playing field where whether you can see or not is pretty irrelevant. If you sound good then it’s not that big of a deal. I don’t think I was ever consciously aware of that but you know looking back that’s very true. I think I was able to meet and play with a lot of you know really pro level musicians and they were very accepting of me there was never any sort of like “well you’re blind you can’t do this.” That’s not always the case, I mean, there are certain professions in careers where even if you maybe do have a work around and people are still kind of suspicious and the joblessness rate in the blind and low vision community is seventy percent. It’s very hard for people with low vision to build careers for themselves and they deal with a lot of prejudice even just sort of unconscious bias they really don’t have a sense of what the technological adaptations are how people go about their lives they try to empathize and try to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. But if you don’t have the experience of being blind and figuring out the work arounds and having a good problem solving skills then you have you know your first thought is like “oh my God if I couldn’t see I couldn’t do anything.” So they don’t realize how adaptable people are and how they come up with ways to get around all that stuff and be successful in spite of the little vision
TR in conversation with GN:
Do you find that that was in all aspects of music? So do you get involved in the recording side of it as well?
GN:
You know, I honestly don’t really I’ve never really been that good with kind of recording myself. Certain programs like Reaper, an audio software program that’s pretty good and pretty accessible for low vision people, but I’ve honestly never gotten too far down that road I’ve always worked with other engineers. I really like the kind of studio atmosphere being able to focus in on the performance and having somebody else kind of worry about the engineering side of it.
TR in conversation with GN:
I am recording you through Reaper right now. (laughs)
GN:
(Laughs) Right on! Yeah it’s cool I just spent six months at Colorado Center for the blind and they showed me a little bit of how to use Reaper. And yeah it was cool. I did a little bit of recording on that it’s a pretty cool program.
TR:
The Colorado Center for the Blind is located south of Denver.
Taken from their website;
the center provides innovative teaching techniques and philosophy
that continues to have Far-reaching effects on
the lives of blind people, taking them to new heights of independence.
I was a little surprised to hear that he just returned from the center since he has experienced vision loss his entire life.
His explanation made total sense and gives a bit of insight into his character.
What sounds like the type of guy who will fix a perceived flaw.
GN:
There were certain things that I didn’t really learn when I was growing up. My domestic skills were pretty limited. I didn’t really know how to cook I didn’t really learn that much about like how to clean you know keep an apartment clean and things like that. I got to a point where I really wanted to learn those things. Colorado school teaches that stuff they also teach Braille, they teach mobility assistive technology. Some stuff I found more immediately useful than other things. I mean, I’ve had a cane training, I’m pretty mobile so the mobility stuff I felt like I had a pretty good handle on. Certainly, the home management stuff was really helpful to me and you know has made a pretty big difference.
TR in conversation with GN:
Did you have a lot of contact with other people who are visually growing up?
GN:
No I didn’t at all. That’s a good question because that was actually the thing I think that was most beneficial to me or made of the biggest impression when I did finally get the Colorado school. It was the first time really that I had been around a lot of other blind and vision people. It’s really only been in the last maybe five years maybe not even maybe four years, that I’ve kind of become much more involved and aware of that blind and low vision community and also the larger kind of people with disabilities community. When I was going up I was the only blind person I knew. I think in a lot of ways it was it was great for me in the sense of I never really thought of myself in those terms and I kind of when I would come to a situation where it would be harder for me to do something than a sighted person I would just sort of figure it out. I didn’t put any barriers or restrictions on myself in terms of what I could do. But I think what I didn’t get was it was the vision thing was something that I always kind of marginalised and I never really embraced it as a part of who I was. At the end of the day it’s a pretty big thing. It’s certainly not what defines me but it’s definitely a significant piece of that identity. And so I met some people maybe starting four or five years ago I started working as a grant writer at The National Organization on Disability and getting more and more interested in the sort of employment issues for people with disabilities. I met a few pretty cool blind people and the best advice I got actually was that you know you got to meet other cool blind people and you know see these other blind people that are doing really interesting stuff. So I found that very inspiring to start meeting other people in the community.
TR:
And that’s exactly what he did.
By volunteering with Team Sea to See.
GN:
S E A to S E E. It’s for kind of very successful business people who are also blind who are athletes and they’re taking part in this crazy bike race. Basically the world’s toughest bike race for blind people and then for sighted people riding tandems coast to coast in nine days. I’ve been helping them with fundraising we got funding from Google and the American Foundation for the Blind. Gatorades helping us out and some other pretty cool sponsors. And it’s basically to raise awareness of this godlessness issue. That’s kind of indicative of my transition over the past few years to really feeling more a part of the blind and low vision and people with disabilities community and wanting to be more involved in that. I think the biggest issue that people have, people with disabilities have, in a lot of ways is visibility and just getting out there. I don’t think people without disability see enough of that. One in six Americans has a disability I think something like one to two percent of the population this is low vision. It’s not like one in fifty people that you know are blind that’s not true for most of the population. People just don’t have a sense of how blind and low vision people or people with other disabilities can really thrive and succeed in and do amazing stuff. I’m much more aware of this idea now and I’m wanting to get the word out and just wanting to live my life in public as a low vision person so that other people can kind of be aware of you know the fact that they we’re out there and we’re doing awesome stuff and people can just sort of revise what they think is possible for people with disabilities.
TR in conversation with GN:
Was there any one thing that made you go that way? Was there something that occurred in your own experience?
GN:
I don’t think strictly so. I had a long term relationship and I think on a very practical level I went from living with this person for eight years to suddenly living on my own again for the first time in a long time. And I think you know on a very practical level that was a wake up call in terms of like the things that I took for granted that this woman helped me out with suddenly I had to do myself. Honestly, it was just maturing a little bit and realizing that I had been marginalizing this big component of my identity because I was so I was so paranoid of the idea that someone would just label me as like “oh the blind guy” you know and I never wanted to be that I wanted people to think of me more broadly and see the whole person as opposed to just the disability. That was something that I intuitively felt even from a very young age and so I just never wanted to make a big deal out of it and never want to be engaged with it and as I got a little bit older I think I realised that, I understood why I did it and I see you know the motivation behind feeling that way but ultimately I thought “this is kind of silly.” I need to own this more and be proud of who I am and you know not ignore this one thing but really embrace it and turn it into a positive. In addition to starting to work for the National Organization of Disability I went to National Federation of the blind, a national convention in Florida one year. I don’t know if you’ve ever been it was like completely overwhelming to me it was like twenty five hundred blind people in a convention center just like absolute chaos you know people like crashing into each other and just like (laughs). It was it was so overwhelming when I first got there. But then it really struck me because it was basically just a bunch of people who were like “you know what screw it like I this is who I am and this is this is how I get around and this is the way I live my life.” I hope this doesn’t come across the wrong way but one of the takeaways for me was you know blindness isn’t always elegant, right? Like you use a cane to feel what’s in front of you and you know sometimes you whack a trash can and it’s like super loud. But that’s what the cane supposed to do and that’s how you get around and it may not be the most aesthetically beautiful way but it’s how we operate. I think I also felt like maybe I had been I had been trying to minimize those kinds of situations but I was going to such great lengths to not have those situations that I wasn’t authentically being myself and you know being just a person with a visual impairment who is out in the world and being independent and so that was my other, I think, turning point was seeing so many other blind people just living their lives and doing their thing and and being proud of it and not ashamed of it. So that was another thing that happened around the time that I started working for a National Organization of Disability that just made me realize you know this is how it is and there’s nothing to be ashamed of there’s nothing to avoid. I came away thinking this is a really beautiful thing that I haven’t been authentic and I haven’t been embracing and I want to start being more more real about being a person with a visual impairment. I don’t think there was any real like turning point that brought me to that it was it was a slow process and I really kind of started by like dipping my toe in the water and starting to reach out individually do a couple in the vision people and then it built from there. Then you know I had these these moments where I was like oh I get this now and I want to be more apart of this.
TR in conversation with GN:
I know I met so many people with low vision who straddle that line. And I’m not saying that they need to make a decision and go one way but it sounds like what you chose was the best for you to continue on and be your authentic self and sometimes I don’t think that people necessarily make that their choice I don’t think they’re being really authentic. And you know I’m trying not to judge necessarily but I’m also just saying like I see them that they’re not doing everything that they can and they’re hoping they holding on are grasping on to something. Do you understand what I’m saying?
GN: Oh absolutely and it’s hard because especially you know like I said I was born and grew up with this. And I think it’s probably really hard if somebody has you know normal or relatively normal vision and then they have to navigate that transition. Because you know let’s face it there’s a lot of stigmatization out there and you don’t necessarily want to suddenly identify as being a, well I avoid the term disabled person I was always say person with a disability because like smoke alarms get disabled and people are still people whether they have a disability or not. But yeah I mean you know I think I’ll always probably straddle that line. But the important thing for me was was the realization that I could exist on both sides of it and I didn’t have to make a choice and when I want to I’m fully qualified to be part of the blind and low vision community and there’s nothing wrong with that and people except me there and I didn’t know if they would it and then I realize that they totally do. And if I want to just hang out with all of my sighted friends and I don’t want to talk about or think about blindness I can do that too. For the longest time I felt like I didn’t belong in either world and then eventually I realized that I belonged in both.
TR:
It’s pretty obvious that raising awareness of blindness and disability issues is a high priority for Graham. I can respect that.
Learning to self-identify as a person with a disability is a process.
It begins with real self-examination and truthfulness.
Based on those I have spoken to who have gone through the process, it appears it leads to a greater level of comfort in one’s own skin.
In a way, Graham’s relationship with music is mirroring his life.
He traditionally played a more supportive role as a musician.
Playing in bands and producing records for others.
He’s currently working on his own album and he hopes will
get picked up by a label and released later this year.
You can learn more about his upcoming album, show dates and more.
GN:
My website is just my name Graham Norwood Music dot com (spells out grahamnorwood.com ). Custom tracks up on there I put my upcoming gigs on there know we will be putting up some announcements about the album when it comes out later this year people can email me through that and that’s that’s probably the best way.
TR:
Producing this episode probably began sometime last summer. It took some time to actually reach Graham, then scheduling problems, then my back issues and more recently my other commitments.
With certain people I interview, I can’t help but think how effective it would be to have the opportunity to really hang out with the person and observe them in their environment.
I suspect I would have seen relationships between his day job,
his self-discovery and acceptance of his identity as a person with vision loss and his music of course.
I couldn’t help but hear some of my own story in Graham’s.
I always mention the impact attending the state conference of the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind had on my life.
While it wasn’t as large as the national conferences and conventions it was impactful.
Meeting the cool blind people who were living productive lives.
Observing their level of comfort in their own skin made me know it was possible that I too could attain that.
I’m reminded of hearing about these cool blind people from
prior guests on Reid My Mind Radio including Josh Miele, Chancey Fleet and more.
I know Using my white cane to navigate effectively may not look very smooth at times.
Occasionally, I might mess up but that’s ok. I get better. Most importantly I’m better at accepting when I get a bit thrown off.
Like I did with this podcast.
Just to let you know I have some episodes coming up in the next few weeks so please stay tuned.
Remember, 2BlindMics; the number 2 capital B, lind capital M, ics.
This is the show I co-host with my podcast partner Doctor Dre. It’s right down the block on your local podcast app. Give it a listen and feel free to let me know what you think good or bad. I’m interested in hearing from the RMMRadio listeners. We have a lot of interviews with some of the rap artists and others involved in the Yo MTV Raps experience.
I really do appreciate feedback. it’s the only real way to improve…
Even if it’s something I disagree with, I can decide to not do anything about it but at least I was informed.
Sort of like Graham making the decision to go to the Colorado center to improve his own skills. You have to respect that. We’re supposed to fix our flaws and become the best person we can be.
You can do the same by subscribing to this podcast – Reid My Mind Radio – remember that’s R E I D.
It’s available just about wherever you get podcasts plus Sound Cloud, Stitcher and Tune In Radio.
And I plan to talk to you soon!
Peace!
Audio: Graham:
Whether you can see or not is pretty irrelevant, if you sound good it’s not that big of a deal.

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