By Veronica Morley
“I had just left my house, and I grab my cane and go outside. All of a sudden this woman links her arm to mine and says ‘I help you,’” said Tommy Edison while he explained the most unusual experience he has had with a random bystander. Edison, most famously known as The Blind Film Critic, has been blind since birth. On Oct. 5, he spoke to students about his life, career and rise to YouTube stardom in honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
Edison’s career success began in the radio business. He started his first internship around 1983 at two Connecticut radio stations: WJAZ and WSTC. Both were run by Rick Patrone. In 1987, he was given the chance to be a disk jockey for WJAZ. In 1989, he spent a summer as a traffic consultant on the air before returning as a DJ from 1991-1994. In 1994, he moved to Star 99.9 where he remained until 2013.
“I had two loves as a child. I fell in love with pop music and rock’n’roll, and I fell in love with the radio. I figured I wanted to be a rockstar, or I wanted to be a disk jockey,” said Edison.
Edison shared his various experiences and systems he designed to help him navigate the radio station. He talked about reaching out to neighbors and friends to drive him to work in the middle of the night. He shared, with a smirk, the irony of a man who cannot see and has never driven consulting on traffic over the air.
“Radio is wonderful because it’s the most fair media there is,” said Edison.
Although Edison was happy as a DJ, he felt the rest of his life was “ish.” He was unhappy and started to see a therapist. He told the therapist that he had “25 valium and a case of beer,” and he planned to end his life. His therapist asked him just to come back one more week, and he did.
When he returned, his therapist helped him change his view of who he was. He started thinking of himself not as a blind man, but a man who just happens to be blind. “That woman saved my life,” said Edison.
In April 2011, Edison and his friend were watching movies when they decide to record Edison while he critiques the movie. That first critique was of the movie “Scream 4”. After they uploaded the review to YouTube, Edison went to work. Three days later, he got a call from the Lazlow Show and was tweeted by Roger Ebert.
“We recorded this video of me trying to use an ATM machine, and if you get the chance, you should go watch it, and after we uploaded it, we started getting a bunch of questions from people,” said Edison. That was when they decided to create the YouTube channel, The Tommy Edison Experience, where Edison would answer questions from viewers.
Some of the questions he has been asked and answered include the following: Does it bother you when people are naked around you? Do you ever wonder what you look like? How did you find out your sexual orientation? When do you know to stop wiping in the bathroom?
“Feel free to ask me anything you guys want because, really, I’ve probably already been asked something a lot stranger before,” said Edison as he started the Q&A.
Students asked Edison a variety of questions. One student asked him what his most memorable experience as a DJ was. Edison shared an entertaining and memorable anecdote of when he was working a morning show.
He and his co-host often liked to sing along to the records they played, only they would changed parts of the song. They called this ritual “Dirty Records” because their versions were often more salacious than the original song. One morning they are playing “Dirty Records” with ‘Cruisin’ by Gwyneth Paltrow and Huey Lewis.
“So we’re singing, only we didn’t know that Tad, our producer, actually recorded us the whole time,” said Edison. During this particular instance, Edison had been singing the chorus line “Cruise with me, baby” only replace the word cruise with f—. The station had aired that recording, and Edison said he couldn’t sleep.
However, his boss had laughed the situation off and calmed Edison’s worries.
Morgan Meridian, 18, is a business major who attended the event and listened to Edison’s humorous and inspiring stories. “I loved it. His perspectives you can learn from. I loved his story about the radio recording,” she said.
Edison also shared what it is like for him to dream. Yes, the blind can dream. He said the most intense dream he ever had was after his mother died. He dreamed she called him and faked her death. She came to visit him, and he could hear her voice clearly. He could smell her perfume. He could feel her touch.
“He was very open about being blind, and that was really cool. He was lighthearted, and I can’t wrap my mind about how he dreams, but his dreams are really cool,” said Tiara Duun, 19, a nursing student who attended the event.
Jason Watkins, the assistant director of Programs and Services, met Edison last year at a conference and invited him to speak at CSU Bakersfield. “He’s just such a great guy. I’ve gotten to know him over time, talking about music, baseball, and he really is a great dude,” he said.
“In order to get yourself, you have to be with yourself. My life changed as soon as I got that. Don’t push things aside and enjoy yourself,” said Edison. Edison was contacted last year by a literary agent from New York. He is currently in the process of writing the book proposal.