The Birth of a Bifocal Lament

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Writing parody songs is a tricky business. Lots of folks try their hand at it, but it’s harder than it seems. Unless you’re Weird Al Yankovic, who has made a career of taking hit songs and transforming them into something totally different, with often hilarious results, you’d better be darn clever and have a deft way with a rhyme if you’re going to mess with someone’s perfectly good song in the hopes of making them laugh. Otherwise, the result can be laughable for all the wrong reasons.

Writing an optical parody song is even trickier. The subject matter is much more limited, and so is the audience that can appreciate such esoterica.


Jeff Hopkins, left, and Rollie Stenson performing their parody song “Sola Man” at a live CE event at the Georgia Aquarium hosted by Sola Optical, circa 2006.

I know from experience. I’ve turned Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’ into Free Formin’ and Play That Funky Music got new life as Grind Those Funky Lenses. Both were hits at the Optical Laboratories Association meeting one year, but non-optical listeners were puzzled by the lyrics. The fact is Lens Rock can only be appreciated by true aficionados.


I thought I had the Lens Rock field all to myself until I discovered that my friend, Jeff Hopkins, had also tried his hand at this arcane art form. It turns out that Jeff, a marketing ace who is also a skillful feature writer (he and I co-wrote the October VM cover story, “At Your Service”) has a considerable talent for this sort of thing. I’ll let him explain how he got into the Lens Rock game.

“When I started doing live CE as an employee of Sola Optical, I teamed up with my brilliantly talented colleague, Rollie Stenson. Rollie showed me—quite vividly—that education goes down easier (and is retained a lot better) if there is some entertainment mixed in, and nothing works better than a song parody. So when I wrote a seminar about converting bifocal wearers to progressives, I decided a song that was a sort of bifocal wearer’s lament would put the point across and maybe get a few laughs. I used to do a Johnny Cash impression that I was irrationally proud of, and it occurred to me that “I Walk the Line” could easily be converted into “I See the Line.” I think the audience liked it; at least they were still in the room when I finished.”


Andrew Karp recording "I See the Line."


I See the Line

My glasses aren’t the best but they are mine
I use them when I read and drive and dine
I really should be happy but I whine
I don’t see fine, I see the line

The reading part is big and wide and clear
I see the world alright both far and near
But my world is divided here and here (gesturing)
I don’t see fine, I see the line

What really puts me right down in the dumps
Is that I don’t see the world in one big lump
From far to near I have an image jump
I don’t see fine, I see the line

But sometimes I can feel the need to change
Because my glasses don’t have no midrange
So when I use my laptop I feel strange
I don’t see fine, I see the line

My glasses aren’t the best but they are mine
I use them when I read and drive and dine
I really should be happy but I whine
I don’t see fine, I see the line

Lyrics: Jeff Hopkins
 

When Jeff wrote his bifocal lament in 2006 he sent me the lyrics. I knew right away it was destined to become a Lens Rock classic. All he needed to do was record and distribute it to a wider optical audience.

Jeff doesn’t play an instrument, but I’m a musician. So I told him that I would record the song in my home studio and send him the finished version. Then I put the idea on the back burner. For 14 years.

Fast forward to October, 2020. As we were putting the final touches on “At Your Service,” I remembered I See the Line. Since we had just collaborated on the VM feature, I figured it was the perfect time for our long delayed musical collaboration.

Before I set out to record I See the Line, I listened closely to I Walk the Line. I had always loved Cash’s tune and admired not only its lyrics, a paean to fidelity, but also its spare yet effective accompaniment. But it’s the arrangement that really makes the song. Cash changes keys for each verse, with the final verse an octave lower than the first. It’s a perfect vehicle for his resonant bass-baritone voice.

Our version mimics Cash’s arrangement. I tried to capture a bit of his vibe in my vocal performance, too. You can listen to it here.