I remember the sadness I felt when I heard that guitarist Billy McLaughlin had developed focal dystonia. I could only imagine the devastation of losing the use of his left hand … the hand on which his remarkable technique—his music, his livelihood—was built. I thought his career was over.
A documentary on PBS proved me wrong. Changing Keys chronicled his emotional and physical journey as he taught himself to play the guitar right-handed. Although his technique wasn’t quite the same, he had reinvented himself as an artist. I was in awe of his courage and will.
So I was delighted today to read that the American Academy of Neurology will honor him with the 2010 Public Leadership in Neurology Award. He truly deserves it—not only for calling public attention to neurological diseases, but also for proving that life can go on. Talk about inspiration.Addition, posted April 17, 2010:
I don’t usually add comments directly to my blog posts, but I found this one from my friend Tom (aka, The Blogfodder) particularly touching and insightful:
Thank you for the good thoughts. I ran across that documentary by accident and though I’m not a fan of his music, the story and its telling grabbed me. And reminded me of another guitar man who faced neuro-crises of his own: Pat Martino was a 1960s/70s wunderkind who dropped out of sight and sound, then resurfaced in the late 80s. A brain aneurysm stole his musical memory for a decade so he taught himself to play from his old records, then began composing, teaching and recording again. His takeaway, from the bio on his website [www.patmartino.com]: “”The guitar is of no great importance to me,” he muses. “The people it brings to me are what matter. They are what I’m extremely grateful for, because they are alive. The guitar is just an apparatus.” He called one of his most recent CDs “Remember.”