The Day The Music Died
What Doesn’t Kill Us…
This may sound like an odd way to start after such a dramatic title, but keep reading and I promise you’ll understand.
In previous posts, I had mentioned that I play the guitar and how music was my life. See, when most teens were out with their friends, I was usually found hunched over a cheap Stratocaster pounding out anything from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Cradle of Filth. This was truly my life, my coping mechanism, my future. It kept me out of dark places where many would let depression take them, and gave a voice to feelings I would otherwise suppress.
Birth Of a Rockstar
I had read that most lead guitarists would eat, sleep and breath scales and arpeggios. My life goal was to be amazing, a six-string samurai. All I wanted was to amaze myself honestly. So I devoted every moment I wasn’t working to mastering my method. I would have also excluded the time I was sleeping but, truth be told I remember my mother telling me of nights she would come in to yell at me for being up that I was actually fingering scales in my sleep. I was that dedicated.
While many boys my age were chasing girls (not to say I didn’t do my share), playing sports, or video games I would sit and practice. My life was school, work, and guitar for years. Eventually, I would add partying I mean I was a rockstar in training, but that's a story for another time. Typically in those cases, my guitar came along anyways. I practiced repetitiously and meticulously scales, chords, arpeggios and of course many picking variations. Till every note rang clear and true, till I had every single note perfect. Like I said this was life.
Born to the Six String
Days became years quickly, all the while my skills grew. Then life one day happened and now I had a son. He became the largest part of my life, he was my biggest fan. I would have to keep my amp volume lower for him because he loved to sit in on jam sessions and my practice time. He loved to dance by my half stack, something between a headbang and bounce. It was cute. But he wanted to be a part of it.
He shared my love of guitar, it was amazing. I was so proud of the fact that my son was so well behaved and respectful of the instrument that he was the only toddler allowed in the guitar shop I frequented. Most little ones just made noise and had no respect for the equipment or instruments. My son, on the other hand, wouldn’t even touch any of it without someone to help him. He amazed me.
As he grew he wanted to be a bigger part of my practice, so we made it happen. My mom knew how much I loved guitar and bought me a copy of Guitar Hero for PS2 one Christmas. Having already had my fun with it, it was time to pass it on to my son. We cut the cord off of the guitar controller so he had on to play along with dad. It was adorable, he was so happy to join in rather than just be a bystander.
The Second Son Rises
Eventually, he had a brother. This one was fussier but you’ll have that sometimes. By this time I was working more, trying to get every hour my boss would give me, but never missing an opportunity to practice. I had managed to find a way to work out practicing for almost 8 hours a day on top of working and time with my sons. It meant I gave up a lot of sleep but I would manage.
I used to put my then youngest son to sleep while I practiced. I wouldn’t use an amp and would position him on my lap so that his head would rest in the crease of my fretting arm and bounce him lightly with my knee, keeping time for my playing. He would fall asleep to any number of melodic metal leads or classical such as Flight of the Bumblebee or Paganini’s 5th Caprice. Who needs a lullaby when you have that right? So music was a big part of my kids' lives.
Regardless of how life changed there was always going to be time for guitar. I refused to give it up, ever.
World Coming Undone
I worked the opening shift as a line cook, so I would wake up every morning and get to work. Typically I would get an hour of practice in before I left for my shift every morning.
This particular day was not outstanding, in no way different from any other, not at first anyway. I pulled my shoulder a little dragging the container we used to transport grease to the bin out back when we changed it. But it was nothing, no big deal. At least till it was. Halfway through my shift, I reached out to grab a dish and the noise I heard still to this day makes me want to vomit. It was this loud deep popping noise, and it came from somewhere between my shoulder and neck. I couldn’t lift the dish or my fretting arm for that matter, and my upper back was stuck in a bent or curled position.
It was painful, extremely painful. I couldn’t even do my job, my boss took over for me and I was sent out to go to the local Urgent Care up the street. I ended up having to wait till he could take me, it was so bad I couldn't lift my head or arm to even drive. I was in pain and scared.
Anything That Can Go Wrong
After treatment and time to heal I was finally taken off pain meds. The pain was for the most part gone, but that was mostly due to the fact that I couldn’t feel my arm anymore. It would move on its own but didn’t want to work with what I wanted it to do. I was no longer able to play guitar, a big part of me died. Hope, my dreams, my happiness poof… gone. It was the worst feeling of loss I’ve experienced to date.
Everything I worked so hard for, the only thing I really had that was mine was now gone. Even sitting here now thinking back on it I still feel that mourning and emptiness (and that was 12 years ago). At this point I didn’t even want to hear music anymore, it only made the pain worse. I rode to doctors' appointments, physical therapy, chiropractor appointments and work in complete silence. The music was gone.
Things Are Darkest Before It Gets Darker
After years of therapies, treatments, drugs, and visits to the chiropractor nothing had improved. I still couldn’t feel my fingers, once nimble and precise, now awkward and numb. I didn’t see a happy ending ever coming. Test after test, MRIs and every bit of blood work they could think of to try to find some treatable reason why there was no improvement with no answer. I had given up any little shimmer of hope.
I finally accepted that I would never get to play again, the music died for good. The few friends I had and old bandmates would call or stop by my house to make sure I was still alive. They could imagine how I felt and knew if it were them that there would be a reason to be concerned. I was miserable and alone without my guitar.
I came to the belief that the person who said “time heals all wounds” was clueless. Years were passing and still no improvement for me.
Move Forward or Be Left Behind
Still to this day that injury bothers me, it's improved but it's still there. I can’t lift anything heavy above my chest without major strain. I have bad headaches off and on caused by persistent pain in my neck and at times my hand’s coordination is off. But after all these years I’ve finally gained enough coordination to play again. Nowhere near what I used to be able to play and I’ll never play metal leads again, but I can play. Though old bandmates never could foresee me playing blues, country, rockabilly, and Americana, those I’ve told are just glad to see me back at it.
While I’ll never be the level I was at I’ve learned to dominate in the level I am at. I can’t play every day but at least the music is back again.