Minnesotan guitarist Billy McLaughlin chronicles his ongoing neurological struggles

Categories: Music
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Interesting stories are all around us -- the ex-Army Ranger mailman with a checkered past, the Romanian cashier and future millionaire, those heartbroken squirrels -- we can't expect to hear them all, under our noses or no. Lucky then, and so very internetty, that we heard about the Minnesotan guitarist Billy McLaughlin and his fascinating story from a news website in San Diego

After a lifetime of playing guitar, and an adulthood of doing it for a living that began around 1988, eventually winning him five Minnesota Music Awards, a solid placing on the charts, a legion of fans now well-documented on YouTube, and a steady career. But in 2001 McLaughlin was diagnosed with a neurological disorder called focal dystonia. McLaughlin put the experience this way:

It wasn't just the swollen knuckles. Something had crept in....into my hand, my wrist, my arm....an unwanted guest that wouldn't leave. I had no name for this visitor who caused my fingers to suddenly curl, caused the music to veer out of control as audiences cringed, caused my solo career to slowly (against all my stubborn nature) grind to a halt. The doctors call it focal dystonia (FD) and musicians dread the diagnosis...

It's not easy to place yourself in those shoes, having something so fundamental to your existence irrevocably taken from you. I imagine many never connect to anything like McLaughlin did to guitar, much less lose it along the way. So perhaps the next part of the story isn't as surprising as it seems on the surface -- he went southpaw. 

Billy spent years retraining his right hand to approximate the flitting hammer-on compositions he was famous for. Here's a Fox 9 report on it that could just as easily serve as a template for network news human interest formatting:


So there you have it. Just one story in the billions maybe, but one worth sharing. Here's Mr. McLaughlin playing "Fingerdance" last year, and enjoying it very much it seems. You can find  out more information on Billy McLaughlin at his website.





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