We Are All Disabled - Part 18

Don Alder is a musician and partner in a grand adventure - "Man In Motion" that forever changed the way we see disability. He lives alone in a basement suite over run by guitars, note books full of ideas for songs and everywhere, memories of going around the world with his best friend, Rick Hansen. 


I'm just home from Hawaii where my harp guitar and I played along side, Chris Hadfied, Astronaut and YouTube superstar as he sang the David Bowie's line, 'Ground Control to Major Tom'. And as if one very cool, talented and celebrated spaceman wasn't enough, along the road on the Big Island, I met Captain James Kirk on leave from Star Trek but still pushing the boundaries of time with humour and grace.  

And then I met a fellow named Alice Cooper. Alice may never have piloted a rocket ship but managed to do things on stage that outraged our parents, sending them into outer space every time his big rock and roll show complete with dead chickens and warm blood, arrived in town. 

On route back to Vancouver, I stopped in Maui to catch my breath and to stand in the shadow of a man who changed my life. I've written about Marshall before. He was the father I never had. His lanai is still in his family and is filled with the memories of a life so fully lived in the service of others.  It's really a sanctuary and I'm privileged to have known something of it's magic. In that place, remembering Marshall, I came to think differently about heroes and life. 

Was someone really a hero because they are famous for being famous? Or because the media love the way they sing, dance, act, play the guitar, or look great wearing bling? Or maybe it's about walking on the moon, being elected president or winning the Superbowl? Or someone who gives their life so we can live a better one?

In the solitude of Marshall's very private Hawaii, where he and I used to play bocce, those questions seemed to slip out of my mind. I couldn't concentrate, at least not on something so abstract and far away from the confidence Marshall brought to my life. 

I lost track of time on Maui. I thought a lot about the choices I'd made in life, how many great adventures I've had, and how lucky I am that music has remained such a good and trusted friend while other things have slipped away.  

As I write this,  I'm so thankful to have people and places that bring me such peace, even in the middle of the night when the time change from travel causes your body and especially your mind, to remain wide awake.

When this happens, I return  to the memory of the warm wind at Marshall's in Maui and the realization that those who seek attention are never really heroic, while those who work long and hard in pursuit of dreams can be heroes of a kind; but real heroes now and always, are just ordinary people called to do extraordinary things, often with great sacrifice, unselfishly in the service of others.  

Hawaii was productive and all things business but there was time for heroes to sign my harp guitar. And  I did feel Marshall when I slowed down enough to hear the wind. In that moment, I came to realize, I sometimes search for answers that I already have, but I search anyway. At least until I realize my heroes, the real ones, have always been close by.

We Are All Disabled - Part 17

Dancing on the Edge of Fame 

Watching the annual music awards season roll through reminds me, I've learned a lot about the business of being famous and what it takes to be in that spotlight.  At some point, I think we all bump into fame. Sometimes that spotlight is exciting and sometimes it's not. When that happens, I find myself looking for the exit.   

I love creating music and being at the centre of that process, especially when an idea becomes a song. And I'm learning to like performing or at least becoming less nervous about it, thanks to the gifted musicians who have taught me so much.                            

When you perform, mostly its for people who love music and appreciate what it takes to be in front of them, playing and singing about the most intimate parts of your life.  But selling your music and yourself are part of an entirely different world. That's where the show business begins and everything gets hard, at least it does for me. The story of how I won the 2011 Worldwide Guitar Idol in England is the best way I can describe what I mean about show business and dancing on the edge of fame. 

The year before in 2010, I'd won the Guitar Superstar event in the US and before that in 2007, I was Fingerstyle Champion. But on that far away stage in England, none of the history mattered.  I had jet lag and wasn’t totally focused. I wasn’t physically up to speed. My hands and nails were too dry and my head wasn't ready to play.  I forgot to change the strings on the guitar, so it wasn’t playing properly or sounding right. 

Making matters worse, my guitar was accidentally smashed before I performed. 
It was barely hanging together with duct tape and it was slipping in and out of tune. Standing under the lights preparing to play,  I  had flash back and not a good one — of walking on stage after the Who performed and picking to the guitar Pete Townsend had just destroyed.

Then I took a breath and opened my eyes back in the real world, still in England with the audience waiting patiently for me to begin.  My nerves were on fire and yet somehow, I slipped into the music and played my heart out. Nothing else mattered, at least until the music stopped. Then I began to think too much and began looking for the exit.

Incredibly, I heard my name being announced along with the words, winner and Guitar Idol in the same sentence.  Part of me was swept away in the applause but the other part believed, I could not have won because I just wasn't prepared. Besides so many things had gone wrong.  It was confusing. Struggling, then winning and being celebrated for something, I could have done so much better. 

I was alone in the spotlight, overwhelmed and not sure if I deserved being there.  I just couldn't get my head around what was happening. Fortunately like many things in life, it was not about what I felt emotionally,  it was about what someone else decided, objectively.  Maybe they heard something, I didn't?  Maybe I couldn't hear at all because playing your heart out, you go somewhere else?

Nonetheless,  I left England in 2011 a Guitar Idol. Thinking about it now, I might have used my time in the spotlight to thank Linus for the use of his blanket throughout my career and the guy who invented the Duck tape that kept my guitar and me from falling apart.  I have never pursued music because I wanted or expected anything from it.  I play because it helps me remain at peace, in a world that can be confusing, unfair and sometimes absolutely delightful all in the same moment.  

Victor's Head Trip and the Old Greek Philosopher

In the interview excerpt below continued from an earlier blog, Mike Jacobs who worked with Victor Webster - teaching him what it took to play a disabled athlete, talks about Victor's journey and his own. 
Sadly, Mike Jacobs passed away before seeing the film completed but his contribution to the movie and the lessons learned by all lucky enough to have crossed his path, will never be forgotten. 

Q. What’s the biggest challenge facing Victor in learning what it's like to be in a wheel chair?  Is it physical or intellectual ?
A. Victor has already picked up a lot about the chair on his own. So the physical stuff and the mechanics of it, I'm not too worried about. We still have to do some finessing, some fine tuning of things physically but its the head-trip, the psycho-philosophical, emotional and spiritual aspects we must work on now.
Most people's personality is set by the time they are around 18, so if you suffer a traumatic physical injury after age, it shouldn't change your personality much but it will bring out the characteristics of who you really are.  
The old greek philosopher said, “the unexamined life is not worth living”.  I've added a tag line to help Victor better understand the lives of people like me who believe  “the un lived life is not worth examining”.  I’m a firm believer in both ideas and in a balance because you have to be able to go inside yourself and ask, “alright, this is my life, what can I do with it?”

Q.  Is that option available to everyone you work with? 
A.  I sure hope so. You choose how to see the world and your place in it.  Iv'e heard a lot of guys say, “hey life was unfair, I gotta bad deal. These people sit back and believe others are supposed to compensate them. Maybe they’re not thinking about it all the time but that's how they are living. And then there is another other group who see the world differently. I joined that group, so did Rick Hansen and from what I know about Victor, he joined the same group. We look in the mirror everyday and say, "okay this is my life, what can I do with it? "

Q. Were you ever afraid or fearful about being disabled? 
A. Everybody is afraid sometimes. The only difference between a hero and a coward is that somebody with courage can face the fear and go though it. There is saying,"the way out of your problem is by living through it. " No one wants to go back over something traumatic, or frightening that results in a tremendous loss.  But in my experience, the people who do understand the problem manage to find a safe way through it and became less fearful. 

Q. You are teaching Victor to 'stand on the shoulders of giants', what does that mean?

A. To be continued... 


Sam,Dave and me - 25 years later and still "groovy"

It's New Years Day and the world at my house is peaceful. No rehearsals, no guitars to tune; nothing to worry about. But its still early and maybe this afternoon when the shadows get long and freaky, I will begin to mull over the things from last year that need to be filed away before they fill my 2014 dance card. 

Until that happens, if it happens, everything remains groovy here at Don central,  beginning with musing about a recent performance with my pals Sam and Dave, when we played for the 25th Anniversary of the Vancouver Adapted Music Society. Yes, the real deal and the smoothest guys in rock and roll - Sam Sullivan and Dave Symington. 

I first met them in an empty parking lot, years and years ago. Both were living with quadriplegia having experienced life changing accidents, making it hard just to get out of bed in the morning, let alone, light the world on fire. But they did. Both were into making music as kids and wanted to continue after their accidents.  How does anyone get in the way of that ambition?

There in the parking lot, we had what must have been a meeting of some kind, maybe it was a pre-band meeting to discuss a master plan.  Sam and Dave wanted to create a society to help people with disabilities, collaborate with engineers and programmers in creating devices to assist them in making their musical ideas come to life. And oh yeah, they wanted to start a band called Spinal Chord to prove the big idea would work. 

I could see that train coming, so naturally I jumped onboard ever before asking if either could sing or what kind of music they wanted to play.  Fortunately, we would not become an Elvis Tribute Band, so the rest was easy, well almost easy. Dave wanted to play drums and Sam, keyboards and vocals. A tallish order for guys in chairs who could barely move their arms. But they knew the secret formula every successful band must have - courage, passion and trust. 

The Adapted devices created and with the help of the society and its call on engineers and programmers, made Sam and Dave's dream come true.  I know because, I was in the band. I played alongside them. They pushed me musically but not quite into Elvis. I pushed them too, but could not get either into Freddie Mercury and Queen. 

Knowing what it takes physically and emotionally to sing and to play reminded me then and still, how much work it was for Dave to find and hold that all important beat on his drums and for Sam to transform his voice into an instrument and use it, while he played the keyboards. 

They just never gave up, I suppose being ingenious helped because that too only made them sound better.  The music society they established has helped hundreds, maybe thousands of people create and share music. Being a part of that is the biggest hit any musician can imagine. 

I had the privilege of being the guitarist in that the band for many years. We had so much fun and recorded a record or CD called "Why Be Normal. We performed for The Prime Minister when Kim Campbell had the job and in every way, were honoured to see and feel the impact music had in the lives of others.  

Once at a workshop for Children's Variety, I met a young Geoffrey Fox, Michael J Fox 's nephew. The boy wanted so much to play the guitar like his uncle. He and I spent an afternoon making music together, both of us believing some part of that dream could happen.

What a thrill that day and all those before and since have been in the service of sharing my passion for music with Sam and Dave. What a long, winding and wonderful road it has been as friends and musicians sharing our talents.  

And to think it all began in the 80's where as this video demonstrates, being 'groovy' (actually, corny) was such a big part of the fun. Come to think of it, maybe we should have been a Elvis cover band after all? Sam would have looked great in the sunglasses, silk and sequins,  Dave would have rocked wearing an Elvis cape and I could killed with that big hair and the boots. 

Happy New Year.