A Gift Among Many Gifts

You may have heard that Billy McLaughlin was a phenomenal virtuoso in the guitar world. He was. His unique fret style tapping technique has wowed audiences around the world. Billy’s work has won countless awards and placed him firmly within the firmament of Billboards top talent. That boy could play.
You also may have heard that Billy suffers from a career derailing neurological disorder called focal dystonia. He lost his capacity to play his guitar. The subsequent mental, emotional and spiritual collapse is simply incomprehensible unless you’ve suffered similar debilitation.
You now must know that in spite of all the pain and defeat, Billy McLaughlin has risen from the ashes to reclaim his personal dignity, his craft, his very life. Remarkable as this whole inspiring story reads, there is something else that you probably don’t know. I believe it is truly Billy’s greatest gift: a superlative gift that stands out to me when I reflect on 33 years of friendship.
Guitar enthusiasts relax. Take a break from idolizing this man’s God-given talent for making music. Let’s get beyond the guitar and into the core of Billy’s character. That’s where you will find Billy’s greatest gift. That’s where I found it.
Billy’s greatest gift is what inspires me to love the man. His accolades are indeed spectacular. His touring schedule is legendary. Music introduced us in 1979. He’s one of those friends that you can see every day or once every few years and nothing is lost, nothing contrived, no retrenching necessary, just the same awesome guy regardless of time or distance. And while music preoccupied much of our endeavors together, it was his genuine concern for others that caught my attention. At the very core of his being is a characteristic that places him in a very special category among men. His love for his fellow man is the beacon we all respond to when we encounter Billy.
Guitar stars are famous for getting lost in their own incredibility. Not so with Billy. He is as starkly real today as he was as a teenager, perhaps even more so thanks to the furnace of his immense life experience. Billy is full of positive energy. Hence his first label was named Proton Discs (a proton is the smallest positively charged bit of life, that’s how Billy thought of himself). He has lived the same duplicitous life we all lead (betwixt the darkness and the light) and he has clung to the positive to find his way forward.
Billy’s greatest gift is his undeniable commitment to caring about you. As far-fetched as this notion sounds, I sincerely believe Billy loves you, even though he most likely has not yet made your personal acquaintance. It’s how he sees the world that differentiates him from the average guy. Love illuminates Billy McLaughlin’s entire being.
Wherever that gift came from, it is the basis of our friendship. I believe it is the most sincere expression of the wisdom of the ages. Billy knows how to love. You can certainly hear it in his music. There is much evidence of this love in his inspiring message of overcoming catastrophe. You can vividly see it in his eyes.
Of all the worldly accomplishments a man might treasure, this simple and sincere quality is more precious than gold. It is the force behind his compositions. It is the energy that moved him from doubt to hope, from darkness to light.
Billy McLaughlin was one of the world’s greatest guitar talents. In most respects he still deserves that kind of respect, although he’s very humble about what focal dystonia has taken from him. His disability has rendered him beyond human aid. Only an act of Divine Providence moves men to take on the level of pain and collapse Billy has experienced. Most guys don’t persevere. As time passes and our mortal frames begin to age and wither somewhat, it is only natural to throw in the towel and give up.
I am grateful to my friend Billy for showing me that this moment, right now, is where it’s at. And you can either get busy dying, or get busy living.
Enjoy the music. By all means. The music is what brought us into each other’s lives. If that’s as far as you go I’m sure you will be sufficiently pleased.
But if you dare, take a closer look and a deeper listen. Notice how Billy’s fall and recovery perhaps mirror aspects of your own vicissitudes in life. Give yourself the opportunity to get immersed in the Spirit that has brought Billy back. Open your heart to the love that transforms us from getters and doers into virtuosos in our own right; virtuosos of attitude, love and life.
Drew Emmer is a longtime friend and colleague of Billy McLaughlin.