John Rougeau is
Passionate about Music and Living Life to the Fullest!
I first met John Rougeau in 1969 when we started the 7th grad as classmates. John was a fun kid with a great sense of humor and a zest for life. While I have many fond memories of hanging out with John, the two things I remember most about him were his love for playing music and his love for skiing, two things he was great at! John and I played together in a band, he played lead guitar and I played the drums. As I said, John was also a great skier. So good, in fact, that he was looking forward to volunteering with the National Ski Patrol at a ski area near where he lived.
On Christmas Eve in 1974 everything changed for John. He had been enjoying an afternoon of skiing when he decided to call it a day. As he took one last run down the mountain he came upon some rough terrain. As John swerved to avoid some ice patches, he lost control and fell. That day was the last day John would ever walk again. He suffered a spinal cord injury that left him quadriplegic. John now had to make sense of his life and find ways to survive, let alone live his passions.
I recently contacted John to see if he might be willing to meet with me to discuss his life. I was interested to know how a man with so many challenges and so many obstacles was getting along. I was interested in learning about what John had been doing all these years. John Rougeau is not highlighted in this book because he is a person living life as a quadriplegic. Rather, his story is in this book because it is one of passion – passion for music, poetry, songwriting and life!
As I sat on John’s porch talking with him and listening to his life story, I was struck by the passion he still had for creating music in his life. As John described the many milestones he experienced in life; earning a Bachelor’s degree in economics, working his way up within a global banking institution, developing friendships, business relationships, and marriage, none brought the smile and sense of passion to John’s face like when he talked about creating music.
He told me of the joy that he receives from writing and playing music. “Scott, the music and the words simply flow from my mind. While I am sitting, even sleeping I hear the poetry in my mind. I translate that poetry into music on the strings of my guitar.” “Guitar,” I thought, “how’s that?” Well it seems that while John was at school in the 1980s had developed a friendship with a man named Bob. Bob had a gift for inventing things. He recognized John’s love of music and his gift for songwriting. Pretty soon Bob decided to invent something John could use to once again play his music.
John described the guitar Bob invented for him this way “It was a new found freedom for me. I had a way to move what I was hearing in my mind through an instrument and out into the world for others to hear! Poetry and music comes from inside, it comes from your sole.” For John, creating and playing his music became his true passion!
While John’s story sounds inspiring, it is not one with a tremendously happy ending. As I indicated, John lives with the consequences of a spinal cord injury which for him means he is confined to a wheelchair with very little movement of his arms and hands. Over time being confined to a chair can create complications. Over the last dozen years or so John has experienced a series of these complications, some requiring surgery. As I listened to John tell me about the joy music brought to his life, I also heard him tell me about the time one of his surgeries left him with an unexpected outcome. As John tells the story “It was as if something in my brain changed. After surgery I no longer heard the music, the poetry, none of it. I lost something, something I loved, a part of me.”