Chicago musicians are reaching out to Rylan Wilder, the 15-year-old guitarist whose arm was badly damaged by gunfire, offering support, encouragement and an open invitation to jam when he's ready.
"For musicians and music lovers alike, music is the essence of our being," said Alex White, who plays in White Mystery with her brother, Francis White. "It guides our lifestyles and our day-to-day schedules and for that to be disrupted can be very traumatic."
Rylan was finishing up his shift at UpBeat Music and Arts when he was shot in the arm and abdomen by a police officer chasing a bank robber. The bullet caused extensive damage to his arm, and his parents have said they don't know if he'll be able to play guitar again. The teen is the singer and lead guitarist for the band Monarchy Over Monday, a RiotFest performer this past summer.
White, who has known Rylan for years, said she has been sending him videos and YouTube links to his past performances to keep his spirits up. "There's a whole network taking place right now to lift him up in his time of need," she said. "Rylan is really bringing together a lot of people who believe in him and believe in the power of music."
White said she met Rylan when he was 11 and attending School of Rock. A few years later, Rylan reached out and asked if White Mystery would play a show with his band. White asked them to play a show for her brother's birthday in return.
It was there she met his parents, who drove the young rockers to their gig. White said she has "watched him grow over time."
Rylan's story has resonated with older musicians who recognize the passion and "drive for continual improvement" they had as teenagers, White said. "When you're 15 years old and you're a young musician, you have so many dreams and so many visions for where music can take you," she said. "He's so compelled to play music that he'll find a way no matter what."
Blues musician Joe Moss said he read an article about what happened to Rylan and was transported back to February 1988 when he too lay in a hospital bed, fearing the worst. "I asked my mom and my dad, 'Man, I wonder if I'm going to be able to play guitar again.' "
Moss was shot in the left arm while out with friends in Palatine. The bullet shredded his bicep and lodged in a bone. To this day, shrapnel remains in his arm and his bicep is missing some muscle tissue, he said.
As soon as he could hold a guitar, he began to teach himself to play again, slowly. "At first it was difficult because I was kind of shaky with it. ... I was very frustrated and disappointed at first because I just couldn't," he said, noting the pushing, bending and shaking of strings that guitarists use to create effects. "There's a lot of operations with your hand and your arm and your wrist."
A guitar player since he was 10, Moss' childhood bedroom was plastered with pictures from rock 'n' roll magazines. Over time he gravitated to the blues and set his sights on music as a profession, a dream nearly stopped by the bullet.
Moss said he hopes the teenager can be inspired by other musicians who have fought through trauma. "I don't know what Rylan's challenges are, I don't know if he has much more damage than I had, but I always believe where there's a will, there's a way."
Brian Whyers, who lives in Evanston, was in a bike accident about five years ago that shattered both bones in his right arm, dislocated his elbow and ripped tendons and nerves. As a drummer, he worried that the injuries would be devastating.
Whyers said rehab has given him about 85% of his range of motion. He said he still hasn't recovered muscle mass and can't extend his arm completely, which affects how he plays. Like Rylan, he wasn't sure if he'd ever be able to play again, so when he heard about what happened to the teen, he wanted to reach out.
"Because your grit and your attitude and your stalwart fortitude has a lot to do with how you come out in the end," he said. Whyers said he would love to have a jam session with Rylan when he's ready.
Rylan's band was scheduled to play a show at Martyrs', a music venue on the North Side, along with Mock Nine, Friko and Neptune's Core. The show will go on and the bands will donate the proceeds to Rylan's family to help with medical bills, according to Martyrs' owner Ray Quinn.
The family's GoFundMe has reached nearly $54,000.
Tommy Langford's band, Mock Nine, has played several shows with Monarchy Over Monday. Langford said he reached out to Rylan to offer encouragement as he recovers. "It was devastating for everyone," he said. "You don't expect something horrific like that to happen."
Langford, who works for T.A.C.O., a teen-run group that organizes shows around Chicago where young bands perform, said there has been an outpouring of support from young Chicago musicians. "They know Rylan was so passionate and that was just ripped away from him and that could've been any of us," he said.
Niko Kapeton, singer and guitarist for the Evanston-based pop band Friko, said he's heard Monarchy Over Monday play and is a fan: "You're like, 'Wow, these kids are 15.' "
"It seems like the young artist community in Chicago is really rallying behind this. ... It changes the mood of it and why you're doing it," Kapeton said. "It makes you think of something bigger ... to raise awareness for gun violence and the fact that a 15-year-old could be working as an intern at a music shop and be shot."
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