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North Dakota rock journalist connecting veterans to music

July 2, 2018

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — As if on cue, the lyrics to Alice Cooper’s “Poison” rang out over the speaker system.

“You’re poison, running through my veins. You’re poison. I don’t want to break these chains,” the rocker’s gravelly voice belts.

“How appropriate,” Jenna Williams told the Bismarck Tribune .

Williams, a rock music journalist known in heavy metal circles as The Scream Queen, is a strong believer in music and its healing powers. With that in mind, she is aiming to use the following she’s built for herself in the industry to help another group — veterans.

Williams is launching a state chapter of the national nonprofit organization, Guitars for Vets.

Guitars for Vets was founded in 2007, after Patrick Nettesheim, a Milwaukee guitar instructor, and Dan Van Buskirk, a Vietnam War marine, started meeting for lessons. Together, the men realized that guitar lessons were opportunities for self-expression and positive human interaction, which helped Van Buskirk deal with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Mostly working with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the organization started reaching veterans who wanted to participate in its free guitar instruction program. Guitars for Vets connects veterans with 10 solo guitar lessons, group guitar lessons and an acoustic guitar, all free of charge.

According to the organization’s website, it has more than 80 chapters in 40 states with more than 200 volunteers nationwide.

Locally, Williams and Veterans Affairs are still trying to coordinate details. Williams is also looking for local music businesses to partner with.

“It’s like a family. The people who love it, they are so passionate,” said Williams of the heavy metal fan base.

Hoping to tap into that passion, Guitars for Vets reached out to Williams.

“I didn’t really understand what it was and then I got educated on it and found out even therapeutically what it means for these guys, even just to pick up a guitar and learn how to even play a chord and what it could mean for their psyche,” Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian said in an interview with Williams.

Through her website, Williams will be releasing interviews she conducts with heavy metal artists, and, within those interviews, she will be spreading the word about Guitars for Vets to her followers, which on Twitter number 4,600, and the fans of those artists she interviews.

Williams said, so often when she has interviewed artists, they talk about hearing from fans of their music in Iraq who tell them their music “helped them get through what they were going through out there.”

“There have been plenty of guys going back to the Gulf War in the early ’90s, who have told us over the years, just how much our music helped them when they were overseas somewhere, doing whatever their job was at the time in the service,” Ian said. “Just to know that our music helped anybody get through that on a day-to-day basis, obviously it makes you feel good and you can only hope that we can continue to do this, anything that inspires or helps anybody who is willing to put their life on the line — certainly, it’s something that we take very seriously.”

With service member friends of her own, Williams said the goal of Guitars for Vets was “very close to me and something I felt I needed to be part of.”

“Music speaks to people in ways nothing else can,” she said. “When you’re in a dark mindset, music can help.”


Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com

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