The first song Isaac Merz learned on the guitar was Nirvana’s “Come As You Are.”
Born without a left hand, the 11-year-old budding musician improvised: He picked up his mother’s right-handed guitar and played it upside down. But he found the experience lacking, so after finding some of his father’s packaging tape, he had a light bulb moment.
“I thought, well this is logical,” Merz said. “I'm just going to tape a guitar pick to a paper clip because that will give it a base, and then I can just go ahead and use this packaging tape and I can tape that all up onto my hand, and boom, it's like I'm holding a pick, like anyone else would be holding a pick.”
It’s a technique Merz uses to this day (sans paper clip), as the 37-year-old singer-songwriter’s passion for music has taken him to Arizona and New York to perform. Now back in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Merz plays in the alternative fusion rock band Merz, Miller and The Wolves as well as an acoustic duo with his partner Jamie Kunning called Brave Birr.
Merz said that, throughout his day-to-day life, he frequently encounters people who react uncomfortably or are hesitant to ask about his missing hand, something he understands but wishes wouldn’t happen.
“I tend to hope that people just find it in themself that it’s OK, and if you say something, you know, awkward or different that I’m not going to get mad or personally offended,” Merz said. “I tell people all the time it’s not like I wake up every morning and I’m shocked that I have one hand.”
He wants people to know he sees how he was born as a blessing and a challenge that’s pushed him to feel more empowered in his life.
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Ryan Loew is a visual storyteller/producer for PublicSource. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @RyanLoew.