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Where Kevin Millard's right hand should be is something that resembles a seal with a guitar pick in its mouth. It is, in fact, the stub of his right forearm covered with four white tube socks and black electrical tape. Attached to the tape is an oversize pick fashioned from a cut-up mayonnaise bucket.
This elaborate rigging allows the 42-year-old singer-guitarist, otherwise known as "Gimme 5," to play cover songs five nights a week at area bars. Watching Millard play guitar with this setup, one can see that he's refused to give in to what many would consider a handicap. On the wall behind him at Tugboat Annie's, a waterfront restaurant-bar in Dania where he plays to a sparse, after-work crowd, a black banner reads: "Gimme 5 Unplugged." The "i" in Gimme is topped not with a dot, but a hand, its five fingers outstretched. But considering Millard's attitude and the sheer contempt he's shown for the misfortune that tried, and failed, to stop him from making music, there may as well be only one outstretched finger.
Millard's guitar work is sharp and clean, whether he's playing the chords of Journey's "Lights" or a sizzling lead in Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb." But it's his soaring, high-pitched tenor that truly entices local music fans. Counting Styx and Yes among his primary influences, Millard handles the keening vocals of Dennis DeYoung and Jon Anderson, as well as the thundering wail of Chris Cornell, without flinching.
The Long Island-born Millard has a handlebar mustache and salt-and-pepper hair that reaches almost to his shoulders, giving him a more than passing resemblance to John Entwistle. He spent his twenties working construction on Long Island and playing in bands at night. He opened for local legends Zebra and Twisted Sister and even got to audition for Foreigner in 1984. But music, while being a passion, was just a sideline. It took two catastrophes -- dismemberment and drug addiction -- to turn his life toward the full-time pursuit of his dream. Sitting outside Tugboat Annie's between sets on a muggy June evening, he recalls vividly the exact date that his life began to spiral downward: April 28, 1985.
After a long night of drinking cognac and freebasing cocaine in a friend's basement, he began obsessing about his estranged girlfriend, who was upstairs, talking with his friend's wife. To prevent confrontation, Millard had been barred from going upstairs.
"I was emotionally attached to her," Millard recalls, "and she was like a drug, only in physical form. I had been dabbling in drugs, but the more we drifted apart, the more I did drugs to deal with it."
Unable to talk to her in the house, Millard climbed 30 feet up an electrical pole outside, waiting for her to emerge. When he got tired of waiting, he screamed, "Come on out, I know you're in there," then began to bang on the pole and lost his balance.
"When you're up 30 feet and you're about to fall, you grab the first thing you see, so instinctively I grabbed the thinnest wire," Millard says. "I figured that's the one that can't hurt you, but that turned out to be the last thing I should have done."
Approximately 7800 volts -- three times the amount sent through an electric chair, according to Millard -- sliced through his right arm, barely missing his heart and one lung, and exited through his right thigh, which, severely scarred, "looks like a gunshot blast just took out a whole chunk of meat," he says. The electricity literally boiled his blood, frying his right hand and turning it black. He fell 30 feet, shattering his left hip.
For four weeks Millard endured physical therapy sessions during which he had to bite down on washcloths to neutralize the pain, because burn victims may be given only a limited amount of pain medication. In repairing what remained of his right arm, doctors wanted to amputate above the elbow, afraid that, otherwise, the formation of excessive scar tissue would prevent Millard from wearing a prosthesis. When the doctors told him their plan, Millard created a scene. "I threw them out of my room and knocked one of them away. They got mad," he recalls, laughing at his ornery behavior.
He insisted they leave the stub below the elbow. "I didn't want them to cut me again because I had an idea -- I don't know where it came from -- that I would figure out a way to play guitar again," he says. "I knew I was gonna do it." The plastic surgeon tested the stub for movement, which was slight. "He said 'I tell you what,'" Millard recalls. "'I'm gonna come back in three days, and if it's any better, we won't cut it.' So I worked that muscle for the next three days."
Those three days saved his life. "Had I let them cut it on their first recommendation, I wouldn't be sitting here," Millard says. "It would have been the end of my life, because music is probably what kept me from taking myself out. Honestly. There's no way I would have wanted to keep going."
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