GMG Interview with the inspirational Peter Dankelson from Pete’s Diary

Peter Dankelson

In our latest interview, we had the privilege of speaking with Peter Dankelson from Petes Diary, a true champion of the human spirit. Born with Goldenhar Syndrome, Peter’s life journey has been filled with challenges, but he has transformed adversity into inspiration. He shares his experiences of living with a facial difference, overcoming hearing loss and disabilities, and the incredible journey of teaching himself to play the guitar. And boy can he play a guitar!

Peter’s autobiography, “How I Learned to Rock My Life,” is a testament to his resilience and positive mindset. As an ambassador for the Children’s Craniofacial Association, Peter is making a difference in the lives of individuals and families facing similar challenges. Join us in this inspiring conversation with a musician, motivational speaker, and a true advocate for self-acceptance and positivity. Peter’s story is a reminder that music can change lives, and a positive mindset can move mountains!

The Interview with Peter Dankelson – Pete’s Diary

1. Can you tell us more about your journey with Goldenhar Syndrome and how it has shaped your perspective on life?

Goldenhar Syndrome affects everyone differently. In my case I was born with a cleft palate, missing left ear and ear canal, single kidney, heart defects, back and spine issues, hypoplastic left thumb, dermoid cysts in my eyes, and a malformed jaw with missing bone. I needed a trach and feeding tube at birth to secure my airway and provide nutrition. My underdeveloped jaw and cleft palate obstructed my ability to breathe, eat, chew, and swallow.

I’ve had over 30 surgeries to help me breathe, eat, speak, see, and hear. I’m almost 23 years old and hoping I’m done with trips to the operating room. I lived my entire childhood with the anxiety of knowing there would be another surgery and recovery. It’s nice to finally have all the major operations done.

2. Overcoming hearing loss and other disabilities to teach yourself to play the guitar is an incredible accomplishment. Can you share some of the challenges you faced during this process and how music became a part of your life?

My two biggest issues with playing guitar are hearing loss and a hypoplastic left thumb.

I hear normally on my right side, but I’m missing my left ear and ear canal—like Paul Stanley from Kiss. This means that I can’t hear in stereo. If I use headphones, I can only hear what’s on the right side (or the left if I flip them). I figured out a way to experience panning, like in Whole Lotta Love by Led Zeppelin. I position myself between two speakers and have my hearing aid on my left side. That enables me to hear the song almost like everyone else.

With my thumb missing muscle, I’m unable to grip anything. Guys like Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen would sometimes wrap their hand around the neck and use their thumb to hold down a note on the row e string and that would free up their hand to do some other licks. So, I’ve had to figure out my own way to play those licks.

3. Your autobiography, “How I Learned to Rock My Life: The Peter Dankelson Story,” is inspiring. What motivated you to share your life story with others, and what message do you hope readers take away from it?

I’ve been sharing my medical story with schools since 2012, encouraging students to be kind and inclusive to one another. I think that hearing someone else’s story and sharing your own builds empathy. Everyone is going through something. My journey may be harder than some, but it’s also easier than others. That’s the message we wanted to convey in the book; to encourage readers to live their best life.

My Mom always wanted to write a book. She kept a daily journal when I was born. It was a way to update family and friends and to keep track of the craziness of having a baby in the NICU. That’s the origin of our company and the band name. People started calling her daily emails “Pete’s Diary.” This was in 2000 before social media.

We were motivated to share my story as a book because it’s too complicated to fully explain during a school assembly or conference speech. I’m sure there will be a 2nd edition eventually that will include more about my career as a musician. The next part of my journey!

4. As an ambassador for the Children’s Craniofacial Association, can you tell us about the work you do with this organization and the impact it has on individuals and families?

I’ve been involved with CCA almost my entire life. The charity provides financial and emotional support to individuals and families affected by a facial difference. They host an annual retreat that we’ve attended for at least 15 years. Because of those retreats I grew up knowing I was not alone. That’s so important with something rare like Goldenhar Syndrome. CCA supports the entire family too—parents and siblings all benefit.

My Mom has been on their Board of Directors for several years. She was Board Chair when the book and subsequent movie, Wonder by R.J. Palacio, became an international sensation. Mom saw the potential for positive public awareness. She helped CCA create an education and outreach program for schools reading the fictional story, offering real-life stories from CCA families. I became one of the most requested speakers at schools, and I still love doing the presentations and meeting students.

5. You’ve had the opportunity to perform with several notable musicians, including L.A. Guns, Joe Bonamassa, and Orianthi. What have these experiences meant to you, both personally and professionally?

To have players at that level invite me on stage is a huge compliment. They’re my heroes and mentors. It can be intimidating, but I love that nervous anticipation before stepping on stage. Once I’m playing, it’s just so much FUN!

6. Music is often a powerful way to express emotions. How has playing the guitar helped you express yourself and connect with others on an emotional level?

I had surgery every summer during my high school years. Playing guitar helped me manage anxiety over upcoming surgeries and to stay positive during recoveries. It’s what I love most about playing, and I like to share this in my motivational speaking. I show audiences how I can convey any mood through the guitar—happy, angry, excited, sad, scared.

Finding a creative activity that you enjoy is a healthy way to manage emotions. It might not be playing guitar. It could be writing, dancing, painting, acting, cooking– whatever. You don’t need to be good at it either. You just need to enjoy it for yourself.

One of my favorite comments on social media is when someone says that I’ve inspired them to start playing guitar. They’ve either stopped playing and are picking it up again or they’re learning for the first time. I love that!

7. Your journey is truly inspiring, and you’ve been recognized as a “Champion of Hope” by Global Genes and a “Patient of Courage” by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. What does it mean to you to receive these honors?

It’s a huge compliment to be recognized by these organizations because there are so many inspiring patient stories. It’s humbling to be selected.

8. In your motivational speaking, you emphasize the importance of a positive mindset and self-acceptance. What advice do you have for individuals who may be facing challenges and seeking to adopt a similar mindset?

Choosing to be your own hero is a practice, and no one is perfect at it. It’s something you work at every day. There’s a chapter in our book called, “How I Stay Positive” where I talk about the importance of self-talk. You know? That little voice inside your head? It can either build you up or tear you down.

I could, for example, think about my life as “Suffering from Goldenhar Syndrome.” That doesn’t make me feel very good about myself though. It leads to a victim mindset that’s full of self-pity. I choose something more empowering like “Rocking My Life as a Metal Head!” I love this because it’s empowering and makes me laugh. It combines my love for hard rock and the fact that I literally do have a head full of metal.

The book is called “How I Learned to Rock My Life” because we want to empower readers to rock their own lives. It’s also the message I convey in my motivational speaking.

9. Can you tell us more about your band, Pete’s Diary, and the kind of music you create? What inspires your music, and how does it reflect your life experiences?

After a few starts, we settled on Pete’s Diary to be the band name. It makes sense because I already have social media recognition under that name. Pete’s Diary is also our LLC that serves as management, distribution, and publishing for our books, music, and motivational speaking.

The band is a trio that includes me on lead guitar and backing vocals, Mac McRae on lead vocals and bass, and Ryan “Rocky” Johnson on drums. We have an EP out now called “All Screwed Up.” There are five original songs that are blues-based rock with catchy riffs.

Our first album comes out next year. The songs are written, and it will be recorded in October and November at Keith Nelson’s studio in Los Angeles. Keith is both co-writer and producer, and he’s been fantastic to work with. We’ve been playing the songs in our live sets, and it will be fun to share them with a wider audience.

Most of the songs tend to be about typical rock & roll themes like relationships and having a good time. A few are reflective of my life experiences living with a visible difference. There is one song about grief that I felt compelled to write after losing some very close friends and family this past year.

10. Finally, what are your future goals and aspirations, both in your music career and your advocacy work?

The band wants to tour and play festivals next summer to support our album release. All three of us love to play live, and I want to connect in person with more of our social media followers. They’re literally all over the world!

I’ll remain involved with Children’s Craniofacial Association and hope to one day host a concert fundraiser with other bands and artists. That would bring together everything I’m most passionate about: music, family, friends, and helping kids like me.

Petes Diary Band Logo

Pete’s Diary is a rock trio from Chicago that formed in mid-2021. Their debut EP, All Screwed Up, is available on all music platforms, and their first full-length album, produced by Keith Nelson, will release in 2024. The trio includes Mac McRae on lead vocals and bass and Ryan “Rocky” Johnson on drums.

Here is Pete’s gear list for those of you that want to see what Pete is currently playing.

Guitars

  • Gibson ’61 SG Standard
  • Gibson Les Paul 60s Standard
  • Epiphone Korina Flying V
  • Gibson 1963 SG Junior Reissue
  • Gibson ES-339
  • Milton Custom Telecaster

Amplifiers

  • Marshall SV20H Head & SV212 Cabinet
  • Marshall ST20H Studio JTM 20/5w Head
  • Marshall ST212 Studio JTM 130w Cabinet
  • Blackstar Jared James Nichols 20RH
  • Positive Grid Spark 40 Combo
  • Positive Grid Spark Mini

Accessories

  • Marshall The Guv’nor Pedal
  • Blackstar AMPED 2 100w Amplifier Pedal
  • Shure GLXD Wireless
  • Two Notes Torpedo Attenuator 8ohm
  • Hercules Tri Guitar Stand
  • D’Addario Auto Lock Guitar Strap
  • D’Addario XSE1046 Strings
  • D’Addario NYXL1046 Strings
  • D’Addario Duragrip Picks – Medium

To find out more about Pete’s diary you can check them out at the links below:

Pete’s Diary Website

Pete’s Diary on Twitter

Pete’s Diary on YouTube

PD on Instagram

We would like to take the opportunity to thank Peter for his honesty and openness in sharing his story with us. He is inspiring people around the world and astonishing them with his talent on the guitar. He is a true ambassador for the guitarist community.

Peter is set for the big stages and appears to be relishing every minute of his journey toward them!

GO PETE!!!!!!

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