Every time I open a package of hand warmers, fingerstyle guitarist Sam Breckenridge comes to mind. He’s the nephew of satirist Lizz Winstead, co-creator of Comedy Central’s “Daily Show.” At one of his aunt’s year-in-review shows at the Cedar Cultural Center a few years back, Breckenridge told me about a mishap with hand warmers. He had punctured a pouch with a sharp fake fingernail and the contents spilled and discolored his hands, a cautionary tale for anybody with acrylic nails.
Breckenridge is used to getting his hands dirty. He is a paramedic and firefighter in St. Paul. His supercalm demeanor makes him the kind of person you want around in a crisis. He was just as mellow when I asked him about the new concerns for firefighters’ health.
“It’s not just inhaling toxins, it’s absorbing them through the skin. With modern house furnishings and building materials, there are a lot of synthetic products; the products at combustion have a lot of carcinogens in them,” he said. “If you fight a fire you’ll take a shower and for the next few days you’ll smell it coming out of your skin. It can’t be good.”
He’s so laid back, good or bad sounds the same. He possesses the kind of reserve that’s interpreted as cool in a musician. Enjoy this YouTube video of the title song from his latest album, “Looking Back,” at youtu.be/B1hb2RA-cR0 until I post my interview video Wednesday.
Q: Who taught you to play the guitar?
A: I basically taught myself. I started when I was in seventh grade. We had a music class with all these units and one of the units was guitar and I just fell in love with it. My dad had a crappy, cheap guitar at home and every day when I got home from school I would play for hours. Then I played in bands for a long time. When I got into fingerstyle, I did study with a guy for about a year to get the finger patterns down.
Q: How hard is it for your aunt to book you?
A: It’s easy. It’s the highlight of the year for me. I get to play for 400 people.
Q: Is this [hand warmers were tossed] like throwing a bomb at you?
A: [Laugh] Yeah. I actually just had [the nails] redone. On my right hand I get the thumb, index, middle and ring [shaped to a point]. Those are the picking fingers. At this point, I don’t care if people make fun of it. I’m used to it.
Q: Tell me what happened.
A: My buddy and I were doing this thing I do every Christmas, where we ring bells for the Salvation Army outside the Xcel Energy Center for a Wild game. We had a good idea to use the hand warmers inside the gloves. I didn’t [remember] I had the pointy acrylic nails and punctured the hand warmers and whatever it is in there, some carbon material, got all over my hands and my hands were black.
Q: You punctured it, so this is not a problem for the rest of us?
A: Probably not, but a lot of people have fake nails.
Q: Were you more mortified when that happened because firefighters need their hands or you need your fingers to play the guitar?
A: I knew eventually it would wash off. It was more just annoying to have black hands for a few days.
Q: As a paramedic, is there anything you find gross?
A: [Laughter] Yeah, I do. I can deal with vomit and spit and coughing and all that, but it’s No. 2 that gets me. We have a mask, so I usually just put one on so that I don’t smell.
Q: Does that mean you got out of changing diapers for the twins?
A: No. For some reason that doesn’t affect me.
Q: Blood doesn’t bother you?
A: If I got it all over my face or something, yeah, that would be a big problem.
Q: What dish do you cook at the firehouse that the guys enjoy?
A: I’m going to say chicken Marsala.
Q: Do you cook at home?
A: Yeah. Susie and I take turns. Since the twins [in December] have been born, it’s not as elaborate.
Q: Are you neater at the fire station or home?
A: I’m pretty neat all the time.
Q: It is a requirement that firemen be cute?
A: Obviously not. Look at me. [Laughter.]
C.J. can be reached at email@example.com and seen on Fox 9’s “Jason Show.” E-mailers, please state a subject; “Hello” does not count.