Instrumental by James Rhodes
What a book! Released a few years ago for publication (which the author's ex-wife attempted to stall through the courts, on the grounds that it might damage their son), this book takes us on a choppy journey through the life of celebrated concert pianist James Rhodes. Remarkable for its searing honesty, its four-letter word count, its blinding anger, its almost unbearable anguish, and its passion, it is a compelling read.
Central to the narrative is the sad fact that James Rhodes was repeatedly abused in the worst imaginable fashion by a prep school PE teacher from the age of 6; his only relief from this torture was music, Bach in particular: “...it took me to a place of such magnificence, such surrender, hope, beauty, infinite space...”
The litany of mental illness that followed his childhood trauma is almost unreadable, but his raw descriptions of his suffering illuminate this little understood area; explain the unexplainable. “Real compassion comes from understanding that what feels true for someone is, to all intents and purposes, true. Doesn't matter a bit if it is patently untrue to you and everyone else.”
Alcohol, drugs, cutting, suicide attempts, failed relationships, appalling mental health treatments – it is all here. He is honest about his character flaws and his manipulative and egotistical behaviour, but out of this mess, he has, with the help of several rich supporters who bankrolled his first efforts, launched a remarkable musical career. He has nothing to lose; he has been in the pit, so he can risk giving offence to the establishment and indulge his passion to bring classical music to everyone of all ages at concerts where he wears what he wants, chats to the audience about the music and is happy to receive applause in the “wrong” place. He is fearless in his criticism of the exclusivity of the classical music industry, whilst also hating the watering down of classical music with crossover albums, excerpt sound bites and the travesty of the Classic Brit awards. He is both purist and populist, which is fraught with potential contradiction. The role of Classic FM in introducing a large new audience to classical music is ignored, whereas the Proms get the thumbs up.
He does not pull his punches: “My solution? F* the lot of them. Play what you want and to whom you want. Do it naked, do it wearing jeans, do it while cross-dressing. Do it at midnight or 3 pm. Do it in bars and pubs, halls and theatres. Do it for free. Do it for charity. Do it in schools. Make it inclusive, accessible, respectful, authentic. Give it back to whom it belongs. Do not let a few geriatric inbred morons dictate how this immortal, incredibly wonderful, God-given music should be presented. We're bigger than that, God knows - the music is too.” - and that is one of his milder tirades! But I like that commitment, that passion. He wants us all to hear what he hears and be transported, inspired and uplifted, and above all trusted to understand what music is about in its purest form, without needing to be fed diluted pap, just in case it might prove too challenging.
As with his concerts, where he talks to the audience, he prefaces each chapter with a description of a piece of music that has inspired him and these are linked to a Spotify page, where readers can listen to the music. Brilliant – I have so enjoyed them.
Do not read this book if you are troubled by swear words – you will put it down after the first paragraph! - but do read it if you want to get inside the mind of a damaged fellow human being, who has risen above the misery and is ploughing his own furrow, making his way in the world, trying to share what he sees as our birthright. “[Music] is the great unifier... it provides solace, wisdom, hope and warmth and has done so for thousands of years. It is medicine for the soul........with the word music, we have something universal, something exciting, something intangible and immortal.”
Exactly; he is a man after my own heart.
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