I’m not sure how true it is, but I’ve heard people say that there is a very fine line between genius and madness. This “shirlandyou” may help you determine the answer to this. Since I’ve always had a love for music, a book tltle recently caught my eye, “The Soloist.” I became even more interested when the “redemptive power of music” was mentioned in its sub title. You may be familiar with the book or saw the movie produced around its story.
Steve Lopez, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times is author of this book and its subject is a mysterious street musician, named Nathaniel Ayers. Yes, he is one of the many street people in the city of Los Angeles but is also an extremely talented musician who believes his music is best presented on the street where the flutter of pigeons’ wings sounds like an audience clapping. Nathaniel is a schizophrenic. For thirty years he has lived on the streets, carrying his violin in a shopping cart with the rest of his belongings.
I know very little about schizophrenia, except that it is a mental illness that devastates the lives of those inflicted with it. Nathaniel is not a mentally ill musician, he is a musician with a mental illness and Steve believed he could help him. Amazingly, Nathaniel studied music at Julliard, and was there because he showed an extraordinary musical talent. At Julliard the pressure is extreme with musicians beginning training at eight in the morning, continuing until eight at night and then going home to practice until bed time.This Nathaniel did, until one day he broke down and after years of relentless treatment, he refused to be treated any longer. He became a street person.
Amazed at his ability to play violin, the columnist’s attempt to help him included making him a close friend, taking him to his home, and finding venues where he could perform. But progress, if there is any, is extremely slow. Just getting him indoors took months, and then Nathaniel would not go in without his shopping cart and even more months before he would actually sleep there. He worried that he would not be able to hear the street noises he liked. He continued to write on the walls of his room, similar to the graffiti that decorated the bridge walls where he would stand and perform. Beethoven’s name is scrolled over and over again across his closet door. There was so much about him that seemed normal, yet, he would occasionally scratch out a swastika or say that smokers should be put to death. He is an African-American and occasionally covers his face with talcum and calls himself a “white man.” Nathaniel likes compliments and his appreciation for music and knowledge of classical musicians are embedded deeply in his mind. Yet, he would dress with a brassiere wrapped around his neck or a yellow police crime scene tape as a turban and never offer any explanation. Do people appreciate his talent? Indeed, they do, and they give him instruments. He has six violins and two cellos.
Nathaniel thinks the noise of traffic under the bridge where he stands helps to cover his mistakes. He gets frustrated with his lapse of memory and he’d like to play an entire piece perfectly and be good enough to play alongside great musicians. Would today’s newer medications be of help to him? Treatment at a hospital would include cab fare and would allow him to do as he pleased, but he will not consider this for a moment. Solutions created new problems. At the community house where he now stays he upsets his neighbors and is in daily conflict with them. Nathaniel is boss and Steve knows it, but he does not give up hope. In fact, it has been several years since their friendship began, but very little progress is being made.
You may want to read this book. You already know that the ending is not an encouraging one. Nathaniel is so near genius-like in his musical ability and the power music has in his life seems almost redeeming. Amazingly through years of discouragement, the author’s desire to help change Nathaniel has not waned. He finds, too, that his own life has been profoundly changed and he has recognized the limitations imposed by so severe a disorder as schizophrenia. That’s the kind of friend everyone should have!