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James Rhodes' passion for music has been his absolute lifeline. It has been the thread that has held him together through a life that has encompassed pain, conflict and turmoil. Listening to Rachmaninov on a loop as a traumatised teenager or discovering an Adagio by Bach while in a hospital ward – such exquisite miracles of musical genius have helped him survive his demons, and, along with a chance encounter with a stranger, inspired him to become the renowned concert pianist he is today.
This is a memoir like no other: unapologetically candid, boldly outspoken and surprisingly funny - James' prose is shot through with an unexpectedly mordant wit, even at the darkest of moments. An impassioned tribute to the therapeutic powers of music, Instrumental also weaves in fascinating facts about how classical music actually works and about the extraordinary lives of some of the great composers. It explains why and how music has the potential to transform all of our lives.
Music soothes a lifetime of mental illness and psychosexual trauma in Rhodes's intense memoir. Rhodes, an English concert pianist famous for his classical-music-for-the-masses shows, tells of being raped from the ages of six 10 by a teacher, which eventually led him to heavy drug abuse, obsessive-compulsive tics, a wrecked marriage, a suicide attempt, and commitment to mental institutions. The author tells his story with harrowing realism and even rollicking humor smoking heroin, he writes, was "the greatest and stupidest thing I've ever done" probing both the everlasting anguished chaos in his head and his own appalling behavior with self-lacerating specificity. Intertwined throughout is the remarkable efflorescence of his musical career he didn't start studying piano seriously until his late 20s and the healing power of music. (He credits a cache of music smuggled into his psych ward by a friend with helping him regain sanity, and he sprinkles in rapturous appreciations of his favorite pieces.) The book trails off at times in self-promotion (Rhodes even plugs his shoe line) and showbiz rants, but Rhodes's energetic, edgy, painfully perceptive prose makes for a gripping narrative of abuse and dysfunction as well as the quiet, painstaking, redemptive labor of music making.