A couple of years ago I tried to watch The Soloist, a movie about a Los Angeles Times columnist befriending a homeless musician on L.A.'s Skid Row. I was in a jumbo jet somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, and the pervasive engine noise made understanding the dialogue difficult, so I gave up. The beauty of the soundtrack and the images of the character played by Jamie Foxx playing a cello stuck with me. Wanting to get back to the story, I recently downloaded the audiobook The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music by Steve Lopez to my iPod.
I regret that the audiobook does not also have a soundtrack, for down-on-his-luck ex-Julliard student's Nathanial Ayers's beautiful words about Beethoven and Brahms seem to call for a little music to bridge chapters. If I'd have been smart, I would have kept a pad nearby to note the pieces that I wanted to hear. I have no regrets, however, about listening to the fascinating story mixing elements of investigative biography with an examination of mental health care methods. By writing about Ayers in his newspaper, Lopez becomes closely involved in the schizophrenic's daily life. Feeling that he must not simply exploit Ayers for a story, Lopez strives to hasten his new friend's rehabilitation, but he learns that his offers of shelter, counseling, and medications only cause the mentally ill man to suspect he will somehow be trapped in an institution. Ayers explodes in angry profanity as often as he praises the classical music masters.
What keeps Lopez on Ayers's better side is his ability to get donated instruments and sheet music for the talented man. The reporter also arranges visit to Walt Disney Concert Hall, surprising close to Skid Row, and reintroduce Ayers to his former Julliard classmate Yo-Yo Ma. Patience and persistence win the day but do not really supply a happy ending. The quality of Ayers's days varies greatly from day to day. The story does not really even end. A sequel is conceivable. In the meantime, The Soloist is a fine book for a reader who enjoys complex characters.
Lopez, Steve. The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music. G. P. Putnam, 2008. 273p. ISBN 9780399155062.