Instrumental – A Memoir of Madness, Medication and Music
By James Rhodes
Canongate – £16.99
My solution? Fuck the lot of them. Play what you want, where you want, how you want and to whom you want. Do it naked, do it wearing jeans, doing it while cross-dressing. Do it at midnight or 3 p.m. 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. Don’t 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.
So writes, if not screams, James Rhodes in Track 18 (‘Beethoven, Piano Concerto No.5’) of his insatiable love for classical music in Instrumental. A book which really is a powerful, perplexing and at times, poignant head-rush of a helter skelter ride.
Or indeed, many things. The most important of which is its most turbulent and profound, disturbing, soaring, honesty.
To be sure, reading the 275 pages of this book is occasionally akin to reading a book on the Holocaust; wherein so many of the words on any given page have the potential to morph unto some sort of death dance before our very eyes. As if readily inviting us to dismantle everything we know and understand to be be morally correct – and start all over again. Only from the ultimate premise of pain and shame.
Then more pain and shame.
And then more.
Concert pianist, TV presenter and writer, James Rhodes, was sexually abused – over a number of years – as a child, and this unapologetically candid memoir is his literary coming to terms with everything that that entails.
As such, Instrumental is tough, stark and perhaps everything you’d expect it to be: ”I’m not going to write about the sex in detail. For a number of reasons. Some of you might read it and use it to fantasise about. Some of you might read it and judge me for getting a boner at the time (on occasion). Some of you will read it and just feel nauseous and indignant. But most of all I don’t want to go into detail because I don’t think I’ll make it out the other side if I do, especially when you can just buy a copy of the Daily Mail if you’ve the urge to feel titillated, nauseous or judgemental. Cheaper, quicker, less traumatic for me […]. The sexual abuse went on for nearly five years. By the time I left school aged ten I’d been transformed into James 2.0. The automaton version. Able to act the part, fake feelings of empathy, and respond to questions with the appropriate answers (for the most part). But I felt nothing, had no concept of the expectancy of good (my favourite definition of ‘joy’), had been factory reset to a bunch of fucked settings, and was a proper little mini-psychopath.”
Admittedly, as the (entire) title of the book and the opening quote of this review suggests, this isn’t a memoir that relentlessly dwells on the negative trajectory of sexual abuse.
Rhodes is by no means, a solipsistic Jesuit on heat.
He has after all, always had the pristine beauty of music to fall back on, which is evidently clear right from the outset.
In the book’s Prelude, he writes: ”You and I are instantly connected through music. I listen to music. You listen to music. Music has infiltrated and influenced our lives as much as nature, literature, art, sport, religion, philosophy and television. It is the great unifier, the drug of choice for teenagers around the world. It provides solace, wisdom, hope and warmth and has done so for thousands of years. It is medicine for the soul. There are eighty-eight keys on a piano and within that, an entire universe […]. For every genuinely thrilling rock band, film score or contemporary composer, there are several thousand piles of shit that are thrust upon us at every opportunity. The industry behind it treats us with almost zero respect and even less trust. Success, rather than being earned, is bought, paid for, whored out and pushed onto us manipulatively and insidiously.”
It is this passion, this anger, this frustration, that along with his son, has ultimately enabled James Rhodes to survive; and I for one, am extremely pleased and relieved that he has. For anyone who has the chutzpah, the clarity of mind and the all round conviction to come out and call Simon Cowell a cunt, really is a top, top human being.