The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music
by Steve Lopez
From the Publisher
A moving story of the remarkable bond between a journalist in search of a story and a homeless, classically trained musician-destined to be a major motion picture from DreamWorks, starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr.
When Steve Lopez saw Nathaniel Ayers playing his heart out on a two-string violin on Los Angeles' skid row, he found it impossible to walk away. More than thirty years earlier, Ayers had been a promising classical bass student at Juilliard-ambitious, charming, and also one of the few African-Americans-until he gradually lost his ability to function, overcome by schizophrenia. When Lopez finds him, Ayers is homeless, paranoid, and deeply troubled, but glimmers of that brilliance are still there.
Over time, Steve Lopez and Nathaniel Ayers form a bond, and Lopez imagines that he might be able to change Ayers's life. Lopez collects donated violins, a cello, even a stand-up bass and a piano; he takes Ayers to Walt Disney Concert Hall and helps him move indoors. For each triumph, there is a crashing disappointment, yet neither man gives up. In the process of trying to save Ayers, Lopez finds that his own life is changing, and his sense of what one man can accomplish in the lives of others begins to expand in new ways.
Poignant and ultimately hopeful, The Soloist is a beautifully told story of friendship and the redeeming power of music.
Buy the Book
Format: Paperback, 304pp
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Pub. Date: September 2008
The Washington Post - Daniel J. Levitin
Lopez is a natural storyteller, giving us a close-up view of the improbable intersection of musicianship, schizophrenia, homelessness and dignity. The result is a surprisingly lively page-turner, propelled by the close friendship developing between these two men and filled with eloquent passages…The Soloist goes a long way toward explaining the workings of the musical mind, albeit one tragically touched by madness. It doesn't shy away from exploring the failures of governmental programs and mental health services for the needy, but it does so without preaching and finger-pointing. It doesn't editorialize; like good music, it just is.
Written with elegant spareness, there are no punches pulled in this portrait of Nathaniel Ayers, but God do you root and hope and pray for him. Many books claim to be about redemption and the affirmation of the human spirit, but they are false gospels. The Soloist is singularly and unforgettably true in all respects. (Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights)
Perhaps the fact that William Hughes is an accomplished musician and a political science professor allows him to slip so easily into both the voice of free-associating, schizophrenic, homeless musical prodigy Nathaniel Ayers, and the more professional voice of LA Times columnist Lopez. Lopez stumbles across Ayers playing his violin on the street a few blocks from his downtown office and writes a column about him that piques the public's interest. This begins an inspiring tale of a friendship rife with triumphs, disappointments, and human kindness. Hughes reads Lopez's narration with the casual authority of one telling his own story. When the dialogue is Ayers', Hughes makes a subtle but effective vocal shift to make him sound more loose and free, but also more anxious. A Putnam hardcover (Reviews, Feb. 18). Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Barry Zaslow - Library Journal
By turns harrowing, winsome, and inspiring, this work by novelist (In the Clear) and Los Angeles Times columnist Lopez relates the first two years of his friendship with Nathaniel Anthony Ayers. A budding string genius at Juilliard in the early 1970s, Ayers succumbed to paranoid schizophrenia and became homeless, yet he continued to play the violin as a way to keep the demons at bay. With the help of Lopez and others who responded to his columns, Ayers took steps to recovery, residing in a group facility, making trips to Disney Hall for concerts, and achieving the dream of having his own music studio. The tangle of mental health policies and government priorities comes in for a thorough drubbing, as does the callous disregard for students' personal situations at many elite institutions, at least at the time Ayers was enrolled. Lopez's newspaper experience serves him well, and both he and his subject come across as fully developed individuals. A deeply moving story; highly recommended for all collections and of special interest to those dealing with the intersections of music and psychology or therapy. [See Prepub Alert, LJ12/07; The Soloist is being made into a DreamWorks film starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr.-Ed.]
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