instrumentalThis is a shocking memoir about the horrific sexual abuse that James suffered as a child and how music saved him. It is raw, ragged and real. The author is frank about describing what happened, how his life fell apart, and how he was able to finally begin putting it back together. Not a book for the faint of heart, Instrumental makes the reader wonder why we’re all here and what might the purpose of suffering serve in the grand scheme of things. I don’t pretend to know the answers to these questions, but James has given us a powerhouse of a book and a place to start.

I am also a classically trained pianist but you don’t have to be one to appreciate Instrumental: “… the unassailable fact is that music has, quite literally, saved my life and, I believe, the lives of countless others. It provides company when there is none, understanding where there is confusion, comfort where there is distress, and sheer, unpolluted energy where there is a hollow shell of brokenness and fatigue.” loc 51, ebook.

James gives a poignant warning to readers: “…this book is likely to trigger you hugely if you’ve experienced sexual abuse, self-harm, psychiatric institutionalisation, getting high or suicidal ideation.” loc 112. So, friends, be aware before you pick this one up.

James has a child with his first wife and he adores the boy, only asking him to do what makes him happy. Though James thinks he’s a poor father, he’s offering the child more than some people are able to manage, even coming from a stable and emotionally healthy place: “I want him to know the secret of happiness. It is so simple that it seems to have eluded many people. The trick is to do whatever you want to do that makes you happy, as long as you’re not hurting those around you. Not to do what you think you should be doing. Nor what you think other people believe you should be doing. But simply to act in a way that brings you immense joy.” loc 986. How wise is that.

James introduces each chapter with a suggested classical music track to listen to as you read as well as some juicy tidbits about the musicians who wrote the pieces: “Beethoven… was clumsy, badly coordinated, couldn’t dance, cut himself while shaving. … Schubert, nicknamed ‘Little Mushroom’ on account of his being 5 foot nothing and violently ugly, was spectacularly unsuccessful with girls and, on one of the very rare occasions he did manage to score, he caught syphilis. … From Schumann (who died alone and miserable in a mental asylum) to Ravel (whose experiences driving trucks and ambulances in the First World War changed him forever), the great composers were basket-case geniuses…” locs 2040-2058, ebook. He reminds us that these men we’ve set on a pedestal because of the art they produced were nothing but human with all of the failings that people have today. James makes classical music and musicians interesting to the average person. It’s a gift and one that the genre really needed to bring a new generation into the fold. This book really made me wish that I could see James Rhodes in concert. I think I would love it.

Recommended for the music enthusiast and survivors of childhood abuse, anxiety, addictions, and cutting. Some similar reads: I’m Just a Person, My Booky Wook, or Kasher in the Rye: The True Tale of a White Boy from Oakland Who Became a Drug Addict, Criminal, Mental Patient, and Then Turned 16.

Thank you to NetGalley and Bloomsbury USA for a free digital copy of this book. Thank you for reading.


One thought on “Instrumental: A Memoir of Madness, Medication, and Music by James Rhodes

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