When The Los Angeles Times’ columnist Steve Lopez first heard Nathanial Ayers playing Beethoven on a two-string violin in the park, he was amazed. He asked the obviously homeless man with a shopping cart where he learned to play like that.
“Julliard,” was the answer--an answer that got Lopez’ attention. He asked a few more questions, including the man’s name, and then hurried back to his office to verify the story. At first, the Julliard alumni association denied knowing anything about Nathanial Ayers. He had not graduated from the school. But then they called Lopez back. Yes, a Nathan Ayers had attended the famous school of music for a period of time in the sixties before dropping out.
With that information Lopez wrote an initial story, but he also went back to the park, he wanted to ask more questions of the violinist. His readers were fascinated as Lopez wrote more stories. Some donated instruments for the talented Ayers to play.
The exchanges between the violinist and the columnist started taking over the columnist’s life. Suddenly he found himself an advocate for people with mental illnesses and an expert on Skid row. Eventually, Lopez decided he wanted to write a book about the remarkable Ayers, the circumstances in which he found him and the story of his life.
The book titled the The Soloist has been turned into a movie of the same name. The movie came out at the end of 2008. It will be released on DVD August 4. Both the book and the movie are worth making the effort to see/read. The film is a Reader’s Digest version of the story that hits the major points, and manages to stick to telling what happens when good intentions collide with difficult truths. Actors Robert Downey, Jr. and Jamie Foxx give excellent performances. LA’s Skid Row also becomes like a character in the story. Even the mayor gets involved and finds additional resources for the agencies that provide services to the people there.
But the movie doesn’t stop there with a happy ending just because money has been found. Like the book, the movie keeps going with the story. Just pouring money into Skid Row does not solve the problems of people with mental illness, and that is significant. This is not a happy-ever-after fairy tale. This is the story of what mental illness does to a talented person. It is also the story of an amazing friendship.
The friendship changes both men. In the book Lopez is able to include more of his reflections on the friendship. They are what make the book worthy of searching out. Here in Sacramento, the public library has chosen the book as one for the city to read together. I think it would be a good one for Sabbath School classes to read together and discuss in terms of Christian service. We often assume that what we do for others is for their good, and neglect to realize the actions change us, too.
Lopez is an excellent journalist and story-teller. He is after honesty in what he writes—about himself as well as Ayers. That honesty about how the friendship transformed Lopez made this book a significant read for me.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/1759