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The ShortRead: James Rhodes

The ShortRead: James Rhodes

The ShortRead: James Rhodes

The ShortRead of 3 June


Author: James Rhodes 

What's the story: Powerful. Expressive. Captivating. All terms usually applied to James Rhodes' piano performances, all praise that can readily be heaped upon his memoir, Instrumental.

A book that the concert pianist had to battle in the courts to see published (the Supreme Court overturned an injunction granted to the Rhodes' ex-wife, preventing publication on the grounds that his writings might constitute a danger to their son), it navigates his twisting, shattered, triumphant life - from being sexually abused as a child to suffering psychotic incidences as a result of drug use, with music the ever-present hope, propelling him to new heights.

Read it, and restore your faith in the power of music.

Release date: Out now


I was driven back to hospital.

It felt like all the fight had been kicked out of me. I was floppy, pliable, indifferent. Shuffling around the ward, dribbling a bit, losing a few more brain cells and memories thanks to yet another cocktail of meds. And then on a visitors’ Sunday I was called in and told someone was there to see me. Which was odd because aside from a brief, disastrous visit from Jane and Jack a few weeks previously, I’d never had a visitor before. 

It was an old pal I hadn’t seen in a long time. An awkward, slightly autistic, fragile guy. A piano fanatic (we’d met because we’d both shared a mutual hard-on for Sokolov bootlegs back in the day). He’d heard I was there and wanted to offer support. And music. When he’d called to arrange the visit he’d been told that no presents other than toilet­ries etc were permitted (I wasn’t allowed to have things delivered to me by this stage because I’d already had knives and razors intercepted). He offered me a giant bottle of shampoo and winked at me. Out of earshot of the nurses he told me to open it up when I was alone. Which I did. And inside this emptied bottle was a tiny plastic bag. And inside the tiny plastic bag was the brand new, recently launched iPod nano. It was the size of an After Eight mint. And the headphones were wrapped around it lovingly. He had filled it up with gigabytes of music. And everything changed. 

Under the covers I went. Headphones on. Middle of the night. Dark and impossibly quiet. And I hit play and heard a piece by Bach that I’d not heard before. And it took me to a place of such magnif­icence, such surrender, hope, beauty, infinite space, it was like touching God’s face. I swear I had some kind of spiritual epiphany then and there. The piece was the Bach-Marcello Adagio – a work written for oboe and orchestra by a baroque composer called Alessandro Marcello that Bach loved so much he transcribed it for solo piano. Glenn Gould was playing his Steinway, reaching out from forty years in the past, three hundred years in the past, and letting me know that things were not only going to be OK, they were going to be absolutely fucking stellar. It felt like I’d been plugged into an electrical socket. It was one of those rare ‘Elvis moments’ that I will never forget. It shattered me and released some kind of inner gentleness that hadn’t seen the light of day for thirty years.

And now I was determined. I knew this place wasn’t the right place for me. I could not get well. Not with so many meds, so much madness, so much daytime TV and boredom. I needed to get out of there properly, once and for all. Get released, find some space, get home to my son. I needed to get well. But first I needed to show them I was well enough to leave. 

Instrumental: A Memoir of Madness, Medication and Music by James Rhodes is out now published by Canongate, priced £16.99. ; @JRhodespianist

For more excellent reads, check out our previous choices below - just click on the link:

Natural Born Heroes by Christopher McDougall

The Killing of Bobbi Lomax by Cal Moriarty

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

The Wrong Girl by David Hewson

The 3rd Woman by Jonathan Freedland

Pleasantville by Attica Locke

The Road Beneath My Feet by Frank Turner

So you've been publicly shamed by Jon Ronson

The A to Z of you and me by James Hannah

Cycling Climbs by Claire Beaumont & Nigel Peake

Beyond the Horizon by Ryan Ireland

Mainlander by Will Smith

Second Life by S J Watson

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks

The Winter War by Philip Teir

The missing and the dead by Stuart MacBride

The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

The ShortReads of 2014

(Image: Flickr/Kate Hiscock)