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Instrumental by James Rhodes – Brief Remarks

Posted by Raul Barral Tamayo en Jueves, 19 de enero, 2017


Copyright © James Rhodes 2014.

James Rhodes’ passion for music has been his absolute lifeline. It has been the thread that has held him together through a life that has encompassed abuse, breakdown and addiction. Listening to Rachmaninov on a loop as a traumatized teenager or discovering and Adagio by Bach while in a psychiatric ward, such exquisite miracles of musical genius have helped him survive his demons, and, along with a chance encounter with a stranger, inspired him to become the renowned concert pianist he is today.

This is a memoir like no other: unapologetically candid, boldly outspoken and surprinsingly funny. James’ prose is shot through with an unexpectedly mordant wit, even at the darkest of moments. An impassioned tribute to the therapeutic powers of music, Instrumental also weaves in fascinating facts about how classical music actually works and about the extraordinary lives of some of the great composers. It explains why and how music has the potential to transform all of our lives.


Under the covers I went. Headphones on. Middle of the night. Dark and impossibly quiet. And I hit play nad 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 … It felt liked I’d been plugged into an electrical socket. Neither before nor since have I ever experienced anything like it. It shattered me and released some kind of inner gentleness that hadn’t seen the light of day for thirty years.

James Rhodes was born in London in 1975. A keen piano palyer, he was offered a scholarship when he was eighteen at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, but went to Edinburgh University instead. James stopped playing the piano entirely and dropped out after a year. After twelve months working at Burger King in Paris, he went to University College, London to read psychology. He then worked in the City for five years. After a devastating mental breakdown that led him to being institutionalised, he took the piano up again. He is now a professional and acclaimed concert pianist, writer and TV presenter.

Comments extracted from the book, they could be right or wrong, you decide for yourself:

  • Phil Klay, veteran, US Marine Corps: “If we fetishise trauma as incommunicable then survivors are trapped, unable to feel truly known… You don’t honour someone by telling them, “I can never imagine what you’ve been through.” Instead, listen to their story and try to imagine being in it, no matter how hard or uncomfortable that feels”.
  • You and I are instantly connected through music. 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 the medicine for the soul.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • I hate myself, twitch too much, frequently say the wrong thing, scratch my ass at inappropiate times (and then sniff my fingers), can’t look in the mirror without wanting to die. I’m a vain, self-obsessed, shallow, narcissistic, manipulative, degenerate, wheedling, whiny, needy, self-indulgent, vicious, cold, self-destructive douchebag.
  • It’s all because of my head. The enemy. Ever-present, consistent only in its inconsistency, angry, spoiled, rotten, warped, wrong, sharp, honed, predatory.
  • There is an addiction that is more destructive and dangerous than any drug, and it is rarely even acknowledged, let alone talked about. It is insidious, prevasive and at epidemic levels. It is the primary cause of the culture of entitlement, laziness and depression that surrounds us. It is and art form, and identity, a way of life and has a bottomless, infinite capacity for pain. It is Victimhood.
  • Victimhood becomes, in a remarkably short period of time, a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • When I was a child, there were things that happened to me, were done to me, that led to me operating my life from the position that I, and only I, am to blame for the things inside me that I despise.
  • Our society, our businesses, our social constructs, habits, pastimes, addictions and distractions are predicated on vast, endemic levels of emptiness and dissastisfaction. I call it self-hatred.
  • I hate who I was, am and have become and, as we are taught to, I constantly chastise myself for the things I do and say.
  • There is an anger that runs underneath everything, that fuels my life and feeds the animal inside me. And it is an anger that always, always prevents me, despite my best efforst, from becoming a b etter version of myself. I’m exhausted all the time.
  • Ultimately the reason I am so angry is because I know that there is nothing and nobody in this life that can help me overcome this completely.
  • I was used, fucked, broken, toyed with and violated from the age of six. Over and over for years and years.
  • I keep trying to be nice for him so he’ll give me a little bit more attention. I know one day he’ll come through. After a few weeks he asks me to stay behind and help him tidy up. And I feel like I’ve won some kind of lottery where self-steem is the jackpot. A special “you’re the best, cutest, most adorable and brilliant child I’ve ever taught and all your patience has now paid off” prize. “James, I’ve got you a present”, and then fuck me if he doesn’t pull out a book of matches.
  • It’s important to acknowledge that I chose to do boxing class. I was asked and I said yes. This guy, this movie star who I wanted to get closer to b ecause he liked me and made me feel special, invited me to do something after school with thim and I agreed to it.
  • As Tyler Durden has taught us, the first rule of fight club is we never talk about fight club. And I didn’t. For almost thirty years. And now I am. Because fuck you if you’re one of the people who t hink I shoudn’t.
  • Abuse. What a word. Rape is better. Abuse is when you tell a traffic warden to fuck off. It isn’t abuse when a forty-year-old man forces his cock inside a six-year-old boy’s ass. That doesn’t even come close to abuse. That is agressive rape. It leads to multiples surgiries, scars (inside and out), tics, OCD, depression, suicidal ideation, vigorous self-harm, alcoholism, drug addiction, the most fucked-up of sexual hang-ups, gender confusion, sexuality confusion, paranoia, mistrust, compulsive lying, eating disorders, PTSD, DID (the shinier name for multiple personality disorder) and on and on and on.
  • My mum, bless her, didn’t notice or didn’t want to notice anything was wrong. I don’t blame her. She was a young, naive mother, overwhelmed with life and desperately trying to keep her shit together.
  • That first incident in that locked gym closet changed me irreversibly and permanently. From that moment on, the biggest, truest part of me was quantifiably, sickeningly different.
  • What’s more interesting than how I learned to swallow and take it in the ass, is the impact that rape has on a person. It is like a stain that is ever present. There are a thousand reminders of it each day.
  • Hypervigilance is one of the weirder symptoms of PTSD.
  • Then there are the really shaming things. Like getting an erection every time I cry. Somehow my body remembers everything and links tears with sexual arousal. I would cry as he blew me. But physiology is physiology and my dick did its job and got hard.
  • Those flashes of anger. Corroding, all-consuming anger at everything in the whole world. Most of all, anger that I really, truly know that I cannot ever make what happened disappear completely. It is just there all the time and nothing I do can or will ever erase it. There is an inbuilt mechanism in our psyche that helps with that, and it is dissociation. The most serious and long-lasting of all the symptoms of abuse.
  • Ever since then, like a Pavlov puppy, the minute a feeling or situation even threaten to become overwhelming, I am no longer there. I exist physically and function on autopilot, but no one is consciously inside my mind. Key moments in my life are missing because of this.
  • On the plus side I can watch the same movie and TV show several times without realising it.
  • It is fucking annoying not being able to remember almost everything to the point that it takes me several minutes to figure out what I had for breakfast, why I left the house, what day, month and year it is.
  • If you don’t remember you can’t be terrorised by the past.
  • Our psyches are fucking brilliant, designed to deal with any and all eventualities, at least until they are overloaded and break in two. And yet, even then there is often a way back to something approaching a working state.
  • The sexual abuse went on for nearly five years. By the time I left that 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 appropiate answers (for the most part). But I felt nothing, had no concept of the expectancy of good, had been factory reset to a bunch of fucked settings, and was a proper little mini-psychopath.
  • I learned how to read music, it isn’t hard and it’s an essential first step.
  • All of this stuff is purely mechanics. The physical “how to” of learning and playing a piece. It doesn’t even touch on musical interpretation or how to memorise a piece.
  • Sometimes Bach didn’t even specify what instrument a piece should be played on, let alone things like the speed and volume of it. Things got more detailed with Mozart and Beethoven as composers started to indicate those things, but even so they are merely signposts.
  • There will never, can never, be two identical performances of the same piece of music, even when you’re playing it twice yourself. There is an infinite choice of interpretation, and everyone has different opinions as to what is the “right way”, what is respectful/disrespectful of the composer, what is valid, what is exciting, what is dull, what is profound. It’s entirely subjective.
  • Learning the piano is maddening beause it is at once an exact and an inexact science; there is a specific and valid way to master the mechanics underlying the physical performance of it, and an inexact, ethereal, intangible route to find the meaning and interpretation of the piece being learned.
  • The only thing that came close to my worship of all things piano was smoking. Fucking smoking. The best invention since anything anywhere.
  • The thing about smoking that they don’t tell you is how good it is at stiffling feelings. Later I found out that in several of t he psych wards I was in, they actively encouraged patients to smoke as it made the nurses’ job a lot easier.
  • There is nothing as terrifying to a mentally ill person as a feeling. Good or bad doesn’t matter.
  • There is literally nothing as comforting to me as a completely empty day in my diary. No meetings, dinners, appointments, coffees with friends, dates, concerts. The knowledge that I can be at home all day with enough time to do whatever I need to do.
  • I am driven by a hundred thousand different forms of terror. It is a constantly shifting, free-floating anxiety that no matter what is done to assuage it, will easily and quickly attach itself to something new I haven’t even thought of yet. I wake up with it. Always have.
  • The greatest benefit from being serially abused as a kid is the ability it gives you to read situations, minds, energy. Put me in front of an adult and I will know within a few seconds what they need to hear and see in order to feel comfortable and amenable to me. It got me whatever I wanted. I figured out by the age of ten that I could  be in any situation and survive, sometimes even flourish, because I have the manipulative power of a superhero.
  • Abuse sets you up for life to be a survivor.
  • Interactions are often simply transactions for victims of abuse. And sociopaths.
  • A survivor (especially one with PTSD or similar) needs to run through the following questions silently and in a split second before giving his answer: Why is she asking? What does she expect me to say? How will she react if I do say that? …
  • We are multi-tasking, quick-thinking, hyper-aware, in-tune bastards. And it is a thankless, never-ending deluge of threat upon threat, fire after fire that has to be put our instantly. And because the body/brain cannot figure out the difference between real and imagined terror, they react as if we really are in the middle of a genuine war. War is the best word to describe the daily life of a rape survivor. There are threats everywhere, you cannot relax ever.
  • Shame is the legacy of all abuse.
  • All abuse victims at some stage classify what was done to them as wrong/foolish behaviour that they have engaged in.
  • Threats work for a while, but not for years. Shame guarantees silence, and suicide is the ultimate silence.
  • This first love wasn’t a girl. It was a boy in the year below me who played the cello, who was beautiful and innocent and kind of like a version of me before everything went bad. I’m that narcissistic. When older boys and stinking men were doing me at night, his was the face I would be thinking of. One that lasted for the entire time I was at that school, and gave me a reason to exist.
  • Young love really is blind. It has no boundaries, no falling in line with what is correct.
  • How awful to have a passion so intense it dictates your every breath and yet to lack the moral backbone to pursue it.
  • The second thing I wanted to mention was that I discovered drink. I did, aged thirteen, was the only thing that was on a par with listening to that piece of Bach.
  • Alongside alcohol, I’d also introduced to drugs around the age of fourteen.
  • If there is a career designed both to feed self-hatred of unimaginable proportions, while also stroking fragile egos, working in the City fits the bill better than most others.
  • Another cool thing about abuse, the body never forgets.
  • My son was and is a miracle. There is nothing I will experience in my life that will ever match the incandescent atomic bomb of love that exploded im me when he was born.
  • I had been handed the most precious thing in the world and in my core, I knew that I was fundamentally incapable of meeting that responsability. Deciding to create life before being absolutely certain that I had the skills necessary to do that responsibly is an almost unforgivable transgresion and yet that is exactly what I did.
  • I want him to know the secret of happiness. The trick is to do whatever you want to do that makes you happy, as long as your’re not hurting those around you. Not to do what you think you should be doing. Not what you think other people believe you should be doing. But simply to act in a way that brings you inmense joy.
  • The selfishness of the victim is  the hardest thing to tolerate and treat with compassion. We are idiots. It is nigh on impossible to love us. We push and push until finally we get what we want, more victimhood.
  • Real compassion comes from understanding that what feels true for some is, to all intents and purposes, true. Doesn’t matter a bit if it is patently untrue to you and everyone else.
  • It is very common for the world to spin completely off its axis when your child approaches the age you were when the abuse began. I didn’t know this. My psyche did. I was blindsided. My brain literally felt hot. I knew drink and drugs were an option. Just as I was desperate to find something that was halfway between suicide and murder, i found razor blades.
  • Self-harm is a wonder drug. It is reaching pandemic levels in the UK. It is the most effective, inmediate and electric high, one that is only equalled by heroin and crack cocaine.
  • This is why it is so hard to have patience with people like me. In front of me are two doors. One clearly labelled “Good Life”, the other “Hell”. And not only did I walk into the dark one, but I did so whistling, all nonchalant, rolling my sleeves up purposefully. I strutted like the biggest cock in the world into Arma-fucking-geddon.
  • There is no room for eality with depression, trauma, PTSD, whatever you want to call it.
  • They had no idea that I had already found the building I was going to jump fromn, had made a will, written a letter with computer passwords, bank account details, burial requests etc.
  • The removal of choice is one of the greatest terrors you can inflict on someone.
  • Medication is a bastard.
  • You cannot imagine the rage. I didn’t know such anger could exist. A constant, cold fury, building up for thirty years and then finally allowed to be unleashed.
  • Now I was determined. I knew this place wasn’t the right place for me. I needed to get out of there properly, once and for all. And so I did. We did. That cold, ruthless, patient, clever fucker who controlled some part of my mind took charge. Happily. He was born for this shit. We started cooperating, not too quickly to make it unrealistic, nor too slowly to miss my self-impossed deadline of a Christmas release.
  • A quick aside about the rather nonchalant “ditched my meds” bit. Do not, under any circumstances, do that.
  • I wrote everything down and made a list of everyone whose life I had impacted on negatively. The rule of thumb was that unless making amends to these people would cause them further distress they needed to be approached and action taken.
  • Quitters. The ones who bail when it gets too fucking real.
  • Four days allocated when I know I only need two, but he’s paying and I need extra time to satisfy my crayz.
  • If you ever need a foolproof test for predicting the longevity of a relationship, see how your lover acts around children. And notice how kids act around him or her, they’re smart fuckers and usually there’s a good reason if they don’t want to go near a certain adult.
  • Classical music has to stop apologising for itself. The problems need to be identified and accepted, rehab style, before there is any hope of permanent change.
  • First and foremost, the name. Classical. Why?  Do we go to visit an exhibition at a classical art gallery? Do we fuck. Music somehow insists on segregating itself.
  • Performers. Usually socially retarded and extremely awkward. Almost invariably on the Asperger’s/autimsm scale. No doubt highly intelligent but virtually incapable of normal social interactions.
  • Gatekeepers. These guys (99% male, white, old) are the ones how run the concert halls and agencies. They have been forced to bleat on about opening up the doors to a younger and fresher audience but in reality have done absolutely fuck all to achieve this beyond empty gestures.
  • Record labels. These guys are slowly but surely draining the lifeblood out of the business and have been for years. There are, thank God, a couple of notable exceptions.
  • Critics. The lonely, embittered, failed musician, asshole-disguissed-as-academic dickhead. The epitome of all that is wrong with classical music today.
  • The people behind classical music seem to have lost sight of the fact that the composers themselves were, in effect, the original rock stars. They were for the large part mental, depraved, genius bastards who would have pissed themselves laughing at the ideas about performance that the classical gatekeepers of today are so rigidly stuck to.
  • There are so many fucking rules in place around classical music: the dress code, performance practica, programme notes, lighting, presentation, concert format, applause, repertoire choice, timing, performer and audience etiquette, venue choice, and on and on.
  • The point is, was, always will be, to fill ‘em up, choose music that is immortal and accesible, play as well as I can, talk about music, wear clothes that are comfortable and not based on the performance of the the 1930s, let the audience bring drinks in, turn the lighting down to almost pitch black. Make it immersive, intimate, exciting and informative. Rip up the rule book and just do what feels right.
  • I know the goal es to be immune to both criticism and praise, but I’m human, and all of  that stuff affects me. I can bullshit on anyone who says it doesn’t.
  • The truth, f or me at any rate, is that the sexual abuse of children rarely, if ever, ends in forgiveness. It leads to self-blame, visceral, self-directed rage and shame.
  • I am preconditioned and hard-wired to fear the worst, believe every negative voice in my head and expect terrible things to happen. That’s just the way it is. On the plus side it keeps me alert, hungry, working hard. On  the negative, well, I’m mental, stressed, heinously jealous of others’ success.
  • I have an in-built terror that good things will slip away. That unless I control things and drive them and micromanage and obsess and worry and push and chase, they will no happen. And there is nothing so destructive to a career as that.
  • The hardest lesson I’ve learned is to relax and simply enjoy what is happenning today, trusting that if I’m doing the right thing then the right things will happen in their own time.
  • There is no way I was going to stand up and say that they deserved to be treated with respect when they’re charging 15 pounds for  a CD and had been shafting their artists and audiences senseless for decades.
  • The easiest thing in the world is to cut and run. From anything, not just relationships. It neatly avoids taking responsability for things, learning lessons that have to be learned at some point, reinforces blame and, in my case at least, ensured I would simply repeat the same shit with someone else.
  • There are not seven stages of grief. Not in my experience. Why does everything have to be boiled down into bite-sized, manageable, understandable chunks? Are we that fucking stupid and incapable of living without definitives or corners or edges? There was just one long stage of hell. There were occasional moments of peace.
  • Spending time in a mental hospital is somehow like having a giant scar at least garners a certain amount of respect.
  • Clearly I wasn’t going to be capable of any kind of relationship, with the emotional and pshysiological responses of a child. I was intrinsically damaged, selfish, egocentric and self-involved, and the only way out of that was to go back, experience all of it again as an adult and try and mend things.
  • We are riddled with trauma. Abandonment, divorce, violence, abuse of every kind, neglect, alcoholism, anger, blame, judgement, religion, bullying. A thousand different forms of hell surround us form our first days on this planet. Sometimes intentionallu, often totally unconsciously, we are, I believe, the walking wounded from a very young age. Some people seem to adjust well despite it, some don’t.
  • While forgiveness and meditation, reading and writing, talking and sharing all help, creativity is, for me, one of the most profound ways through trauma.
  • Classical music has become about appearance, money-making, dressing up, pomp and prestige, rather than simply being of service to the music.
  • The Classic BRIT Awards represent the epitome of what is so dreadfully wrong with the classical music industry.
  • My solution? Fuck the lot of them. Play what you want, where you want, how you want and to whom you want.
  • Give music away for free. Not whole albums, necessarily, but tracks.
  • It amazes me how many people love being unhappy. Our whole cultural identity is centred around not being good enough, constantly needing things that are shinier, faster, smaller, bigger, better.
  • Give. Give all of the time. Give until you are exhausted and then give some more. And don’t fucking dare do it with any expectation of rewards or thanks. Do it because you love this person.
  • Self-harm. Depression. Drug and alcohol abuse. Reparative surgery. OCD. Dissociation. Inability to maintain functional relationships. Marital breakdowns. Being forecefully institutionalised. Hallucations (auditory and visual). Hypervigilance. PTSD. Sexual shame and confusion. Anorexia and other eating disorders. These are just a few of my symptoms of chronic sexual abuse.

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