Street Bound photograph by author
“[A book about] 2nd chances, human connection, and the power of art and music.” — Steve Lopez, author and columnist, L.A. Times.
From NY’s Juilliard School to L.A.’s Skid Row
The Soloist, by author Steve Lopez, tells the real life story about how a relationship between a newspaper columnist and a Skid Row musician, Nathaniel Ayer, moves a city, a mayor, and this hardnosed journalist to help the homeless and mental health communities.
People responded to the daily columns about Nathaniel in unexpected numbers because Lopez broke the rules of journalism and let it get personal, Lopez told an audience of more than 150 people at Philadelphia’s Free Library last Saturday.
Lopez was candid, animated and well received. The author opted not to read from his book. Instead, he participated in a moderated Q&A before taking questions from the audience.
(The book is being made into a movie scheduled for release in theaters this November. Robert Downey, Jr. plays Lopez and Jamie Foxx plays Nathaniel. They are done filming, Lopez said.)
A main-character synopsis about how this complex and unlikely relationship unfolds and some of the more memorable quotes from the book discussion follow:
He used to be the hard-hitting columnist that kept Philadelphia’s city council in check before moving out to L.A, same job, different fodder.
This day’s prospective storyline: Rainwater stopping escalators and, in turn, repelling public commuters. L.A. tops the list for traffic congestion in U.S. cities. Locals are averse to public transportation as it is, so this escalator thing is a big deal.
While digging for the story near an underground station, Lopez hears a violin celebrating its glory. The man playing the instrument is an unlikely figure. The violin, Lopez notices, has two strings missing.
The man, he notes, is playing without a hat or an open violin case. So, why here, Lopez is compelled to ask.
There’s the Beethoven Statue. I play here for inspiration, Lopez recalls Nathaniel’s words.
For the first time in his career, Lopez abandons professional distance and surfaces in the foreign landscape of a schizophrenic savant living on Skid Row.
Nathaniel studied with YoYo Ma as a fellow student at Juilliard School because of his innate confidence.
Ignoring his mentor’s advice, Nathaniel travels from Ohio to New York for the audition. Not only is he accepted, he receives a full scholarship.
Then, sometime during his junior year, elusive voices and images start toying with his reasoning. His condition deteriorating, Nathaniel finds himself out of school and in a hospital undergoing shock therapy. He eventually lands on the streets.
Decades later, in his 50’s, Nathaniel plays the violin near an underground station in Los Angeles, when a man approaches him. The musician does not know it, but his second chance just arrived.
(It was just easier, he would later say, to live on L.A’s Skid Row with thousands of homeless – heroin addicts, drug dealers, amputees, veterans – than to lose something again.)
The following are some of the more memorable excerpts (All quotes attributed to a third person are direct phrases by Mr. Lopez during his dialogue with the moderator and the audience.):
“Music is a balancing force in his life. Notes that for 200 years have not moved.” Music his Medicine – Disney Hall his Hospital – The Orchestra his Doctors. –Lopez
“Do musicians inspire you Mr. Lopez the way writers inspire me?” –Nathaniel (Addressing Lopez and launching into a well-versed soliloquy from Hamlet.)
“We are brothers. We are brothers in music.” –Yo Yo Mah (Addressing Nathanael backstage at Disney Hall; Nathanael, dressed in suit and tie, nervously wondered what he would say to YoYo Mah, Lopez said.)
“He has made choices in his life, and he is out there because he wants to be out there.” –-Nathaniel’s Father (Addressing Lopez, when Lopez tracked him down.)
“This chance encounter, this serendipitous moment on the street, has led to a 3-year relationship.” –Lopez