Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Music, schizophrenia, and the streets of L.A

I am really loving my new job at a locked psychiatric facility and last night, as a reward to myself, I rented a movie called "The Soloist". I've been meaning to watch this movie for a while because there is a remarkable story behind it that hits close to me. Two summers ago I was walking the streets of downtown L.A by Pershing Square when I heard beautiful cello music. I looked around and the music came, quite surprisingly, from a young homeless man sitting at the station, wearing a surgical mask, shopping cart next to him. I stopped my busy day, listened, and took a picture.

My bus made its way and I had to rush off before asking his name. In L.A there are roughly 60,000 homeless people, and unfortunately many of them are mentally ill. I suspected the man I had met with the beautiful music was part of this statistic. The music stayed in my mind for a while, and I couldn't help but to wonder about this mans story. A couple of weeks later my mom informed me that the man I had snapped a picture of was Anthony Ayers, a musical prodigy, who also happened to be homeless and had paranoid schizophrenia. UCLA was bringing him as a guest speaker and a book as well as a movie was going to come out based on his story entitled "The Soloist". Unfortunately, I couldn't make it to UCLA to hear it and for some reason or another I hadn't gotten around to watching the movie. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it. Steve Lopez, a journalist for the Los Angeles Times ran into Ayer's music, much like I did at Pershing square, and a friendship developed. Lopez wrote about Ayers for the times and found out that Ayers had gone to Julliard for two years before having his psychotic break and was a musical prodigy, playing a variety of instruments beautifully. What I truly love about the movie is the fact that it gives such real hope and portrays mental illness in such an accurate, nondiscriminatory way. Ayer's is able to get some help, but he is never cured (to this day, we can find him on the streets of L.A). It also shows us that sometimes the most important thing we can offer someone is our friendship. I loved the movie for showing that and will think about that next time I go to work.

Check out the preview

and an interview of Ayers on 60 minutes

And if you'd like, the original articles Lopez wrote for the times, here.

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