The Soloist by Steve Lopez

March 28, 2010
By Donnie Allison BRONZE, Canfield, Ohio
Donnie Allison BRONZE, Canfield, Ohio
2 articles 0 photos 0 comments

Over fifty years ago, the great Albert Einstein came to the realization that “only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” Even though today’s global market is progressing exponentially in almost every field imaginable, the wisdom behind this philosophical belief continues to resonate out to everyone. Regardless of the amount of success one generates, if one does not have another significant person or group of people he/she can share it with, he/she will not be able to live an enriched life full of purpose. For this reason, family and friends are truly the integral support system of characters, especially during the rougher moments. In his emotional masterpiece, The Soloist, L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez explains his encounter with Nathaniel Ayers, the brilliant street musician who has taken a turn for the worse due to the disappearance of his father figure. After initially using the man for a mere story, Lopez begins developing sincere sympathy and finds himself becoming attached to the hoodlum. Through the help of some extraordinary people in one of the most infamous locations in the country, Los Angeles’s notorious Skid Row, Lopez utilizes his first-person vantage point to create a must-read novel to greater appreciate the power of perseverance.

By keeping the story in present-day Los Angeles, Lopez enables his audience to connect with the main characters through the relevant struggles still experienced in major urban settings today. From the very beginning, the creative author illustrates a clear portrait of the rough city atmosphere by observing Skid Row as “a damping ground for inmates released from the nearby county jail, and it’s a place where the sirens never stop screaming” (5). This direct engaging style stimulates the first of many sympathetic responses from the readers and generates a genuine interest among them to see whether or not the environment will ultimately lead to Nathaniel’s destruction. The flashback to the talented star’s childhood in Cleveland is strategically placed after establishing the interviews on a regular basis because Nathaniel and Steve have created a strong bond of trust by this point, leaving the readers with a feeling of devastation upon discovering Mr. Ayers has deserted his family. At the time of the permanent departure, the audience is subject to the cruel and demanding competition at Juilliard, the premier music school in the nation located in New York, where Nathaniel attempts to pursue his dream of becoming a musician. Upon receiving the news of his father heading out to Los Angeles, he becomes a psychotic maniac and is unable to survive at the competitive school. After his mother perishes, the paranoid schizophrenic sees no other option than traveling to L.A. to find his lost father. Each of the settings causes an entirely different impact/end result for the crazed musician, and for this reason, the environments contribute a significant deal to the intriguing overall plot.

No matter how impressive the literary components of a story may be, they will not be preserved if a story does not contain a core of memorable and unique characters. The Soloist is a magnificent work itself because there are numerous people who go out of their way to help improve the life of the troubled musician. Although Steve is responsible for publicizing the disastrous circumstances, several psychologists and fellow musicians devote their precious time and energy to do whatever possible to improve his situation. Whether it is offering a place to stay or sacrificing an instrument to play, these prolific efforts go a long way in helping out the schizophrenic. Given his situation and conditions, Nathaniel acts relatively appreciative of all the help he receives; however, he remains inclined to his periodic outbursts. In one particular instance, he is presented with the opportunity to relocate inside and off of the streets, but he replies, “‘I don’t need the hassles I’d have to deal with going all the way over there with all of that nonsense. ... I like it right here in the tunnels, where I can play all day and nobody’s going to bother me’” (30). This reluctance to cooperate is not an intentional way of provoking conflict but rather a mentality resisting change. He is compelled to act in such a manner because he has been exposed to an unstable environment upon growing up, so it makes sense that he is not willing to believe others. Despite his occasional lack of compliance, most of the caring people of Los Angeles keep their faith in him and because of the persistence of these characters, a warm, sincere tone is sustained for the readers over the course of the entire story.

A major difference between a great story and a mediocre one is the author’s ability to compose his/her thoughts and ideas in such a way that the audience feels as if it is viewing the plot first hand. The Soloist is, in fact, so forceful because it has been constructed from the first person point-of-view, so it is able to be as descriptive as possible since it is based off of real occurrences. Steve Lopez is also the ideal candidate to author this story because he originates as the typical newspaper columnist who is only concerned about making the next deadline and generating interest from his/her story. Despite this stereotype, he asserts that everyone has a story to share, and he feels that it is his duty as a writer to express these messages. Like normal procedure, he approaches the situation with Nathaniel as a strictly business format for his paper; the only difference between this scenario and all the others is that he desires to return back for another interview to continue and build off of the last article. Still not completely satisfied, the L.A. Times columnist further pursues Nathaniel Ayers’s life story, and before long, he realizes he is growing closer and closer to the hoodlum. As a result, he tries doing everything in his power possible to assist Nathaniel and his unstructured way of life. In order to gain the slightest clue of all of the hardships Nathaniel has to endure, Lopez ventures off to the prestigious school of music and also attempts to spend one night on the streets of L.A. Upon arriving at Juilliard, he searches and obtains historical documents displaying Nathaniel’s official enrollment; however, he can not grasp an accurate reading on the setting, for it has become a much more accommodating environment that currently encourages friendly interaction between students. Lopez’s night on the streets is much more realistic because the cold, dark vibrations in the ghetto quickly enlighten him to the beginning of the sufferings Nathaniel encounters each day. By taking the time to establish a true relationship with Ayers, Lopez awakens spiritually through the music man’s “ability to find happiness and purpose” (284-85). Through retelling the story, Steve Lopez realizes the irony behind receiving help and a sense of purpose from a person who supposedly had lost everything and nothing to give.

Each book has its own exclusive qualities that make it worthwhile, even though the adventures behind every story are conveyed by different methods. In regards to The Soloist, the book propagates its success through the vivid pictures painted by the author, who physically witnesses the entire unfolding of events. His recollection is a much more personable approach, so the readers have an easier time watching the story transform. As the story advances, one experiences feelings of pain and joy with the roller coaster ride of emotions, and he/she gains a deeper appreciation for all of the characters that unite for a common cause. Putting individual differences aside, the cast genuinely worries about the well-being of Nathaniel and tries to do anything it can to help him. This is easier said than done since his attitude can become conflicting in a blink of an eye; however, the people come to accept him and work past any mishaps. Luckily, the efforts are all made possible by the L.A. community members, and the audience notices that success can truly come to those willing to persevere past the rough patches.

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