The Soloist

Friends have lately been urging me to go see, The Soloist, a movie that has gotten, by and large, favorable reviews. I finally had a chance to catch the flic; and wasn't disappointed. It's a moving, poignant work that traces the friendship developed between LA Times columnist Steve Lopez and a homeless street musician, Nathanial Ayers. The movie chronicles how Mr. Lopez befriends Mr. Ayers, and discovers that this homeless castaway was once a Juilliard trained musical prodigy who is afflicted by schizophrenia. And it's a riveting tale that describes Mr. Ayers world, both musically and in terms of homelessness.

I have a particular interest in this topic since I wrote a book on it (The Proud and the Immortal). My book detailed the lives of a homeless community that evolved in the old Amtrak tunnels below New York City. Its emphasis was the same. In the tunnels I met drifters, addicts, seekers, prophets, and people just trying to get by---the whole gamut of what constituted a society in microcosm.

The movie cannot be faulted. Its story of the two main characters as portrayed by Jamie Foxx as Nathanial Ayers and Robert Downey Jr. as Steve Lopez, is nothing short of amazing. Everyone. I mean, everyone should see this movie. If only to get an idea that we still live in a society of the haves and have-nots.

The only qualm I have about the picture is this: It depicts a human being of great talent and humanity. But what about those homeless individuals who are not blessed with Mr. Ayers gifts? Would Mr. Lopez had stopped to catch this person pouring his soul into a two-stringed violin if the man had just been lying on the street begging for his next meal? Would he had been moved to write such inspiring columns on this individual if the man did not possess such prowess with a cello? That's the rub here. We seek out those who are specially gifted, and that's to their credit. But we are not all so gifted. We are not all geniuses whether on the streets or not.

People become homeless for a variety of reasons: A bad economy, some ailment, emotional or mental distress, addiction, some natural disaster, or just having the bad luck of coming up short on their next rent payment. I said it before, and I'll say it again: A lot of us are just a paycheck away from homelessness. It's not the wrath of the gods or some defect in our character. There is a lot to attribute to homelessness.

I'm glad that Mr. Ayers had a chance, no matter how brief, to find his way back into his beloved vocation of music. But what about the homeless mother living in a shelter who doesn't have such gifts? When do we pay her homage? Or the homeless veteran who's still trying to come to terms with his own issues? When do we pay him homage? Or the teenager who's been thrown out of the house? Or the auto plant worker who lost his or her job, and house and family, and their self-respect living on the streets? When do we pay them homage?

Don't get me wrong. I am glad and heartened that Mr. Ayers' story has come to light. But there are so many more out there, less gifted perhaps, but no less worthy of our concern.

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