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Instrumental: A Memoir of Madness, Medication and Music

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  5,279 ratings  ·  715 reviews
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 traumatised teenager or discovering an Adagio by Bach while in a psychiatric ward - such exquisite miracles of musical genius have helped him survive his ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published May 28th 2015 by Canongate Books
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Average rating 4.24  · 
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 ·  5,279 ratings  ·  715 reviews

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Heidi The Reader
This is a shocking memoir about the horrific sexual abuse that James suffered as a child and how music saved him. It is raw, ragged and real. The author is frank about describing what happened, how his life fell apart, and how he was able to finally begin putting it back together. Not a book for the faint of heart, Instrumental makes the reader wonder why we're all here and what might the purpose of suffering serve in the grand scheme of things. I don't pretend to know the answers to these quest ...more
May 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Sally Green
Aug 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I love this book - this reading experience (heck I'm sounding hippie).
The book is shockingly honest and open, but there's much more than that - it's well written (very well written) and funny and sad and heroic and even innovative (there's music to go with each chapter). As I read I sought out the relevant pieces of Bach, Chopin etc on YouTube at the beginning of each chapter, not always finding the recommended pianist and yes, I began to notice that the pianist did make a difference by the end
Laura Bergen
James Rhodes, I admire you. Thank you for writing this. Thank you for not giving up. Thank you for sharing your story so that other people can start to get better, or maybe just to make us know what it's like to suffer the worst and still go on. Thank you for breaking me, for healing me, for awakening the unbreakable bond I have with music. Thank you, thank you, thank you.


Llevaba meses y meses buscando un libro que me cambiase. No un libro bueno, o un libro emotivo, o un libro bonito. Esperaba
The Lost Dreamer
Nov 13, 2017 rated it it was ok
Foolish of me, I expected this book to be about music. Instead, it's about an egocentric maniac whose only purpose seems to be the exhibition of all the horrible experiences that have, under his perspective, lead him to be the way he is. As if he was entitled to behave however he wants, just because he's earned it. Because he's got so many good reasons for it.
I had to read this book for a work research and it has been, ultimately, a pain in the ass. I'm simply not interested in how great it feel
Jun 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
For anyone uncertain as to why child sexual abuse might have shattering lifelong ramifications for its survivors, concert pianist James Rhodes' uncompromising autobiography will set them utterly straight. Rhodes effs and blinds his unstable and angry way through 250 pages of memoir, counterpointing each chapter of in-yer-face uncensored confessional with listening recommendations for pieces of sublime classical music - by composers who were often as tortured, abused and driven to near-madness as ...more
Tess Burton
"My very own personal fight club. 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 think I shouldn't."
James Rhodes is not particularly famous, and as a classical pianist in this day and age I doubt he ever will be. It's a sad truth that a lot of us these days believe that classic music is outdated, irrelevant, they just "don't get it" or "it's ju
Jun 14, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is straight and honest. Rhodes doesn't try to make excuses for himself, even as he talks about the awful trauma of childhood sexual abuse. He doesn't describe abuse in ways that sensationalises or titillates, but dishes it out so directly there's no hiding from the truth or pretending it's been fictionalised for a reader's pleasure or imagination.

It's a great story of a struggle, and all the support, patience, kindness and love required from so many to help one.
May 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biographies
I raced through the book. It is not an easy book to read, it is shocking in what it has to describe but there are moments of humour and the writing is always engaging. I had heard little snippets and enjoyed identifying these throughout the book. The list of things that remind him of the abuse is ingenious as it is not in itself explicit but if you think about it, it really is. It gives you an insight into what he experienced without him having to say it explicitly and is also a massive insight ...more
Dec 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
5 *Madness'* Stars

PopSugar Reading Challenge 2019
✓A book written by a musician (fiction or nonfiction)

F*ck. Holy crap. What fu***ng madness. This guy is a fucking crazy genius and just for having the balls to write this I give it 5 stars. Brave.
Apr 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I first heard James Rhodes' story on a podcast and I was both horrified and astounded, left crying whilst driving down the motorway. It hit me hard and I knew I needed to read this.

To speak and write so openly about child rape and the irreversible impact it has had on his life is beyond admirable and I am in complete awe of his strength. To think that this book was going to be sensored makes me so angry. Every word deserves to be heard. Needs to be heard. I am so glad he won to right to publish
John Vale
This was an ok memoir in my opinion. In it, Rhodes, a classical pianist, discusses his childhood abuse and how it has made him the person he is today.

He often refers to himself as an ass-hole and a loser, and he does come across as a very unlikable person at times. For that reason, I felt it was difficult for me to connect with him and to really connect to the book. He comes across as very angry, understandably, but this made me feel as uncomfortable, as if he really didn't want to share his st
Jun 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
I don't know how to write this review. Normally, some idea will fly into my head, but not this time, so I'll just write something down and see where this goes.

James Rhodes is a pianist with a passion for classical music. He also hates that classical music has for some/too many become synonymous with pompous, elitist, and stand-offish. It should be for everyone regardless of age and background. It should be about the music, not the concert hall, the pianist etc.

James lifestory almost reads like i
Nov 05, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have a deep respect for nature, I can sit for hours looking at a documentary about how slimes can regenerate their shells over and over again and be amazed by it everytime. Stare in awe at how fascinating and smart nature is, and have a deep respect for animals in general and their instinct to survive. Now THIS book taught me that nature, animals, bugs, crawlers, amazing, rare fascinating species have NOTHING on US human. Everyday I lose my faith in humanity little by little (of course I adore ...more
Nov 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Very brutal and shocking story with no holds barred in the telling. Written in a quite manic way, with quite a few long repetitive rants venting his frustration and anger about everything from the classical music industry to the truly awful things that happened him. He rarely alludes to his parents which I found curious. Very good read. Debated between a 3 or 4 but plumped for a 4 on the basis that it's a book that will stay with me.
Marcela Rueda
Nov 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Instrumental is a unique and moving book. James Rhodes shares many harsh difficulties he lived since childhood with great honesty and bravery.
His story is creatively accompanied by music which takes the reader to share intimate feelings with the author.

James Rhodes is a disruptive, non traditional, man which is revolutionizing many paradigms in the music industry. A real innovator!

I was a little disappointed with the last chapter where Mr Rhodes steps into a marriage counsellor role.

Jane Farries
Jul 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book made me change a habit: I no longer snap "Don't smoke" out my car window when I see people (esp. teenagers) with cigarettes/vapes. The reason: I have no idea what led them to smoke in the first place. I sent a tweet to James Rhodes about this, and he replied to it.
This autobiography is understandably hard to read in places, but it is compellingly written and also gives a handy introduction to a lot of famous music. Recommended.
Tara Jones
Mar 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is just brilliant. Haunting, harrowing, gripping, inspiring... I’m struggling to articulate what I want to say except to say to anyone and everyone that this book is is a must read.

A bit like the real life version of “a little life” but perhaps with more redemption (but worse of course because it’s real and not fiction)

The music recommendations in each chapter really enhance the reading experience.

This is an important book which needs to be read.
May 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biographies
Despite the constant swearing, this book is brilliant and a must read. Stephen Fry once told Rhodes to drop the cynicism. Personally, I think he would reach so many more people if he didn't swear so much. And I really hope this book, and his wonderful music, will reach the whole world!
Ayaa Mahjoub
Jan 22, 2016 rated it liked it
3.5 *
to be nobody-but-yourself – in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting’.
Juan Carlos
Jan 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Brilliant and brutally honest!
Jan 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A deep dive into the reality of the long term consequences of child sexual abuse and the trauma of mental illness (sometimes the trauma of how it is managed as well). This is a memoir with heart and soul, incredibly honest and offering great insight. Despite the difficult subject matter this is also uplifting and inspiring, I laughed out loud at points and shed a tear at others. The soundtrack is a valuable addition and the chapter intros giving a little background to each composer and piece of ...more
Jenny Mackinlay
Apr 08, 2018 rated it it was ok
Sigh. Have been arguing with myself whether to review this at all and if so how many stars? Good for Rhodes for both declaring what happened to him as a child and for not letting it stop him using his strength and talent to become a professional pianist--and author. BUT. At some point you have to let stuff go, even the worst stuff. Or it wrecks your life. As it is wrecking Rhodes'. And I speak as someone who knows about life-shattering trauma. I felt almost as if Rhodes was wearing his trauma an ...more
Leigh Edwards-trembath
Jul 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I wouldn’t usually read a book so quickly, but found that I just couldn’t put this book down. I also listened to the matching playlist on Spotify whilst reading.
Don’t get me wrong, this is by no means an easy book to read and is brutally honest, harrowing, heart breaking, gut wrenching, profoundly informative music-wise, and always thankfully with a well needed inkling of hope threaded through the background.
It was to me, close to a non-fiction version of Hanya Yanagihara’s “A little life”, equa
Mar 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A brave and well written book.
Pepijn Mesure
Aug 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is the best autobiography by any musician i have ever read. Incredibly strong, harsh and compelling
Jun 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Utterly painful and emotional to read. Yet there is something terribly uplifting about it.
Mar 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ay, Jimmy. ♥
Barbara Carder
Mar 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: struggle
James, a whirling dervish of thoughts and words, hit a number of powerful notes in this little book. I was alternately amazed and horrified contemplating this little child's wretched existence and how it plays out continually in his life. May James and his family's karmic debt be paid. No one should have to go through this kind of horror and fight to be heard . . . . in an attempt to prevent any more children from a similar abusive schooling. May his life be peaceful and fulfilled and may music ...more
Mar 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
A good friend recommended me this book. I was kind of skeptical about it because I haven't had good experiences with autobiographies, these seem to me boring and pretencious.
This one was a real surprise, maybe because Rhodes starts talking about music and it's difficult to find someone who doesn't like music.
Particularly, I love it and I have a "a soundtrack" in my life. Rhodes shares his soundtrack with us but he warns in the first page that his life was not easy at all and these music, classi
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James Rhodes is a British classical pianist.

Born into a middle-class Jewish family in St John's Wood, North London, he was educated at Arnold House School, a local all-boys independent preparatory school, where he was sexually abused by a teacher.

Aged seven, Rhodes became interested in classical music and began learning the piano. He entered the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition, but fai

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