One sometimes comes across facts containing intense ‘human interest’ stories in law reports. The United Kingdom Supreme Court recently decided a case concerning publication of a biography.
The book is called “Instrumental.” James Rhodes, the concert pianist, author and television filmmaker, is the author.
He describes in graphic detail the brutal sexual abuse, which he suffered from the age of six and its devastating physical, mental and emotional consequences. He uses very strong language because he believes it wrong to call what happened to him merely “abuse.”
The Court quoted liberally from the book in the course of arriving at its decision whether the author’s son, aged twelve, should be permitted—in litigation brought by his mother—to obtain an injunction to prevent publication of the book on the grounds that publication could be likely to cause him psychological harm.
The Court decided against any restraint on the free speech contained in the book. It did so on the basis that the author had a legitimate interest in telling his story to the world at large in the way he wished to tell it and that the wider public had a corresponding interest in hearing his story, remarking that “freedom to report the truth is a basic right to which the law gives a very high level of protection.”
In one graphic passage describing the effects of the forced sexual attentions that he received, quoted in the judgment, Rhodes says this: “I went, literally overnight, from a dancing, spinning, gigglingly alive kid who was enjoying the safety and adventure of a new school, to a walled-off, cement shoed, lights out automaton. It was immediate and shocking like happily walking down a sunny path and suddenly having a trap door open and dump you into a freezing cold lake.”
The author found a degree of sanity and stability through music and I will return to what he says about music. First we should heed the author’s description of the personal destruction that is the consequence of perverted interference with human life, particularly in the context of recently reported disturbing trends in child abuse and human trafficking.
Much has been written about the healing power of music. For over a decade I have tried to promote the use of our performing arts and the panyard location as instruments of social engineering, having written only last week that prescribing draconian punishment alone will not solve our rampant violent crime problem, even if miraculously the police can catch the offenders.
In a column entitled Magnificent Monday, (pages 617 -618 The Daly Commentaries), I wrote of an annual occasion which demonstrates that the musical genius of pan has triumphed and taken its people forward from so-called depressed areas into the affection of a wider and diverse community and I emphasised the musical gifts of the descendants of slavery and indenture.
I was greatly moved when I read the belief of the author of Instrumental, whose young life was shattered, that “music has, quite literally saved my life, and, I believe, the lives of countless others. It has provided company where there is none, understanding where there was confusion, comfort where there is distress, and sheer unpolluted energy where there is a hollow shell of brokenness and fatigue.”
This is another robust testimony in support of the capacity of arts and music to soothe the potentially savage breasts of our ill-treated youth and to illustrate their value in promoting a constructive life over youthful death by guns and drugs.
I link what I am writing this week to many of the noble sentiments that have been seen and heard over broadcast media arising from the terror attacks in Paris, particularly those testimonies from the victims and survivors.
One of the hundreds of Parisians lining up to donate blood explained her presence there by saying: “people just need the right opportunity to get involved.”
For years many of us have pleaded with the various political executives to support and broaden the opportunity for our youngsters to get involved in arts and music.
It is uplifting to contrast the “unpolluted energy” of ambition, accomplishment and survival of those who persist in civilised pursuits with the polluted energy of the nasty political struggles from which the recent elections has not brought us even a moment’s respite.
Another Parisian, one who came out of the Bataclan theatre alive, said: “I have cheated death. Why can’t we love each other?”
This may be a utopian fantasy but it makes the point that life is fragile and may be gone in the blink of an eye and should therefore be spent in discovering and promoting common good.
There is no common good in the anti-social behaviour currently proliferating in every aspect of life in Trinidad and Tobago but the death, injury and massive stress all around us are not mellowing us. Will polluted energy eventually be all that drives us?