The Man Who Became a Classical Composer After Being Struck By Lightning

Oliver Sacks, the great neurologist, died last month at the age of 82. Few people have done more to educate the masses on the wondrous physical and chemical interactions within those squishy folds inside our skulls that make us who we are. In his book Musicophilia, Sacks describes a particularly interesting patient. This is from the LA Times.

The doctor described a patient who, after being struck by lightning, became focused on classical music after a life of ambivalence.

The man started buying sheet music and taught himself how to play Chopin, but it didn’t stop there. Soon his head was filled with new original compositions. Even when he wanted to play Chopin, recounted Sacks, “his own music ‘would come and take me over. It had a very powerful presence.’”

Wrote Sacks: “The music was there, deep inside him – or somewhere – and all he had to do was let it come to him. ‘It’s like a frequency, a radio band. If I open myself up, it comes.'”

Sacks is silent on whether this man’s music was any good, but the whole episode fascinates me. Think about it: this man was zapped by lightning and rather than being killed, this natural electrical energy turned him into a musician and a composer. What happened to his brain? And if it could happen to him…

I mean, I love music and understand it quite well. But I’m hopeless at playing any instrument other than the drums (I’m not bad, either). No matter how much I wish my fingers do to the right things on a keyboard or fretboard, there’s something missing, a connection that’s not quite clicking between my mind and my body. And as for composing music? No way. I tried countless times, but the songs have long since blazed a wide detour around me.

Maybe, though, all I need is some of kind of bazillion-volt electrical shock to awaken that part of my brain responsible for making music.  I’d love for that to happen to me, for a spigot of musical creativity to suddenly reveal itself.

But we all know what would happen: I’d just end up as a smoking kebab. Best I stick with my drum beats.

Read the rest of the LA Time article here.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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