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From Skid Row To The San Francisco Conservatory Of Music

Far from his down-and-out days on Skid Row, Ben Shirley is currently a student at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
Mark Hayes
/
Courtesy of the artist
Far from his down-and-out days on Skid Row, Ben Shirley is currently a student at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

Ben Shirley's story is one of redemption. He'd been playing bass in bars, clubs and arenas in the Los Angeles area since he was 15 when he fell down a path of drugs and alcohol. Four bottles of vodka and $360 worth of heroin a day brought him down hard on Skid Row.

It was at the non-profit The Midnight Mission where Shirley turned his life around in 2011. Now, at 53, he's an undergrad in The San Francisco Conservatory of Music's program of Technology and Applied Composition. He debuted an original piece, "We Need Darkness to See the Stars," earlier this month.

Shirley spoke to NPR's Scott Simon about how music helped him heal, and why the holidays can be an especially hard time for those recovering from addiction.

"The best that I have is that, 'I've been there,'" Shirley says. "If you let it, life will absolutely explode for you in ways you could never imagine. Chances are you're already on a path to something brand new and that other door's opened."

Listen to the entire interview at the audio link.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Ned Wharton is a senior producer and music director for Weekend Edition.