IN THIS ISSUE JANUARY 2008
Interview with Dr Tony Cicoria
Author: Suzanne Nichols
In 1994, Dr. Tony Cicoria was talking to his mother on a pay phone when he was suddenly struck by a bolt of lightning. Abruptly, the 42-year-old orthopedic surgeon and man of science found himself out of his body, detachedly observing the efforts to save his life. Upon returning from this near-death experience, Cicoria discovered a new and insatiable desire to play the piano. Soon, he began to compose his own music, often working straight through into the early morning. Cicoria’s story is featured in Oliver Sacks’ new book Musicophilia: Tales of Music and The Brain. In honor of the book’s release, Cicoria recently performed his original composition, “Lightning Sonata,” before a live audience. SC Magazine’s Suzanne Nichols spoke with Cicoria about his perspectives on time, reality, and creativity.
SC: Is there particular insight into the nature of time and/or reality as you had known it prior that was significantly changed as a result of your experience?
DC: Sure. When I had the experience the thing that I was struck about was that time did not exist. I did not have any sense of time. I could have been gone for a week and there would not have been any appreciation of time as an entity, per se. But one of the things about the whole experience was the confusion I felt when I initially separated from my body. I knew that I had gotten struck, and I knew that I had gone flying backwards and then I was standing there, and I was confused. There was nothing that signified that I had left. It was a continuum of consciousness. There was never a microsecond where I wasn’t thinking and conscious of everything I was doing. But, the thing that was lacking was that there was no connection to this reality, whatsoever. You know, as I floated up the stairs and I went into the room where the big family gathering was, I saw my kids as I was passing through. And I had really no concern other than the fact that when I saw them, I just had the feeling that they’re going to be fine.
When I left my body and, the first thing that happened was I separated, and I was standing there and my mother-in-law came running down the stairs right toward me and she was screaming, and she ran right past me. I was kind of shocked, and I turned to follow her and that’s when I saw myself on the ground and I saw everybody around the body. And I thought, “Okay, now I understand.” The first thought that I had was, “Oh, ****. I’m dead.” And so, you know, the consciousness was going, and the consciousness was just incredibly mind-bracing.
For a brief microsecond the highs and lows of my life just kind of flashed in front of me, and it was, okay, that was that.
But I had no need to stay there. It was like, “Oh, well, so I’m obviously going someplace else.” For a brief microsecond the highs and lows of my life just kind of flashed in front of me, and it was, okay, that was that. Then when I left the building, that’s when I was surrounded in this aqua-colored, bluish-white light, for lack of something better to call it.
When I was in the light, I no longer had any connection to previous reality, but yet my consciousness was absolutely racing, and I was absorbing all of the feelings that I was having of how wonderful this was and there isn’t any negative thought, everything is positive thought and love and warmth and a great feeling. It was just incredible. Right about the time that I realized, “This is the most wonderful thing that anyone could experience,” boom, I was back! And I remember when I was suddenly back and I realized I was back, I was angry. I remember screaming, “please don’t make me go back, I don’t want to be here.”
SC: And so it was, what, maybe a month or two after that that the music, the passion to listen first began to happen?
DC: It was about that. It took me a couple of weeks to kind of get over what had happened. At that point I went back to work and I tried to get my hands on anything I could read that had to do with lightning. I was trying to understand what had happened to me. And then the music started. The first thing that came was just the desire to hear piano music. I started to listen and I didn’t question it all that much. It was shortly after that that I thought, “You know, I really want to be able to do more than that. I want to be able to play this music.”
So I just said fine, and I ordered all of this music that was on the CD. I ordered the sheet music. Right about the time that I ordered the all this music, the babysitter says, “I’m moving. [And I need a place to store my piano.]” And I thought, “Well, this works out for you and it works out for me because I’d like to have a piano to try to tinker with and you need a place to store it.” That’s one of those little god-winks . . . and so the piano shows up.