AUSTIN (KXAN) - It was midafternoon on a sunny Monday, March 26, 2012. Phil Ajjarapu, an Anderson High School choir teacher known to his students, understandably, as simply, Mr. A, was riding his motorcycle across a flyover in North Austin.
"I got ejected off the 360 overpass over by where 183 and Mopac meet up," the man recalled.
"From what I remember, I was falling to the left and I counterbalanced to the right and my wrist must have given and hit the accelerator.
"I took off, hit the wall, went over and I immediately blacked out. My brain was like, 'You don't need to see any of this. And then, as far as I am concerned, I woke up five days later."
At his school, word about the crash spread quickly among stunned students.
"I was sitting down," said sophomore Conner Johnson. "We were all waiting for Mr. A to come in, because he hasn't showed up yet.
"I was really scared…Mr. A is a really big influence on me. He is one of the reasons that I continue to actually continue music at all.
"So the fact alone that if he would be gone, I don't know what I would do."
"I thought I was not only going to lose one of my favorite teachers, but one of my best friends," agreed senior Dylan Graves.
"I was just in this shock," said junior Heather Reed, "and I kept thinking, like, what if he doesn't come back? What if I hadn't given it everything?"
Shock and regret gave way to real fear as the extent of Ajjarapu's injuries became known. He can recall them like a memorized alphabet.
"I just had some metal out of this knee," the teacher said, lifting the left leg of his jeans. "That was from the recent surgery and so was this over on the side," pointing to jagged scars. "So they scoped it and they took some metal out.
"And I broke this knee," he went on, lifting up his right-hand jeans leg, "and I broke both ankles and I broke the right heel, the right calcaneus, there's two screws going in here.
"I broke my tibia plateau fracture. So you can see some of the scars there," the teacher said with another flurry of pointing.
"I had a peronial nerve drop, so I could push my foot down, but I couldn't lift it back up again."
With that, Ajjarapu's gestures moved higher on his body.
"I fractured some ribs and had a punctured lung and I had sepsis (blood infection) and I broke my skull, a basal skull fracture and I had nerve damage on this (left) side, so this whole side of my face was drooping. I couldn't shut this (left) eyelid; they had to tape it shut.
"I had to like, brush my tooth like that so I didn't drool. That lasted for awhile. Nothing tasted right; everything tasted horrible for a few months because of the nerve damage."
The trip back
But Ajjarapu battled back relentlessly. Predicted long stays in the hospital and rehab were trimmed as he made steady progress. Back at Anderson, his students began to relax.
"I read that he was okay and I was like, yeah," said sophomore Elise Pope.
"For a lot of us, it put it all in perspective," added junior Heather Reed. "You don't know what's going to happen tomorrow."
One student, sophomore Zach Woolsey, who wasn't even in choir at the time, decided to join up after hearing about Mr. A's ordeal.
"His story, the story about the highway is the main reason I joined," said Woolsey, because he sounds really inspirational, real engaging. And throughout this year, he's become one of my favorite teachers here.
"He's one of the most heartfelt people I know and he's really passionate about what he does."
Now that Ajjarapu is back on his feet, that passion is coming out in a way the teacher could never have imagined.
"I had plenty of time on my hands to think," he said. "I was just like, 'Man, I got to make this album. I got to make this album. I got to make it before I die again. That was, that was my thought."
So the teacher started recording tracks to some of his songs and posting them on SoundCloud, a web-based music sharing site. Friends heard the clips and one of them put Ajjarapu in touch with musician and producer Ken Stringfellow, known for his work with R.E.M., Big Star and the early 70s power pop group, The Rhaspberries.
Stringfellow agreed to produce Ajjarapu's first album and he went right to work, steering the teacher toward a more nuanced approach to songwriting.
"A lot of the stuff that I write is very autobiographical," the teacher said, "and it's not very ambiguous. So he's trying to get me into the habit of writing instead of just telling, telling, telling about myself, I'm allowing the listener to put some of themselves into it, so that's it's less autobiographical.
"He gives me something to shoot for, something to aim towards, where normally I would be just like, 'Oh, I'm having a horrible day or a horrible breakup and this is what I'm writing about.
"So it's nice to have a, basically, it's nice to have a teacher again."
Now, Ajjarapu writes with more confidence, reaching out for the keys to music that can impact millions. As it turns out, that's not brain surgery.
"Ilove a lot of like visual art or paintings or plays or movies," said the teacher, "but there's something about a good pop/rock song---the brevity of it, the way it boils down, an essential thing or a simple question.
"You can say something that's not even that deep, but you pair it with a great melody and all of a sudden, it's got so much, so much weight, you know.
"You know, like take, 'Hey Jude.' You know, 'Take a sad song and make it better.'
"It's like: Who doesn't understand that? Who hasn't felt that? You know, and paired with that specific melody, moves mountains, you know."
So Stringfellow teaches Ajjarapu. Ajjarapu teaches his choir students and music is born and reborn again and again.
"I think all teaching or learning is, is really just sharing," said Ajjarapu.
Deeply grateful for another shot and life, he hopes to release his album on vinyl and online by February of 2014.
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