Book Review: More Myself

More Myself: A Journey by Alicia Keys

When I first heard Fallin’, I knew I’d have to purchase the Alicia Keys CD Songs in A Minor and add it to the rotation. Alicia’s music captured my attention like a welcome lone wolf. When she came on the music scene, the 70s era upstart musician/songwriters like Billy Joel and Elton John had waned and few vocalists were making popular, original music with piano accompaniment. Don’t get me wrong, there were a few but none whose music connected with me as well as Alicia Keys’.

Not surprisingly, in 2002 Alicia took home five Grammys for her work on Songs in A Minor including: Song of the Year, Record of the Year, Best New Artist, Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, and Best R&B Song; a feat that cemented her future as an American artist. So when I recently saw More Myself in the stacks of new book releases, I picked up a copy to read.

Die hard fans will probably love this book. It’s a pure and honest account of Alicia’s life that details her perseverance as an artist and her rise to fame.

What I found interesting is how she describes the example her mother set for her during her early life in Hell’s Kitchen, a work ethic of hustle, of finding the next job. This, combined with her mother’s willingness (however difficult it might have been) to let Alicia pursue music when and how she chose to had an extraordinary effect. If all that Alicia has written accurately reflects how she achieved her level of success, her talent and pursuits as an artist might never have happened had her mother not been as bold and supportive of her journey.

Before I tell you more, I’d like to take a hot second to cover my opinion about memoir formatting. Writers or maybe their editors or publishers in general seem to gravitate toward the format where the start of each chapter is a quote from someone famous about something that might align with the contents of the chapter you are about to read. I’d like to go on record as saying “not a fan,” for two reasons. Even as one chapter follows another, I’m mentally prepared that the next chapter may or may not chronologically or even subjectively follow the one before it. If there’s a chapter change, I’m expecting a break of some sort. More important, unless said famous person and quote are directly related to the author or the subject matter, I’m not reading to hear what they have to say, I want to know what the author has written which is why I chose to read a memoir in the first place.

I tell you that to say that I especially loved that the start of each chapter of More Myself taps a specific person who knows, has worked with, or is related to Alicia to provide their opinion about who she is. This snippet ties in well to Alicia’s “side” of the story wherein she elaborates about how that person integrated into her life. And, if you flipped through the book just to those prefaces, you’d find an impressive list of Who’s Who in the music business, activism, politics, and show business.

If you didn’t know much about Alicia Keys life before reading More Myself, I think you’ll find it a fun read without all of the static that comes from television and the press.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Three and a half stars.

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Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye: 50 Years of Words and Music

Friday night I watched the streaming broadcast starring Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye along with their band mate Tony Shanahan as they performed and reminisced about their half century of song making and writing.

Watching this half century performance sans live audience brought to me feelings of both joy and melancholy.

In the quiet evening of my small home office, I teared up hearing her sing one of my personal favorites, a song entitled Ghost Dance popularized on the album Easter. But a clear highlight of the evening was her performance of Birdland from the Horses album. That one demonstrated the pure power of her lyrical poetry accompanied by Lenny’s guitar through diminuendo and crescendo blending its story; a sight I imagine paralleled the St. Marks Church show where Patti and Lenny performed poetry together for the first time in ’71.

Skavlan showreel circa 2017

During Friday’s streaming show it seemed that in Patti’s mind at least she was performing before a live audience. While the show was broadcast live and we, her audience watched from our devices, we weren’t there to scream, clap, shout, dance and give her the electric energy feedback on which live performers feed. And after saying “thank you” at the end of the first couple of numbers as any performer might do upon the crowd’s applause, she even commented on it. Aside from mentioning at the outset their proven good health and removal of masks for the show, this other moment acknowledged the strangeness of a pandemic performance.

Other show standouts included the Ballad of a Bad Boy, her tribute to Sam Shepard (who she described as a good man but also a bad boy) and Lenny’s World Book Night an unexpected but welcome diversion.

I’ve been a Patti Smith fan since ’78 when with a $6 dollar ticket in hand, I drove my uncool-body-style ’74 stick shift Mustang to see her band perform at the Science Center on the campus of Montgomery County Community College with my best girlfriend. There I’d fallen in love with punk, kept the souvenir buttons she’d tossed to the fans at the end the show and dreamed of a life for me as a rebel poet, a writer.

I followed her career, read her books and in 2019 snagged a 2×3 foot foam board poster advertising Year of the Monkey. The latest, Patti Smith on Patti Smith edited by Aidan Levy sits atop my current stack of new books to read.

That Time I Cried When a Celebrity Died

Sadly, I missed the opportunity to see Stevie Ray Vaughn perform live. Nevertheless, his indelible impression on my heart reduced me to tears  when, on this day in 1990, I heard the news of his tragic death.

At the time, I’d seen scant few snippets of performance footage, but spent hours upon hours listening to Soul to Soul and In Step at volumes that let the neighbors in on my musical preferences.  The mere idea that he could step in and tear up a stage with the likes of ZZ Top (Dallas’ Adolphus Hotel), as easily lay down tracks a la David Bowie’s  Let’s Dance, or hold his own at Carnegie Hall all the while remaining true to his rocking blues roots speaks volumes about his musical ability.

SRV guitar

To  have watched Stevie Ray Vaughn play his Fender Stratocaster guitar was to have witnessed a pure connection between talent and God.  I’ll say again that I never saw him play a live show, yet even today, watching a video of SRV performing  still raises the hair on the back of my neck as I bear witness to an ethereal wave of light that bridges Divinity, Vaughn, and his guitar.

Few are as blessed as he with such a gift and his only served to increase my faith in a higher power. Maybe that’s why I cried when this celebrity died—because his absence left a gap between me and the intangible.

May he always Rest in Peace.

 

 

Wild World

I strolled through the market
Glancing at random for treasure

A summer breeze lilted
Coaxed Hollywood style
By a shoulder high
Wind maker

Lost in knick knacks
Hand-crocheted doilies
Paperback books
Brick-a-brack
Old postcards and Coca Cola memorabilia
That beckoned me
To buy

The shop keeper placed
Tea for the Tillerman
On the turntable
With a click and spin
Wild World
Drifted in waves over shelves full
Of antique toys
Old license plates
And furniture that once
Held someone else’s junk

dock kids

And it’s breakin’ my heart you’re leavin’
Baby, I’m grievin’

Turned corners and wound through
Dream catchers and feather boas
Reflected from framed
Prints depicting long forgotten
Scenes in black and white

It’s hard to get by just upon a smile

Melancholy overwhelmed me
I remembered a love letter
Corny and romantic all at once

Plagiarized words
Designed to steal my heart
But it was already stolen

But just remember there’s a lot of bad and beware
Oh, baby, baby, it’s a wild world

*Italicized lyrics ~ Cat Stevens
©50Figment 2016 ~ Kimberly Kratz