Tuesday, February 26, 2013

EXCLUSIVE: Eagles Fans Angered by New Documentary on the Band

The Eagles then... 
As a longtime Eagles fan and singer-songwriter who proudly recorded an album with Randy Meisner, a founding member of the legendary band, I was eagerly anticipating History of the Eagles, the authorized two-part documentary that recently debuted on Showtime. But the film, which is directed by Alison Ellwood and co-produced by Academy Award winner Alex Gibney, shines a surprisingly harsh light on Glenn Frey and Don Henley, the group's chief songwriters and self-appointed leaders. 

While accusations have circulated for years that Frey and Henley are dictators who berate their bandmates, I've repeatedly dismissed these charges as misguided critiques from clueless outsiders. I've repeatedly defended Frey and Henley as misunderstood perfectionists, not bullies.

But it's clear from this film that I've been in denial all these years. And I'm not the only Eagles fan who feels duped. While the movie is getting mostly rave reviews and there are many Eagles fans out there who love it and have said so on Eagles fan sites and social media, a number of Eagles loyalists I've interviewed tell me they feel angered and betrayed by the new doc, which includes rare concert and off-stage footage as well as new interviews with all current and former members. 

The Eagles now...
"I've heard the rumors about Glenn (Frey) and Don (Henley) being jerks, but I always thought that was just coming from people who are jealous of their wealth and fame. I guess I was wrong," says Lyle Givant, who's seen the band in concert "at least 20 times" over the last four decades. "Frey and Henley come across as two guys who have zero regret over how badly they've treated people over the years. It was hard for me to watch this documentary at times because I've loved the band for so long. I'm sure it wasn't the director's intention, but she made Frey and Henley look pretty bad. They clearly still live by the motto that the end justifies the means. If it's supposedly good for the band, screw it if people get hurt."

Leonard Novarro, another longtime fan who thinks only the Beatles are a better band then the Eagles, agrees with Givant.

"I was taken aback by this film. They (Frey and Henley) seem very egotistical and arrogant," says Novarro, who suggests that Henley and Frey acted "childishly" toward bandmate Don Felder. "They never should have fired Felder."


In one particularly troubling segment of the film, Frey and Felder almost come to blows on stage. "Felder's firing meant the end of the battling guitar duo of Felder and (Joe) Walsh, which was the greatest in rock," says Novarro. "Any musical group, rock or otherwise, is organic. It flows because of all of its parts - the songs, the instrumentation, the harmonies. To assume that because you are the person doing most of the writing that everyone else is diminished in their worth is the height of hubris. Is George Harrison worth less because his body of songwriting wasn't as extensive as Lennon-McCartney?"

As a musician, I certainly understand that no band is a true democracy. There often has to be a leader, or leaders, or things can and often do go astray. But that does not justify being a cruel tyrant. Nothing does. Meisner, who abruptly left the Eagles after the Hotel California album, was clearly affected by Frey and Henley's behavior. But Randy rarely talks about his former bandmates. In my conversations with him he's never said an unkind word about them, which I think speaks volumes about his character. 

As the film chronicles, Meisner was having trouble hitting the high notes on Take it to the Limit, one of the band's biggest hits, during his final tour with the band. Instead of being understanding and supportive, Frey and Henley evidently berated and intimidated him, and ultimately Frey, who comes across in the film as even more of a heavy than Henley, apparently just went off on Meisner, who subsequently quit at the height of the Eagles' fame.

Laurie Chatley Montgomery, an Eagles fan since the 1970s, says that while the documentary brought back many good memories for her, "I was disappointed. It seemed like Glenn (Frey) was obsessed with the power of being the leader. Joe Walsh mentioned several times Glenn did 'what was best for the Eagles,' and yet Glenn let his personal feelings get in the way when it came to Don Felder, who was great for the Eagles. After watching this documentary, I was left with a feeling of sadness because the band has such great harmonies and sings such wonderful songs together. It's sad that such hatred and jealousy can exist among them."

Of course, Felder did not go quietly after he was fired. He filed two lawsuits that were later settled out of court, and wrote a scathing tell-all book. What does Felder think of the documentary? He told Billboard recently that there were "a lot of things that weren't discussed, a lot of issues that aren't brought to the forefront. It glorified Henley and Frey's work, giving very little credit to all the other people who had worked so hard on the recordings - including Bernie (Leadon), Randy, myself, the other things people brought to the table like (producer) Bill Szymczyk."

Felder added that the documentary made it seem like "everything was fine and dandy a lot of the time, which really was not the case. There was always a lot of friction and tension going on. We had some fun times, but there were also a lot of stressful arguing and disputes and disagreements and words being thrown around - between Don and Glenn, too. They portrayed it like they'd been best buddies since '71 or something, but there's been quite a few times between them, too. So a lot of stuff was just omitted that way, I think."

Felder also told Billboard that he was surprised by "the anger that was displayed, and the bitterness, especially from Glenn. It really left me taken aback that he was still so angry about all of that, and I couldn't understand why, to tell the truth. I've been way past it for about 10 years now."

Henley said in a recent interview with Ultimate Classic Rock magazine that a "former member" will be returning for the Eagles' upcoming tour. Henley confirmed that it won't be Felder, which leaves either Meisner or Leadon, both of whom also left amid turmoil and hostility. It's hard to believe either one would come back to the nest without an apology from Frey or Henley. But apparently being the self-appointed leaders of the Eagles means never having to say you're sorry. 


Thursday, February 21, 2013

George Carlin is Still Dead, and Still the Funniest Man in America


The late, great George Carlin
Last night, while watching a stand-up comedy routine on Comedy Central, I noticed something strange and revealing: I wasn't laughing. A few smiles here, a few snickers there, but no real laughter. Not from the gut. At that moment I realized something that I guess I've subconsciously known for quite a while: stand-up comedy is dead.

Yes, the golden days of stand-up are history. It's pretty slim pickings these days. Sure, there are a few comedians out there who still can raise the roof. But for the most part, it's all over. Do you remember the last time you watched a comedian who made you laugh so hard you cried and could hardly breathe? 


The unofficial end of stand-up really came five years ago. That's when George Carlin died. America's greatest stand-up comedian, ever, Carlin's demise left a huge comedy void that will likely never be filled. Ah, George. We need you now more than ever.

I may be a bit biased when it comes to Carlin. He and I have a history, of sorts. I first met him at the impressionable age of 13. During our five-minute conversation, which took place backstage in Las Vegas, he asked me all about my family, friends, and school, and when I made a joke about one of my teachers, he retraced for me some of his hilarious steps through catholic school which he had made famous on his legendary Class Clown record. 

Kind and sincere, Carlin didn’t seem at all put off by the fact that this little kid wouldn’t let him leave. He seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say; it was a conversation, not just an autograph moment. We connected. It may have helped that I recited for him a few of his own routines, verbatim, including his famous “hair” poem (I'm aware some stare at my hair, in fact, to be fair, some really despair of my hair....).
 
Carlin was visibly pleased that I knew his poem by heart. Frankly, I knew it better than anything from my 8th grade English book, which should tell you something about how I was doing in school at the time. When we parted, Carlin smiled at me warmly, looked me in the eye and said, “Go kick the world in the ass, Jamie.” It’s the best advice I ever got during my shaky junior high years or, really, ever. And I still try to live up to it.

I can’t say Carlin and I became friends after that brief encounter, but when I became a journalist, first in college, I interviewed him every chance I could and we established a nice rapport. I reminded him each time we chatted of our first meeting behind that stage at the Las Vegas Hilton in the 1970’s. He assured me each time that he remembered the meeting with “the smart, long-haired little blonde kid.”

Carlin’s public persona, especially as he aged and his material darkened and became increasingly subversive, was that of an angry, alienated, solitary man. But I never found him to be any of those things. He wore the weight of the world’s bullshit on his shoulders, yes, and was disgusted with the hypocrisies, absurdities, and cruelties of life. But there was a kindness within him that some of his fans may have been unable or unwilling to see. And his anger was entirely justified. He was mad as hell but for all the right reasons. If pure anger is ever righteous, his was.

There was simply no filter for George Carlin, in or out. When he saw someone acting like an asshole, there was no internal machinery that prevented him from just saying, out loud, “you’re an asshole.” He was out there, to be sure, perpetually dangling on some of society’s thinnest limbs as he railed against religion, big business, feminists, golfers, politicians, environmentalists, animal lovers, kids, grandparents, clergy, celebrities, political correctness, America, and so much more. He exposed all the world’s countless delusions in his inimitably smart yet hilarious way. 

Sizing up virtually everyone and everything in the insane asylum that is our popular culture, he was an equal opportunity blaster who did not belong to any clubs or tribes. He even railed against people who rail against people.

Carlin bemoaned the misery and meanness of the world, but within his own little universe he was actually a relatively happy and sweet man, a loving husband and father who for the most part had his shit together. He did not hate for hate’s sake. He wasn’t just about ranting and rage. He was equally fascinated with and bemused by life’s banalities as he was the big-ticket stuff. 

His love for the curious and confounding minutiae of our language, for example, and his propensity for pure goofiness and silliness all demonstrated a slightly twisted but enduring sort of joi de vivre that I suspect kept him from going totally bonkers as he explored the darkest corners of the human condition.

In one-on-one conversations, Carlin was neither pissed off nor mean-spirited. He was gracious, engaging, even hopeful. And that sets him apart from so many of the comedians and social critics living and dead with whom he is so often compared. So many other comics who are filled with that fire – from Lenny Bruce to Sam Kinison to Carlos Mencia – have had a difficult time turning off the stove when they step off stage. They generally don’t have that inner joy. Carlin, one-on-one, was in many ways the opposite of the man he was under the lights. That’s what many people who knew him better than I say, too.

Carlin wasn’t a pushover, but he was kinder and gentler when he spoke with folks on an individual basis. This sounds paradoxical, but it isn’t. “I love people,” Carlin once said. “I hate groups. People are smart, groups are stupid."

There’s the rub. Even in his most pessimistic moments George still had hope for the individual. He rightly felt that people, individually, hold great promise, but that when they get together in groups of two, or 2 million, well, that’s when the shit starts hitting the fan.

Unlike many of my other childhood heroes, including professional athletes who more often than not disappoint when you meet them in person, Carlin’s status never diminished. He is one of my only true lifelong heroes besides my father. And the news of his death five years ago hit me hard. It was like losing a relative. The world just suddenly felt like a slightly lesser place, a place where fools, fakes, hypocrites and jerks are a little freer to celebrate and be their stupid selves. They surely celebrated his demise. And I still miss him.

There’ve been very few people in modern society – not just in the comedy world, but society at large - with Carlin’s courage, integrity and willingness to dissect bullshit at every turn. But more than all that, he was just so funny. As subjective as comedy is, it is nonetheless very safe to say that he was the funniest stand-up comedian of all time. Even Richard Pryor would defer, I’m sure.

Carlin's legend grows as the years go by. But in all the well-meaning tributes to Carlin since his death, journalists have focused understandably on his controversial side, his battles with censors and his infamous seven words you can’t say on television routine. For the uninitiated among you, they are shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cock sucker, mother fucker, and tits

These are legit’ issues to ponder, of course, but what most writers always miss is that Carlin was not just a man obsessed with crossing societal boundaries. He had the mischievous but giddy soul of a child.

It was revealing that Carlin, who never stopped laughing at the idea of farting in church, would do such sweet, intimate things as share a swallow with his audience. He’d stick the microphone up against his throat and let the audience in on something so personal and seemingly innocuous and inane as the sound of a swallow. 


There was, along with all the fury, pure childlike joy in Carlin’s soul that seemed to belie his sometimes ferocious rants. The duality of George is the duality of us all - he just took it to both extremes whereas most of us stay a little closer to the center.

Talk all you want about Carlin’s brave, edgy material, but the ultimate litmus test for any comedian is of course much simpler. Did he make you laugh? No one ever made me laugh harder, and unbelievably he made me laugh consistently for more than 40 years, with smart, funny and new routines every year.

Carlin also loved his fellow comedians. He truly appreciated and respected his peers. Every time I interviewed him, we’d talk about other comics. His sad death created a comedy void that will never be filled, but there are a few other stand-ups out there who are doing their best to carry on his tradition. 


Is there anyone as adept at combining biting social commentary with truly funny and unique personal observations - being cynical and silly at the same time? No. Especially not that comic I saw tonight on cable. I won't name him. He probably already knows he sucks.

But there are comics who were influenced and inspired by Carlin who will carry on his tradition. The most obvious heir at present is Lewis Black, who I profiled a few years ago in San Diego Magazine. Black's righteous indignation and advanced bullshit radar capabilities are nods to Carlin, and, like George, Lewis sometimes betrays a bemused smile and caring heart beneath the hostility. Black’s angry man schtick works. He's great. But Carlin was funnier. 

There’s also Jon Stewart, who share’s Carlin’s cynicism and intelligence. Funny, clever and trenchant, and, like Carlin, likable, Stewart is a worthy heir, even though he doesn't do much stand-up any more. But Carlin was funnier.

Others capable of carrying on Carlin’s tradition include Bill Maher, who’s smart, and often funny, but more affected and takes himself a little more seriously than Carlin ever did and who can be off-puttingly snide and pretentious. There’s Steven Wright, whose deadpan, bizarro observations are funny and inventive but not necessarily topical or as consistent. And there’s Chris Rock, a gifted comic who combines justified anger with general observations about life and adulthood, but doesn’t quite reach Carlin’s level of insight.

Carlin was the greatest comic we had. He had no equal. And throughout his career he retained a populist likability that disarmed even his most scathing routines. There was no pretense in George, no arrogance. Just honesty. And even when you combine the talents of all these comics mentioned above, they do not measure up to the rare talent of one George Carlin. There’ll never be another comedian, or person, like him. 

He transcended the comedy world. He was in fact our most trusted and reliable social critic. And that short but meaningful conversation I had with him when I was 13 is one of the treasured moments of my life. I still miss George Carlin greatly, and probably always will. He kicked the world in the ass.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A DEAFENING SILENCE: POPE BENEDICT'S REAL LEGACY


My wife and my two closest friends since childhood were born and raised Catholic. And none of them has anything but positive things to say about their experiences in the Catholic Church. Needless to say, the Church has been responsible for countless positive humanitarian deeds throughout the world, and there are many caring, compassionate priests. 

That said, please forgive me if I don't join in the chorus of praise for Pope Benedict XVI, who yesterday announced he will resign for health reasons. 

Benedict - born Joseph Ratzinger - who was elected eight years ago after the death of Pope John Paul II, said in a statement that he had come to the conclusion that his strengths, due to his advanced age, "are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry." This marks the first time a Pope has resigned since Pope Gregory XII nearly 600 years ago.

But I, for one, am not sorry to see him go. I say good riddance. Why? Because this man was in charge of the ongoing and ambitious coverup of the most despicable child sexual abuse scandal in world history. 

A scathing new HBO documentary on the coverup of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church sheds new light on this sickening crime against humanity. In the shocking and powerful film, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney addresses Benedict's complicity and suggests that while he publicly decried sexual abuse, he was part of the problem not the solution. 

Gibney, whose previous credits include Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and Taxi to the Dark Side, notes that Benedict protected, among others, one of the worst sex abusers in history, Marcial Maciel. A monster in human form, the Mexican-born Maciel was a drug addict who abused boys and also maintained relationships with at least two women, fathering up to six children, two of whom he allegedly abused as well. 

In 1997, a group of nine men went public with accusations that they were abused by Maciel while studying under him in Spain and Rome in the 1940s and 1950s. They described how Maciel would pretend to have pain in his groin and had been given papal permission to receive help massaging out the pain.

The group, which reportedly included respectable academics and former priests, lodged formal charges at the Vatican in 1998, but were told that their case had essentially been ignored by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, then headed by, you guessed it, the outgoing Pope Benedict XVI. 

He removed Maciel from active ministry after an investigation started under John Paul II. But was Maciel tried for his disgusting crimes, which the Church later acknowledged? No. Instead, Benedict allowed him to spend the rest of his life in prayer and penance. It goes without saying that Maciel should have spent the rest of his miserable life in prison. But he was protected by the man who would later become the Pope.

None of Benedict's good deeds can compare to the evils of protecting predator scum like Maciel. 

The truth is Benedict presides over a Church in which the punishment for sexual abuse of children remains prayer, not incarceration. Benedict has allowed the Church to continue dodging responsibility for the heinous crimes of too many of its leaders. He did very little to substantively address the shockingly widespread sexual abuse scandal, which has already implicated dozens of priests as child rapists and exposed hundreds of ranking senior Church figures as willing participants in the most egregious crime coverup in modern history.

From Boston to Los Angeles to Ireland to Australia, we have seen one massive sexual abuse scandal after another unfold, despite concerted efforts by the Church to keep them a secret. As Gibney points out, this Pope has every file of every Catholic sex abuse case in the world. He knows more about the abuses than any other individual on earth. I honestly do not know how this man sleeps at night.

Some historians now say the problem of sexual abuse within the Church has been going on for more than 1,000 years. It was in the 19th century that the Vatican evidently first formed an official policy of keeping it all under wraps. The first public case reportedly involved the Rev. Lawrence Murphy, a priest at the St. John's School for the Deaf in Wisconsin. 

Between 1950 and 1974, he abused many young students and reportedly got older ones to help him. When a group of his victims tried to inform the church about what had been done to them, they were told to forget about it or assured that it would be taken care of. But Murphy remained a priest for the rest of his life and continued to have access to children.

In a statement yesterday, Anna Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, which documents the abuse crisis in the Church, said, "Joseph Ratzinger leaves the papacy having failed to achieve what should have been his job one: to rectify the incalculable harm done to the hundreds of thousands of children sexually abused by Catholic priests. He leaves hundreds of culpable bishops in power and a culture of secrecy intact. Benedict's words rang hollow. He spoke as a shocked bystander, as if he had just stumbled upon the abuse crisis."

Doyle continued, "But more than anyone in the Vatican, he knew about the carnage done to innocent children. As archbishop of Munich and Freising, Cardinal Ratzinger had allowed the transfer of accused priest Rev. Peter Hullermann, and certainly managed many other abuse cases as well. Since 1981, when he was named head of the congregation of the doctrine of the faith (CDF), he had been at the center of the Vatican's abuse bureaucracy, reviewing many files and, unfortunately, implementing Pope John Paul II's policy of not laicizing abusive priests. In Spring 2001, the Pope gave Cardinal Ratzinger and the CDF sole responsibility for abuse cases, and in that role, Cardinal Ratzinger read hundreds of files and became the Vatican's most knowledgable and powerful person on this issue."

Doyle added, "The tragedy is that as Pope he could have enacted true reform. He could have forced the immediate resignation of bishops who had enabled sexual predators.  He could have decreed that every bishop post on his websites the names, assignment histories, and allegations of accused priests. He could have made the CDF transparent in its handling of cases, instead of the black box that it remains to this day. He could have acted on the Vatican's vast knowledge of these cases, instead of leaving the work to the survivors, investigative reporters, grand juries in the US, and government commissions in Ireland and Australia."

Doyle concluded, "Instead of remedies, he gave us words. Instead of true penitence, he gave us public relations. His failure to enact real change in the Church's handling of sexually abusive priests will be his significant and shameful legacy."

In his statement this week, Benedict said he wished to "devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer."

I only hope he reserves some of those prayers for the countless number of innocent young victims of sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests worldwide. Tragically, when the new Church leader is announced next month, it will likely remain business as usual. I do not believe anything will change within the Church hierarchy. 

While the Catholic Church has lost some of its power around the world, as long as it continues to misguidedly embrace celibacy and absurdly equate this practice with sainthood, the dark secrets that have tainted the Church for so long will likely only continue.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

CHICAGO: America's Favorite Rock Band Still Gets No Respect



Chicago's Robert Lamm, and me
As a burgeoning young drummer, I had an early love and appreciation for music. When my dad brought home a double album called Chicago Transit Authority and played it for me, I knew instinctively that I was listening to something special. It took just the first three songs -- Introduction, Does Anybody Know What Time it Is, and Beginnings -- to hook me. I knew I was going to be a Chicago fan for life. And who knew that, some three decades later, one of the band's co-founders would play on one of my records? But we'll get to that in a minute.

As I listened to this album, I was blown away by the combination of strength and tenderness in the music, and flabbergasted by the guitar work of Terry Kath. I was also impressed with the powerful horn section, and loved the soulful baritone vocals of Kath, the almost big-band-singer voice of Robert Lamm, and the beautiful tenor of Peter Cetera. I was also floored by the drumming of Danny Seraphine. To this day I've never heard a better rock drummer.


But what grabbed me most were the songs. The power and grace of those tunes, the impossibly catchy melodies, the unbelievable progressions and changes and major 7th chords. Wow. Chicago's music spoke to me like no other music has. It knocked me out. Since that debut, I've happily followed the band along for its remarkable 46-year ride. 




Arguably the most popular American rock band of all time, Chicago, the first band to chart a Top 40 album in five separate decades, has sold more than 100 million records, including more top ten hits than any other artist except the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. And the band has stayed together and never gone a year without touring.


Obviously the group has gone through some changes. Kath sadly died of a gunshot wound in 1978. Cetera left the band after the 1985 summer tour to pursue a solo career. And Seraphine unfortunately was fired. But Chicago plays on, with four of the seven original members.


Co-lead singer and keyboardist Lamm, my favorite member and the guy who wrote so many of the band's classics, is still in the fold. He's also released a bunch of remarkably good solo albums over the years. And I'm honored to say that he played on one of my records a few years ago, fulfilling a lifelong dream of mine. The picture above was taken soon after he played on Away, my tribute to Beach Boys Carl and Dennis Wilson. 


Lamm and Carl Wilson, who sadly died of cancer, were very close friends. The song featured Lamm on keyboards, and also featured Carl's son, Justyn, and Dennis's son, Carl, singing with me on the four-part harmonies. 


Meanwhile, back in Chicago... The band's legendary horn section, too -- Lee Loughnane, trumpet, James Pankow, trombone, Walt Parazaider, saxophone -- is still intact. Other current members include Jason Scheff, who I profiled in San Diego Magazine a few years ago, Tris Imboden, Keith Howland and the newest member, the talented and personable Lou Pardini.


On record, Chicago's innovative, hard-driving rhythm and blues and jazz-rock of the early days was largely replaced in the 80s and 90s by a more polished, commercial, middle-of-the-road sensibility. As a result, the band has been lumped into the banal power-ballad pool by clueless critics who wouldn't know good music if it bit them in the ass. Even Chicago at its most blatantly commercial still produces great songs. 


Longtime fans of the group know what this band is really all about. In concert, Chicago still knocks your socks off. Sure, they play some of their Cetera-penned, David Foster-produced adult contemporary hits. And by the way, those songs are still good songs. But they also play their earlier classics -- Make Me Smile, Free, Feeling Stronger Every Day, Beginnings, Does Anybody Know What Time It Is, Introduction, Call on Me, Wake Up Sunshine, Saturday in the Park, Wishing You Were Here, Questions 67 & 68, Dialogue, 25 or 6 to 4 -- to remind the older fans what this band is still made of.


Chicago created one of the most identifiable and enjoyable sounds in the history of rock music. The early albums, especially, with their unique blend of rock, jazz, rhythm and blues, and pop, contain some of the best popular music ever recorded. Chicago is one of the greatest bands of the rock era. Yet they are often dismissed by critics and annually slighted by the terminal twits at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 


As I wrote last year in The Daily Beast, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a joke for dissing such great artists as Chicago, Yes, Peter Frampton, and countless others.


Despite never getting the critical respect it deserves, Chicago is thankfully still pleasing fans all over the world. I saw the band perform with my wife and daughter just a couple months ago here in San Diego, and they were fantastic. People who know what good music is have been loving this band since the days when Chicago records were played on progressive FM radio stations (yes, Chicago was once considered musically subversive). The love affair between Chicago and its fans, me included, is still going strong.

Friday, February 1, 2013

ALICIA KEYS: BEAUTIFUL, TALENTED, AND THE MOST OVERRATED SINGER OF THE MILLENIUM


Alicia Keys - yahoo.com
Alicia Keys is set to sing the national anthem at the Super Bowl this Sunday. Presumably it will not be lip synced. She's not a surprising choice for this honor. The stunningly beautiful singer, songwriter, pianist, actress, director and author, who possesses some natural musical gifts, is one of the hottest music stars in the world right now. She’s also arguably the most overrated artist of the last decade.

I'm not usually this harsh on music artists, especially ones who actually have talent, but Keys has not lived up to all the hype, nor has she established a strong musical identity. Part old-school R&B singer, part introspective songwriter, part serious musician (with classical piano chops), and part hip-hop diva, Keys, under the tutelage of music industry impresario Clive Davis, became a show-biz untouchable after the release of her 2001 debut record Songs in A Minor, which sold 11 million copies and got generally good reviews. Some critics hailed her as hip-hop’s answer to Roberta Flack, while others even compared her to Aretha Franklin.

But in her decade-long stint on music's A list, Keys, who just yesterday was named global creative director of BlackBerry, has yet to charm a song the way Flack did, and she will never be in the same vocal universe as Aretha. Keys has moments of vocal inspiration, but like so many singers of her generation she unnecessarily squeezes too many notes into each bar. And she doesn’t always hit those notes. Keys has a nice-enough voice and can beautify a song, but too often she’d rather beat a melody into submission. She should just let the song come to her instead of chasing it around the block. But in this age of excess and American Idol, The X Factor and The Voice, who notices?

Keys’ biggest drawback, ironically, is her confidence. She believes in herself to a fault. There’s no vulnerability, no introspection, no admission or even consideration that maybe she isn‘t all that, vocally, and that maybe she could be a better lyricist and melody writer and singer if she really worked at it. In an age when so many artists on the record and download charts can’t even carry a tune, Keys’ natural musical ability, combined with her physical beauty, have left her teetering on the edge of smugness, even though she still sings off key more often than any superstar should and even though both her words and melodies are sometimes sophomoric and cliché-ridden.

Keys' emotions sometimes feel sincere, but other times feel rote. She uses too many predictable, amateurish stair-step chord progressions, and she never digs deeply enough to reveal any real passions or demons. Her ego was especially glaring when a few years ago she sang I Am Superwoman. On the tune, Alicia’s backup vocalists answered her declaration, "Yes she is.” When the great Chaka Khan belted out I’m Every Woman in 1978, it sounded like a sincere, egalitarian anthem for all women; when Alicia Keys sings I Am Superwoman, it sounds shrill and self-aggrandizing.

Her singing on Another Way to Die, the theme song for the James Bond film, was gratingly inconsistent. Stripes frontman Jack White, who wrote and produced that song, told MTV after it was recorded,  “After a couple of years of wanting to collaborate with Alicia Keys, it took James Bond himself to finally make it happen. Alicia put some electric energy into her breath that cemented itself into the magnetic tape. Very inspiring to watch. It gave me a new voice, and I wasn’t myself anymore. I drummed for her voice and she mimicked the guitar tones, then we joined our voices and screamed and moaned about these characters in the film and their isolation, having no one to trust, not even themselves. Maybe we became them for a few minutes.”

White continued: “The Memphis Horns were there to help us out, along with some of Nashville’s finest. Might be the first analogue Bond theme in twenty years, I don’t know. We wanted to push soul into those tapes, and join the family of Barry, Bassey, Connery and Craig.” 

Another overrated artist, White, who isn’t in the same league as his rocking idols, either, should turn his giddy praise for Keys down a notch. She is a decent singer, Jack. ‘Nuff said.

Keys has also been bitten by the acting bug, but so far her performances have been passable, at best. She made her movie debut in Joe Carnahan's Smokin' Aces as Georgia Sykes, a stunning street assassin. She also appeared in the movie adaptation of the popular book The Nanny Diaries, opposite Scarlet Johansson, Laura Linney and Paul Giamatti. 

In her short career, Keys, whose biggest hits include You Don’t Know My Name, Troubles, Like You’ll Never See Me Again, and Fallin’, has already won Grammy Awards, Billboard Music Awards, American Music Awards, World Music Awards, MTV Video Music Awards, MTV Europe Awards, BET Awards, NAACP Image Awards, Nickelodeon Teen Choice Awards, Soul Train Music Awards, Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards, People's Choice Awards, My VH1 Awards and more. In 2005, she also became a New York Times Bestselling author when she released her first published work, Tears for Water: Songbook of Poems & Lyrics.

She’s also been a spokesperson for Keep A Child Alive, which provides anti-viral drugs to the millions suffering from AIDS in Africa, and works closely with Frum Tha Ground Up, which equips America's youth with the tools essential for achieving success on all levels, as well as Teens in Motion, a non-profit organization created to offer teens the opportunity to develop their minds and bodies in a safe and secure environment.


All of which begs the question: When does Alicia sleep? Some of you Keys loyalists are undoubtedly drafting an angry message to me right about now. Before you send, though, just know that I know that Keys is talented, and despite her surplus of self-esteem she does seem like a caring and compassionate person. But it’s unlikely she will realize her full potential as a singer or songwriter because she’s already been crowned one of pop’s new queens and seems to be wearing the crown without irony or reflection.


Perhaps in Keys’ case, a star was born too soon. She should at this point in her career still have the humility of a Vicki Lester, but instead she has the hubris of Norman Maine, if not the self-destructiveness. Fame, wealth and popularity don’t lend themselves to self-analysis or self-improvement. Alicia evidently believes all the hysterical hype that surrounds her, and that’s unfortunate because she actually has enough musical ability to someday live up to it.