R. Kelly’s roller coaster ride in publishing | WBEZ
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Jim DeRogatis

R. Kelly: Author?


R.Kelly: Author? (AP/Brian Kersey, file)

Based on the numbers alone, Robert Sylvester Kelly remains the most successful musician Chicago ever has produced. As the record holds, he also is a man who, despite being acquitted by a jury of his peers on charges of making child pornography, consistently used his position of wealth and fame to enter illegal sexual relationships with numerous underage girls, leaving a long trail of broken lives behind him.

Kelly never has refuted that contention, made many times over the course of more than a decade of painstaking reporting by this correspondent and his former colleagues at the Chicago Sun-Times, but that doesn’t stop a lot of music bloggers from playing for laughs many of the actions of the controversial R&B superstar—“Oh, that wacky, horny Kells!”—in a way that it’s impossible to imagine any journalist of conscience and soul writing about, say, the alleged actions of some in the Penn State football program.

The latest reason for hipsters to chuckle: The announcement last week of the title of Kelly’s autobiography, Soula Coaster: The Diary of Me, and the release of the cover image of the artist striking a crucifixion pose amid a bevy of microphones (none of which are plugged in, curiously enough).

The book, ghostwritten by celebrity as-told-to hagiographer David Ritz, first was slated for publication by Tavis Smiley’s SmileyBooks in early 2011, placing Kelly on a roster beside Dr. Cornell West and the broadcast entrepreneur himself. The pub date later was pushed back to Nov. 15, and many of the stories last week were of the “Can’t wait for this one; it’s bound to be a hoot!” variety.

“As can be expected from the eccentric R&B icon, the book’s title and cover are totally absurd, bordering on totally nonsensical,” noted Rolling Stone, reducing a pattern of sexual predation to mere eccentricity. “The most stupid and incredible title for a book ever!” gushed Hitfix. “Ten Alternate Titles for R. Kelly’s Book,” offered SPIN. And so on.

Then, the Village Voice did some actual reporting, indicating that the book seems to be in trouble, and that it might not be coming at all. The publisher initially failed to respond, but eventually got back to reporter Camille Dodero to say that the publication date has been moved yet again, to Spring 2012.

In the process, the tome seems to have become less of an attempt by the admittedly illiterate Kelly to tell his side of the story through the acquiescent Ritz (“I’m tired of being misunderstood… I want to tell it like it is,” the singer was quoted as saying in the original 2009 press release from Smiley Books) and more of a coffee-table fan book (“Kelly shares his life story through episodic tales and exclusive color photographs… Part memoir, part keepsake,” according to one Web site taking advance orders, at a more than one-third-off discount from the $25.95 cover price, no less).

Whatever the book is when or if it arrives, it no doubt will be greeted by many as another occasion for frivolity and mirth. And the troubling question of how anyone can continue to make light of a record of causing pain to so many young women will be all but drowned out by the adolescent snickering.

Ah, but that’s America. In the mean time, Kelly also has returned to making music after undergoing throat surgery last July, releasing a new song called “Shut Up” via Twitter, and not only issuing that command to all who would doubt or down him, but building to a rousing finale that finds him shouting, “Freedom of speech!”

Crows Rae Alexandra of the SF Weekly: “This s--- is amazing in every sense of the word.” Yes, it certainly is, though not for the “completely hilarious” reasons that she suggests.

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