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Soulacoaster: R. Kelly memoir coasts by Chicago trial

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"Certain episodes could not be included for complicated reasons."

This is all ye need to know about the new R. Kelly memoir, Soulacoaster: The Diary of Me, available this week after several delays.

It's no tell-all. It's a tell-carefully-selected-parts. Kelly's admission of omission is up front, in the author's note.

No discussion of the sex tape that nearly sent him to prison -- a tape that was delivered anonymously to the Sun-Times on Feb. 1, 2002, and turned over to Chicago police, resulting in an investigation and his trial child pornography charges in June 2008, where he was acquitted. Nor a single word about Aaliyah, the late singer Kelly allegedly married when she was 15.

Soulacoaster.jpgSoulacoaster is published by SmileyBooks -- founded by Tavis Smiley -- and back in 2009 the broadcast personality warned, "If anyone thinks this book is going to fixate on [Kelly's trial], they are going to be sadly mistaken. It is going to be a holistic look at his life thus far and the life and legacy that he's building."

A copy of the book has not yet been made available to the Sun-Times, but published reports say that despite its guarded tone the R&B superstar's well-scrubbed memoir recounts the creative and family life of a once-in-a-generation performer and musician.

Kelly, 45, does confront the defining theme of his career: the juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane, the sexual and the spiritual.

In the first paragraph of his life story, according to the Associated Press, Kelly's beloved mother promises that he "could achieve all things through Christ Jesus." Turn the page, and Mama Joann is sneaking 5-year-old Robert into a lounge where she is singing with her band. Next she's in church, speaking in tongues. A few pages later, 8-year-old Robert is inside his mother's house on the South Side of Chicago, taking pornographic pictures of adults and being molested by a teenage girl.

And people question how "Sex Weed" and "U Saved Me" can come from the same man?

At age 11, according to one excerpt, Kelly was shot in the shoulder by stray gunfire. Hearing gunshots in his South Side neighborhood, he says, was not unusual. "But this gunshot was different. This POW! rang in my ear," he says. "It was like I was leaving my body." He claims to still carry the bullet.

Publishing a memoir is no mean feat for a man who confesses he can't read due to an undiagnosed childhood disability. "Every time my teacher called on me to read, my heart sank," he writes. Kelly says he is still illiterate; this book was written with David Ritz, biographer of Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, and other giants. The only reason Kelly graduated from elementary school was because he could play basketball. All this created a shy, shameful boy who often felt "like an alien," a phrase that reappears throughout the book.

Kelly credits his middle-school music teacher, Lena McLin, with recognizing his talent. As Kelly tells it, the first time McLin laid eyes on him in class, she singled him out and said: "You are going to be famous. You are going to write songs for Michael Jackson. You are going to travel the world."

All of that came true. Another published excerpt recounts Kelly's star-struck meeting with Jackson in Chicago. Kelly had written the song "You Are Not Alone" for Jackson, and he's awestruck when meeting one of the few megastars more mega than he was.

"He looked at least eight feet tall. He looked like an avatar," Kelly says of Jackson. "I blurted out something silly like, 'Congratulations on everything you've done, Mike. Congratulations on being Michael Jackson.'" Then Kelly takes a moment: "I walked to the bathroom and just fell out on the floor. I broke down and cried. It wasn't that Michael Jackson was singing my song; it was that Michael had felt how I'd caught his spirit. Michael Jackson had come to Chicago to work with me!"

Finally, the two join in the studio and get to work: "When we started to sing, the blend was perfect. We were butter and toast."

The book is similarly star-studded. He discusses plans to record with Tupac Shakur, derailed by the rapper's death in 1996. He describes working with Notorious B.I.G. ("Something would have been wrong with the Earth if we hadn't done something together"), Celine Dion, and gets into detail about the conflicts with Jay-Z during their tour, which led to Kelly being pepper-sprayed backstage and fleeing Madison Square Garden arena in the middle of a show.

His description of how he created "I Believe I Can Fly" must be read to be believed -- involving childhood dreams and melodies realized decades later.

The excerpts show he can get defensive at times. "I never considered my music sinful," he says. "For the most part, what people see onstage -- R. Kelly bumping and grinding, dropping my pants, seducing women -- that's all show business. What I do onstage doesn't mean I jump off the stage and continue my act in real life."

But Kelly's sex life looms large over the book. He is frank about his inability to remain faithful to his girlfriends or wife. A shadow is cast by Kelly's child pornography trial, which stemmed from the videotape prosecutors said showed Kelly having sex with a minor.

The brief paragraphs where he discusses the "supposed sex tape" feel legally sanitized, and well-known stories about who leaked the tape and why are never addressed.

Meanwhile, Kelly had a full schedule this week of public and broadcast appearances to promote not only the memoir but his new album, "Write Me Back," which came out Tuesday.

However, the singer canceled his slots on "The Jimmy Fallon Show" and NBC's "Today" to return to Chicago mid-week for treatment related to complications from his vocal cord surgery last year. "It is unclear how long Kelly may be sidelined," says a statement.

Soulacoaster still has a publication date of June 28, and is available for ordering in stores. Amazon, however, still lists the book as not yet released and is taking pre-orders only; the e-book version will not be available until Aug. 12.

Contributing: AP



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Thomas Conner

Thomas Conner covers pop music for the Chicago Sun-Times. Contact him via e-mail.

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