Alicia Keys talks about her new memoir.
Alicia Keys is the rarest of talents. A classically-trained pianist, she has won 15 Grammys and sold millions of records. And despite starting her music career in her teens, her work instantly seemed wiser than her years. Alicia Keys' honesty shines through in her songs. That is also true of her memoir More Myself, which published on Tuesday. There are many kinds of memoirs, especially those written by celebrities. More Myself is thoughtful, informative, revelatory, questioning, and celebrates what it truly means to live a creative life. It's inspiring, and it's a great read.
We caught up with Alicia Keys to ask her a few questions about the book and about herself.
Chris Schluep, Amazon Book Review: You start out the book with a memory from when you were seven years old. You see a group of prostitutes on 42nd Street, near your apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, and you ask your mother who they are. Why did you decide to open with that memory?
Alicia Keys: I started with that memory because I remember it solidifying in my mind this idea of feeling exposed and feeling vulnerable and feeling powerless. And I think that a lot of the themes that I've personally been trying to overcome have circled around those particular fears or worries. I wanted to show where some of that started to ingrain itself, and how I started to build up what I call an armor against ever being or finding myself in those positions of vulnerability, or powerlessness, or feeling exposed. And I think that's traveled with me throughout the journey. It's a lot of what I've tried to undo and unlearn, and I've tried to be more comfortable being vulnerable and, you know, even being exposed.
You graduated from high school early and eventually dropped out of Columbia University to pursue your music career. You were out of your mom’s house, working on an album at 16 years old. At the time, could you have imagined the life you are now living?
Yeah, I stopped going to Columbia University in order to focus full-time on being signed as an artist at Columbia Records, which at the time I thought was such a divine sign. I did leave my mother's house quite early, at 16. I was signed very early as well, and I started working on an album at 16 years old—and I definitely couldn't have imagined my life right now. For sure. I mean I dreamed it. I wished, I imagined, I hoped, I prayed people would recognize me as a songwriter, as an artist, as a musician, and appreciate the songs and love them as much as I did, and that I would be able to travel the world, and that I'd be able to touch people and we'd be able to connect and, you know, I'd be able to be a creative person with a purpose and intention. But I never truly thought that it would come to fruition in the way that it has. So, that's true. I'm in awe of it and in deep respect of it all the time.
Although you seem so together, you write that you are a person in process. Do you think that will surprise people?
In regards to being a person in process, do I think people would find that to be surprising? Yeah, I think people actually do. A lot of people think that I'm so together and have had all the answers for such a long time. But, you know, just a reminder that I started in this music industry at 14 years old. And my first album came out when I was 18 years old. There is so much to learn, and so much process that I was experiencing and going through as I was living through this new world and navigating it, and this new experience. Of course, I'm a person in process because, first of all, we all are. And second of all, my formative developing years as a young woman and as a teenager, you know, were mixed within this kind of dark, confusing entertainment world. And so, definitely, I am surely in process. But you know we all are, and that's something that I accept and I'm cool with.
Social activism is something you became involved in very early. How do you see your role?
Social activism is definitely something that's been just a part of who I am as an artist, as a woman, as a human. Some of the most amazing artists that I've admired through the years have always had a social, activist spirit: Nina Simone and Bob Marley and John Lennon and Harry Belafonte. People who really spoke up, because music is such a powerful tool to get people through challenging times and to spread the message and unify and bring us all together. So I think that's my role in a lot of ways. To continue to create that spirit of.... really of love. Just love, and potential, and possibility that comes through music and the words—and the way that we can all speak completely different languages but understand music.
What has motherhood taught you?
So much. So, so much. But especially about how important balance is. And how important it is to make time for the people that you love, because time is so fleeting. It goes and then it's gone, and it never comes back. And also how important it is to make time for yourself, because as you're taking care of everybody else, you know, you got to remember that you're important and that you have to create balance for yourself as well. That's been big. I think balance is a lot of what motherhood has taught me.
When Prince asked you to induct him into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, you stood at the podium and said, “There are many kings…. But there is only one Prince.” What did his friendship mean to you?
I mean, to inaugurate Prince in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was just one of the most incredible moments of my life. What his friendship meant to me, and means to me, is so much—to be able to connect with someone that's been an icon to me, a mentor to me, even before I knew him. And he was a mentor to so many of us, in regards to individuality, and in being so smart and wise about your business, and creating music that's timeless, and being an individual, and marching to your own drum, being indescribable, being unlimited. That's what he represents to me. And the friendship that he brought to me was like a big brother—somebody who really shared his knowledge with me and wanted to encourage me and check in on me. He did that for a lot of young musicians, for people who were creating their own sound, and producers and unique artists in the world. So it means everything to me.
More Myself is your story. But it’s clear from reading the book that you’ve been telling your story all along, through your albums. How does the process of writing your story in book form compare to song writing?
Thank you so much for saying that—that I've always been telling my story through my songs. As far as how the process of writing this story compared to songwriting? I mean, it's totally different. Totally different. In ways it’s similar, because you have to find the story, you have to find the emotion and tap into it, connect into it. You have to find your comfort with being exactly who you are, and find the peace in sharing your vulnerabilities and the information that you have, the perspective that you have. And so in those ways it's similar. But it's totally different, because one is so much of a longer process—writing a book takes years. Writing a song can also take years; but mostly it's weeks, and sometimes just days. So it's definitely a deeper dive into all those thoughts, feelings, emotions, and meanings.
And it’s also such a reflective process. That's what I love the most about this. I think in this time that we're in, the world is self reflecting. We're doing that as individuals. We’re doing that as communities. We're doing that as a global family. And now's the time when we're thinking about Who are we? And who do we actually want to be? And this book is so much about figuring out, How do we become who we truly are? And what does that mean? And I think that's something we're all searching for and we're all going to find.