It is tough to make any connection with a celebrity. I usually turn the conversation toward New Orleans, because no matter how famous a person is, they love to talk about New Orleans, and are jealous that I live there and they do not — which sort of makes me the focus of the conversation instead of them, and that’s really the only way to a famous person’s heart: Don’t fawn on them. People who get an overabundance of love and attention from strangers do not want any more, and nothing turns them off more than you selfishly putting them on the spot by telling them how much you love them. Even if they’re nice about it, they secretly hate it. Like hitting on a member of the opposite sex, when you meet an artist you really admire, you must find something else interesting that you can focus on together, or else the conversation will annoy them.
A real connection becomes especially tough if you’re given just 15 minutes on the phone with the person. In the case of singer/songwriter/pianist/woman-of-my-dreams, Alicia Keys, her management gave me ten.
Most celebrities hate this part of their jobs. When a celebrity is doing ten-minute interviews, they are surely putting aside one whole day to do dozens of such tightly-scheduled phonecalls, in order to consolidate all of their misery into just one day. As such, by the time you are talking to them, they’ve been asked the same insipid questions for hours. Since every thought that Alicia Keys has ever had about her music (especially the Girl on Fire record she was promoting at the time) had been documented on the internet, I decided to ask her questions that I was sure no one had asked her before.
And so, Alicia Keys and I discussed her recent “empowering trip to Egypt” while pregnant with her son, whom she later named Egypt. Without hijacking the conversation, I quickly explained how my own first daughter was named Cleopatra, because her mother had spent an artist residency in Egypt while pregnant with Cleo.
She liked that a lot. I had about eight minutes left.
We talked about how her motherhood affected the writing of Girl on Fire, and I floated to her my theory of how parenthood can in some instances reduce stress, because if your child is happy, healthy, and smart, then all your other worldly concerns can melt away.
“That makes so much sense to me,” she coo’d (or maybe she didn’t coo and it was the sound of my heart fluttering too hard). “I think you just gain more perspective [with motherhood] and…now it’s easier for me to make choices. Before I would bounce around for days and days thinking ‘Ahhhh I don’t know, should I go to this place? Or do this thing? Or switch this?’ Now it’s almost more easy because I know it’s more important. I know what’s most important to me now, and then I can choose everything else. It’s easier to make choices because you have a priority.”
I had about six minutes left when THE FUCKING PHONE CUT OUT!
“FUCK!” I shouted at no one.
I was sure that, by the time I called back her management, who would then put me through to Alicia Keys, she would’ve moved on to the next tightly-scheduled 10-minute interview. If I couldn’t get back in touch with her, then I would not have enough material to write the article I was being paid to write. FUCK.
Luckily, I got back through to her. With just three minutes left, I asked about the gear she used on the new record. I assumed that, married to superstar rap producer Swizz Beatz, she surely had an envious collection of musical gear that she’d love to talk about. I’d noticed that Girl on Fire was sprinkled with the sounds of a Moog synthesizer. “I really like the Moog on the new record,” I told her. “Is that your Moog, or was it just in the studio you used?”
“Well, that’s my Moog, but that’s my studio too,” she laughed. “It’s a Moog Voyager; the latest version, but it has all the oscillators on it still.”
I loved hearing her say “oscillators,” god damn. In my favorite of her songs, the Kanye West-produced “You Don’t Know My Name” (tied for first place with “Unthinkable,” imo), she uses this really sexy speaking voice during the bridge, while calling her crush, who happens to share my same name. I always get a lil tingle when it gets to the bridge and she says, “Hello can I speak to Michael?”
And I swear she switched over to that same excruciatingly hot voice when she told me, “My Moog is new, but it still has the old analog feel and sound, without being so overcomplicated… Plugging in all those wires, to me, is like…if you know how to do that, can we please get together and you show me?”
And that is the story of how Alicia Keys and I came to be married and live in a giant magic recording studio on a secluded tropical island.
Michael Patrick Welch’s “132 Famous People I Have Met” series is FREE, but please consider donating to his VENMO (michael-welch-42), or to his PayPal acct (paypal.me/michaelpatrickwelch2), so he can feed his kids, pay his mortgage, etc.