Saturday, March 29, 2008
The best-selling gospel artist of the modern era is sitting in a posh suite in one of the poshest hotels in Gotham, the St. Regis. Central Park is six floors below, shifting patterns of light and shadow, sunshine and clouds. Kirk Franklin is wearing designer jeans, a Dolce & Gabbana sweater, casually hip at 38. He just walked past actress Kate Beckinsale in the lobby. He'd been on "The View" the day before, a bit of daytime television thrown in between concerts. He's catching a flight in a couple of hours back home to Fort Worth, back to his wife and four children.
He's fighting off a feeling of . . . what? Mid-career blahs?
"Lately it's all become more work," he's saying, leaning forward on a couch, drumming his fingers on the coffee table. "That's what makes it less fun. The changing climate of music. I make albums the old-school way: verse, chorus, bridge, live musicians. Nowadays, what everybody listens to, it's so microwaveable, the Top 10, it's all made on one keyboard."
His new disc, "The Fight of My Life," is a runaway hit by gospel standards, but it's doing what he expects a Kirk Franklin disc to do. It briefly hit No. 33 on the Billboard 200, but was No. 83 two weeks ago and No. 90 last week. It's been six years since a disc of his made Billboard's overall Top 10, and the same length of time since he topped the R&B/hip-hop category. Even on the gospel chart, where some of his discs have stayed on top for as long as 100 weeks, his new one has already briefly dipped from the top spot to . . . No. 3. After a mortal 13 weeks.
Franklin, restless, in that trademark rasp: "God allowed me to come out of the gate with platinum albums, things at number one, and those extraordinary things become normal. For an addictive personality like I have, you begin to think you're really liked and accepted, and anything less than that makes you feel that's not true."
These blahs, the worries about acceptance, aren't idle talk. It's been eating at him, friends say.
"He was down about [the new disc], he expected more from it," says Tony Evans, Franklin's pastor, who heads the 7,500-member Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship church in Dallas. "We talked about it, about applying the lessons of spiritual growth to when things don't go the way you want them."
Nobody else in the industry thinks Franklin is slipping -- the president of the Gospel Music Network calls him the genre's "musical revolutionary" -- but Franklin struggles with desires and carnality not usually associated with gospel stars.
Pornography, for starters.
Franklin was smoking weed and having sex with lots of girls before he was 14, he wrote in his memoir, "Church Boy" -- habits that didn't exactly reconcile with his precocious role as a preteen choir director at his church. He grew "addicted" to pornography, a habit that lasted until 2000, he says, and he broadcast it to America on Oprah Winfrey's show three years ago.