Val Kilmer has been a lot of things: Batman, Iceman, bloated. But he remains a Renaissance man. The classically trained actor has done David Mamet and Shakespeare, has played a doped-up, fat version of himself on Entourage, and has even released a book of poetry, My Edens After Burns — used copies of which go for upward of a grand on Amazon. Now, it appears he's finished an album — his first, if you don't count an '80s-era, impossible-to-find EP released under the name "Nick Rivers," his rock-star character from Top Secret!
The new disc was written with a friend named Mick Rossi and will be called Val Kilmer, Sessions With Mick. Although the CD is not yet available to the public, he did hand out copies of it during a September appearance at the Orchard Beach Car Show in the Bronx, and on his MySpace music page, Kilmer says it's coming soon. He's already got 15 songs available for purchase, and some can be heard for free (go to www.myspace.com/valekilmermusic).
The tunes themselves are a little, well, insane — that is, the ones that aren't utterly inane. The opera-trained Juilliard School grad has certainly got the pipes, and his mostly acoustic guitar tunes are often hummable. Unfortunately, his lyrics — well, you be the judge: "One more mortal has let me down," he sings on "True Friend." "I'm alone with my rhyming in an unknown town/Alone with poetry and foreign football on hotel television/Text message from a troubled kept woman." And later: "You're giving me bad dreams, or so it seems/My son in danger, my daughter a stranger."
"Christmas Is Calling" and "All Children Are Beautiful" are completely sincere odes to, respectively, Christ's birthday and, yes, beautiful children. ("All children are beautiful/All. Yes all. All.")
"Frontier Justice" is a more compelling story — not a retelling of Tombstone, but a vindictive narrator's tale of shooting down his lover's lover. Eighteen years later, he watches his perhaps-bastard son lead his high-school football team to a championship.
Kilmer originally learned to play guitar for 1984's Top Secret! and went on to do his own singing in The Doors. (Reportedly, the band's surviving members had trouble differentiating his voice from Jim Morrison's.) According to interviews over the years, he's influenced by songwriters like Neil Young, T. Rex, Elton John, and his friend Sean Lennon.
Kilmer didn't respond to numerous requests for comment, but he seems to have gotten deadly serious about his original music this summer. He's joined the distribution service SNOCAP, he posts to his MySpace music blog regularly, and his fans have put together music videos of his songs, featuring photos and clips from his movies.
He is donating some of his music proceeds to the Wildlife Center, a nonprofit New Mexico animal hospital north of Santa Fe that's dedicated to helping injured creatures return to the wild. Wildlife Center founder Dr. Kathleen Ramsay won't say how much Kilmer has donated, but does wax enthusiastic about his love for all of God's beasts.
"We utilize his ranch as a world-class release site for native wildlife," she says, referring to his sprawling residence in northeastern New Mexico, east of Santa Fe near Pecos. "We've put black bears, bobcats, deer, and elk out there. Raccoons, snakes — you name it. It's a great, beautiful location. You can hear the coyotes sitting up on the mesa singing. It's the Old West at its best. Every animal is sacred out there — porcupines, rattlesnakes. It's not actively hunted, so animals have the best chance of going back into the wild."
Ramsay says the actor approached her in the early '90s about her mission, and the two formed a long-term bond.
"I was over at his house on Friday for dinner by the river, and we watched the beavers working on what he calls the 'beaver refrigerator,' where they store food for themselves for the winter," she says, adding that he gave her an early pressing of his CD before she left.
She calls the tunes "great," adding: "The song about Christmas is fun."
Who knows how far Kilmer will take his singing and songwriting interests, although they undoubtedly offer refuge from an increasingly combustible film career. As with Marlon Brando — his The Island of Dr. Moreau co-star, with whom he reportedly sparred — Kilmer's brilliant performances have often been overshadowed by his dubious career choices. (He was Moses in The Ten Commandments: The Musical, but fortunately pulled out as Hitler in a comedy called Hebrew Hammer 2: Hammer Versus Hitler.)
But far be it from us to rain on whatever parade this idiosyncratic icon feels like marching in. In fact, in lieu of trying to understand what goes on in his blond head, we'll just let Kilmer speak for himself via a song called "Pigtails" — "I been growing sideways/I been growing thin/I been zombie all day/I been preventing sin/I been knowing Jack the Ripper/I been doing coin tricks/I been smelling dirty slippers/I been seaside with an oil slick."
You can be our wingman anytime, Val.