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EPPING, ESSEX, UK (CAP) - Living the high life in his luxuriously appointed mansion in Epping, England, rock superstar Rod Stewart has everything a man could want: a spectacular home, a fleet of cars, a wife barely past the age of consent.
Everything, that is, except a clear conscience.
"You can only let the guilt eat away at you for so long before you have to acknowledge it and try to make amends," said Stewart, sipping mineral water on the deck of his 100-foot heated outdoor swimming pool. "So I'd just like to say - I'm sorry."
What Stewart is apologizing for, of course, is his entire recorded output since Do Ya Think I'm Sexy? in 1978. Many assumed the disco hit would just be a temporary departure for the architect of such legitimate rock classics as Maggie May and The First Cut Is The Deepest. Instead, it marked what rock critic Robert Christgau described as the start of "the most drastic plummet into mediocrity in the history of contemporary music. And that includes Elton John."
"Frankly, I couldn't even tell you a single song I've recorded since then, I've put so little thought into it," admitted a penitent Stewart as he was consoled by his wife of six months, Aslög Gerth, 19, the Swedish lingerie model. "I know there was at least one about a train."
It is believed the song Stewart is referring to is 1990's Tom Waits cover, Downtown Train, just one in a long series of artistically inferior cover songs that sold literally millions more copies than the original versions they were based on.
"Have you heard what he did to my fookin' song?" asked reclusive Irish singer, songwriter, author, poet and multi-instrumentalist Van Morrison in a rare interview, referring to Stewart's 1993 hit cover of his Have I Told You Lately. "He fookin' murdered it!
"If I ever leave my house again I'm going to go over there and rip every fookin' bleached-blonde hair out of his scraggly old scalp!" added Morrison, before emitting a guttural grunt and slamming his phone down with enough force to shatter the reporter's eardrum.
In recent years, Stewart had completely dropped even the semblance of originality, recording entire albums of songs by other artists, many of them dead. It was while working on his latest planned release, Rod Stewart Sings Songs He Heard On The Way To The Studio, that Stewart realized it was time to make amends.
"I was about halfway through the 30-minute session we had allotted to record the album - we were on some song about love or dancing or something - and I said to myself, There's got to be something more," recalls Stewart. "Then I went home, had sex with my lingerie model wife, and set about making things right."
To start off, Stewart has started a support group for artists in similar circumstances who may be having trouble dealing with their feelings of guilt and shame. Membership is anonymous, but London's Sun newspaper has reported it includes artists as diverse as Bryan Adams, Kenny Loggins, Phil Collins, Eric Clapton and Aerosmith's Steven Tyler. The group meets once a month at London's Le Gavroche restaurant, where members hash out their feelings over fois gras and Mousseline de homard au Champagne.
Stewart has also launched a speaking tour aimed at younger artists who may be in danger of making the same mistakes he did, such as Green Day and The Killers. "If you're not careful, you might wind up just like me," Stewart warned from aboard his 150-foot yacht, the Maggie IV. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go have sex with my wife."
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