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Stress has been building on Rick James for the past few years. You could see it on his face last winter when he came back home for the first time since being released from prison in 1996. James had served two years of a five-year sentence for assaulting a woman and holding her hostage.

James was in a philosophical mood the day he sat down and talked to The News, when the photo at right was taken.

For two years, since his release from prison, James had been trying to rebuild his legend. He was enthusiastic about his 1997 album, "Urban Rapsody," and an upcoming tour.

The album earned critical acclaim but quickly fell off the charts. The tour was successful in spots, though a show in Buffalo was canceled because of poor ticket sales.

When he came back home, the long-haired, lean rock star was gone. In his place was a Rick James who looked heavier, older and a bit worn. He wore a dark jacket, beret and shades, but the clothes could not hide the middle-aged man trying to cope with life and reclaim a career.

"I had a lot of fear when I came back to music if I would be accepted," James said. "I feared going into the studio and I feared going on stage again. I had a lot of anxiety, but getting back has been great. The crowds have been amazing."

James' return home had been a sad, nostalgic visit. He visited Forest Lawn to see his mother's grave. He talked about his arrest, imprisonment and lifestyle.

"My time on this planet is so limited," he said. "Tomorrow is not promised to any one of us. God knows if I stay straight and sober, there are so many great things I can do.

"It was no secret about my drug use," James said. "I had gone to three or four rehabs with cocaine. I was too chicken to take a gun to my head, which is what I should have done. Now I'm glad I didn't. My mother would have wanted me to fight back."

He seemed intrigued with the notion that he is a legend among young people in the community. "I never thought I could be a role model, or tried to be one," he said. "But I grew up in the same projects as these kids and the same poverty. I feel a bond with them. I've been there.

"It's very easy to talk to kids about drugs or anything else. But most people haven't walked in their shoes. I have."

Life as a rock star was too much for James to handle in his youth.

"The reason my life went downhill was from all this adulation and success," he said. "Now I'm older and wiser. I know I have to deal with the present, and I can't deal with the past.

"I have regrets, but I don't linger on those kinds of things. If I worried about all that stuff, I'd do drugs again."
-- Anthony Violanti