Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Michael Gonzales on Bobby

I had to give this piece on Bobby by Michael Gonzales a nod. Look for him in the Best African-American Essays 2010. Bravo!

What About Bobby?

by Michael Gonzales

With Whitney Houston’s comeback disc I Look to You zooming to the top of the charts, the former “crack is wack” poster child has been making the media rounds. From her star-studded preview party at the Beverly Hilton to the highly anticipated interview with Oprah, the former pop princess turned coke queen has been playing the redemption card to the hilt. She has spared no detail, laying bare the most painful moments of her struggles with drug addiction and her turbulent marriage.

Still, through it all, her ex-husband Bobby Brown has been strangely quiet. Although somewhere in the world, Brown might be threatening to toss a TV from the window while calling somebody a bitch, I truly thought we might hear a little rah-rah from the original Bad Boy of R&B. Indeed, since his own fall from soul-man grace, scandal has been never been a stranger to Bobby.

“Bobby Brown was not able to sustain his career, because he did not duck scandal, he invited it,” says journalist Barry Michael Cooper, who coined the term “new jack swing” in a 1988. “Scandal was both his badge of honor and his scarlet letter. Somewhere along the way, he could not differentiate between the two.”

The kid who sang sweet fluff like “Candy Girl” as a member of New Edition has since joined the soulful legion of wildboys that includes Ike Turner, Arthur Lee, Sly Stone, David Ruffin and Marvin Gaye. And since he hasn’t released any new music since 1997, it’s easy to forget that Bobby Brown was once the man in the land of soul.

Although I never agreed with those who called him “The King of R&B,” there is no denying the influence of his seven-times-platinum album Don’t Be Cruel—not to mention the videos, the live shows, and persona he held over the public from the day of its release on June 20, 1988. Without a doubt, we can see a little bit of Bobby Brown in Chris Brown, Usher and even Britney Spears, who remade “My Prerogative” in 2004.

“From the beginning of his career, Bobby always wanted to be the center of attention,” remembers Steve Manning, the first publicist/conceptualist for the legendary Boston boy band New Edition. One glance at the photo with the 12-year-old wearing a bright red jacket as he stares boldly into the camera, made it clear that that Brown was not shy. “Bobby knew he had talent and he wanted everybody else to know it too.”

Though Bobby was young, the fiery Aquarius born on February 5, 1969, was a wild child. “I can remember meeting his mom and family, and they all had a street swagger,” Manning continues. “But Bobby was also very driven; he was destined to be a star.”

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