*If you are looking for a heartfelt, scintillating, well-written celebrity memoir, you can find it in Bobby Brown‘s new Every Little Step. In fact, the book is so well-written that after reading just one chapter, I initially questioned whether Brown had actually written it.
Then, it occurred to me that I had never had a conversation with Brown, and that I may have been judging him based on very little direct data. Brown deserved a chance to speak for himself, I realized, so I decided to give the book a shot. And while I was unable to connect with Brown, I did chat with his co-writer, Nick Chiles, who confirmed that, perhaps, many of us have judged Brown too harshly.
“In the African American community, we need to be careful how we conceptualize our opinions of these so called ‘controversial’ black male figures,” Chiles told me by phone. “Often, our opinions are derived by the way white mainstream media covers them and these are people who may make the white mainstream media uncomfortable. Because they’re uncomfortable, the artists are covered in a way that makes us uncomfortable.”
“Bobby Brown was presented to the world as this overtly hyper sexual figure,” Chiles continued. “In the 1980s, the white media was not going to be comfortable with this person presented as a sex symbol to young girls, many of whom were young white girls. So the way he was covered was reflective of the media’s discomfort with his image. We need to search our own souls and memories and think about where we got our negative views from, and if they were from tabloid media reports, we need to think about what the point of those reports was.”
Chiles, who’s had countless face-to-face, intimate conversations with Brown, told me that he was surprised by Brown’s vocabulary, his candor, and his interest and ability in being very vulnerable in the telling of his life story. After my conversation with Chiles, I couldn’t wait to delve deeper into Every Little Step, and I’m glad I did: it’s an undeniably entertaining read, and gave me a whole new level of respect and admiration for Brown.
One of the book’s more inflammatory revelations is Brown’s “outing” of his ex-wife Whitney Houston as bisexual. Chiles had to chide Brown into including anything about Houston’s sexuality in Every Little Step.
“It’s funny because people react to some of the stories in the book,” Chiles laughed, “but I had to press Bobby on that. He wasn’t comfortable talking about that, but I knew that if we were going to be talking about Whitney and her sexuality, people would expect him to address that long standing rumor, and I wanted to do it in as quick and non-sensational a way as possible.”
It’s just as well that Whitney’s sexuality gets a short shrift in Every Little Step (Brown mentions his suspicions of Houston’s bisexuality only briefly), because Brown and Chiles have delivered a book with far more interesting things to share, like Brown’s troubled upbringing, the forming of his boy band New Edition, his own excesses, and his sexual romps with a midget, superstars Madonna and Janet Jackson, and a ghost.
You heard me. He writes of sleeping with and discarding a still-adolescent Miss-Jackson-If-You’re-Nasty, who was allegedly with Rene Elizondo at that time — and wait until you read WHY he dumped her. He also writes of being raped by a ghost.
Uh huh. And he claims he was sober at the time. I could not let Chiles get away from me without asking him about THAT story.
“That actually came from his brother, who was talking to me and Bobby about the houses Bobby had owned,” Chiles said. “He remembered that the house in Atlanta was haunted. It wasn’t something that Bobby threw out just to have a sensational story [in the book]. It wasn’t something he presented in a salacious way. There were a lot of crazy things that happened in that house, including seeing ghosts.”
Paranormal incidents aside, the most moving sections of Every Little Step are those that outline Brown’s breakup with Houston, his strained relationship with their daughter Bobbi Kristina, and Bobbi’s subsequent death. I’ve often said that I don’t know how I would survive losing one of my kids, and Brown walks readers step-by-step through that ordeal with unflinching candor. I was never a die-hard fan of Brown’s, but I became one after reading those passages and all of those during which he discusses his relationships with his children. It’s a side of Brown that the mainstream media didn’t allow us to see.
Most of this memoir, in fact, seems designed to change our minds about Bobby Brown and what we think we know about him. For the most part, it succeeds, but in some key sections it goes a bit too far in that regard.
Presumably in an effort to lend credence to the image of a warmer, gentler Bobby Brown, Every Little Step is peppered with long passages from supporting characters in his life, including his children, past lovers (famous and otherwise), and even New Edition bandmate Ralph Tresvant. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t care what Tresvant had to say — especially about Bobby Brown — when he was New Edition’s frontman and the group was in its 80s heyday, and certainly couldn’t care less now. No one buys a memoir to hear from anyone but the book’s subject, and in his efforts to include supporting viewpoints and testimonials, Brown actually waters his case down. Those passages are passable in the book’s earlier chapters, but as I grew to know and trust Brown, they grew distracting.
I asked Chiles who drove the decision to include the passages from Brown’s supporting cast in Every Little Step.
“It was my idea,” Chiles admitted. “When you write memoirs, it’s hard to provide context in a way that doesn’t come across as completely self-serving. It’s hard to talk about how big a deal or how influential you were. You need other voices to help give the reader an idea of who this person was, and for Bobby, it helped to have other people add to his memory.”
“Also, because he’s been such a controversial character, and I knew there would be a lot of parts of the book and of his story that people would take issue with, I decided to include some of those other voices,” Chiles continued. “I felt that I needed to do that to make his story as impenetrable as possible. [The editors and I] were concerned about putting too many of those other voices in there. There were some that got taken out, and some that were trimmed down quite a bit.”
The book’s final shocker is actually buried in Every Little Step’s final acknowledgements. Throughout the book, Brown paints a picture of ex-wife Houston as “”the love of his life.” As Brown thanks everyone from his co-author, to business associates, to his current wife, his children and family (with a special acknowledgment to Bobby Kris) and even Houston’s brother Michael, he fails to acknowledge Whitney Houston.
It’s a noticeable omission to Every Little Step, but I won’t hold the oversight against Brown. After all, leaving Whitney Houston out of the credits of his life story is absolutely Bobby Brown’s prerogative.
Every Little Step is available at a variety of online sites and retail.