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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

Review: Every Little Step

Every Little Step: My Story - Bobby Brown, Nick Chiles

Any music fan can probably tell you a story about how they first fell in love with music. For me, it was 1988. I was nine years old and my music collection was comprised of four cassettes: Purple Rain, Thriller, Bad, and "Weird Al" Yankovic in 3-D. I enjoyed each of these albums and many of their songs, but I hadn't fallen in love. Then I heard “My Prerogative” on the radio. It wasn't that exact moment that I became a die-hard fan of Bobby Brown, but I was certainly headed that way. Within months, Brown's hit single was followed by “Roni” and “Every Little Step.” (I don't recall “Don't Be Cruel” ever playing on the radio, even though it was the first single. It may have been too rappy for conservative Kansas radio at the time.) I don't remember exactly when my parents finally let me buy the cassette, but I think it was around the time “On Our Own” hit the airwaves, because that's when I remember becoming Bobby Brown's number one fan. I sang the songs everywhere I went (though I couldn't sing). I attempted the dance moves (though my dancing was embarrassingly bad). I wrote out the lyrics as I understood them (though half the time my ten-year-old mind was humorously far from correct). I played that tape out. Around that time, I began to invest more heavily in other music—Mr. Big, Milli Vanilli, Vanilla Ice, Boyz II Men—but I was devoted solely to Bobby until the next big wave in my musical evolution (Shai, 1992).

So I read Every Little Step not so much because I read celebrity bios (I don't) or because I'm a huge fan of Brown today (though I still play the CD at least once a year) or because I need to know the “truth” about Whitney (because I could care less)—I read Every Little Step because I'm nostalgic. For four-plus years—very impressionable years at that—Brown was my god. I wanted to relive some of that childhood magic.

In Every Little Step, Brown wants you to know a few things about him. These points are stressed and reiterated nearly every chapter.

First and foremost, Brown is a performer. From his early days, Brown put great importance on performing. He thoroughly practiced his moves and routines. He continued to do so through his rise and fall. He admits he's not the greatest singer or the most creative individual, but he wants it to be known that he was a great performer.

Brown was the baddest non-bad-boy bad-boy of R&B. Maybe. Brown stresses that his image of being a bad boy came largely from his rejection of candy-pop New Edition. His break was seen as rebellion, but in truth had more to do with Brown's unwillingness to be screwed over by industry execs. He accepted this image, but didn't feel it was accurate. Except when it was … because it's not like Brown wasn't involved in several altercations where people were shot, or he wasn't arrested for a DUI, or he didn't go on and on about all his sexual exploits.

(Which brings me to the question of why these has-been stars feel the need to air their soiled sheets. I understand, you used to be a big star and you had sex with lots of people, including lots and lots of fellow celebrities. And a ghost??? Ewwww... shocking. Frankly, former stars, I don't need to know about your orgies and other exploits. Nor do I need to know about your spouse's exploits. Just say you had a lot of sex and we'll fill in the rest.)

The media lied about everything. Personally, I think there is a lot of truth to this. I always have. From day one, Whitney Houston was portrayed as some kind of saint. Brown was portrayed as a thug. The truth likely lies more in the middle. Brown has been by no means perfect, but those who insist that all the negativity that followed was his fault—especially the drugs and Whitney's “downfall”—are clearly ignoring obvious facts or are simply racist, projecting their views of thuggery on any young black male who fits the mold.

And that sums up the core of this book. Brown clearly has a few issues he wants to clear up with everyone, but his readership is probably already on one side of the fence or the other. He's not going to convince either camp of his innocence and so, for all intents and purposes, Every Little Step fails. Strip away Brown's agenda, however, and you have a biography that is intelligent and mostly well told. Sure, Brown focuses way too much on the “Whitney Years,” wanting to clear his name, but there's enough about the early years to satisfy fans.

What most impressed me about this memoir was the realization of how young Brown was when he rocketed to fame. For me, it always seemed like New Edition was childhood Bobby and Bobby Brown was the adult version. But Brown's first solo album was recorded when he was sixteen. His breakthrough album when he was eighteen. Brown was a teenager when he became one of the hottest stars on the planet, scoring the number one album of 1989. To think that even in the years prior to this, Brown (with New Edition) was doing world tours and was his large family's “breadwinner.” It's an impressive feat, but it also shows how much pressure was on Brown at an early age. It cannot be easy to be fourteen, to have groupies, drugs, and adventures at the drop of a hat, and to be expected to turn out “normal.” Brown's made some mistakes in his life, but he probably should be cut some slack. When it comes to other childhood stars that have made poor choices later in life, people often point out the pressures of fame. Brown should not be treated harsher than other child stars simply because he's a black man from the projects.