Missing a Beat… “God bless the child that has their own.”
(On the Death of Bobbi Kristina Brown)
August 18, 2015
The grief on the face of Bobby Brown was palpable, his daughter had just passed after long period of incapacitation. At that moment I flashed back to the first time I saw Bobby Brown. He was fourteen or so and was asleep on the floor at Unique Recording Studios in N.Y.C. at about two in the morning. New Edition were recording their first album with producer “Maurice Starr” or as I knew him, Sonny Johnson. Sonny was on the tail end of some success with a group he had with his brother “The Jonzun Crew” or some shit. We called them the Naugachuck Band because they wore those silly Billy Preston wigs and danced like the gofer in “Caddy Shack”. Sonny used to show up whenever we played Boston or Providence, his Geri curl leaking, with two half decent looking white girls. He would talk about how he was going to be “Big” in the business.
Anyway… I was working across the hall at Unique so I would come into the other studio sometimes and listen to what they were doing. George Clinton was in that studio during the day recording what I didn’t think was going to be a hit, “Atomic Dog”… boy was I wrong. Ralph Tresvant was the only one I thought could sing of those kids, and he did lead all the early hits (Candy Girl, Mr. Telephone Man, etc.). Needless to say, they went on to score three top forty soul-chart hits with that recording. Sonny went on to produce New Kids On the Block and even Frank Sinatra.
Now Whitney… I’m from Jersey… I know her mother Cissy, I knew her father John, my boy Steve Kelly was her guitar player for the first three or four years of her career… what a tragedy for Cissy.
This small world gets even smaller. My daughter and Bobbi Kristina attended the same private prep school; my daughter in the upper school while Bobbi Kristina was just getting started in the lower school. Mostly a nanny drove her to school, but sometimes Bobby and Whitney would bring her to school themselves. There is enough tragedy to go around in this story. Whitney, who we all watched grow up, had it all; she was pretty, could sing, dance and even act a bit. She had it all but it wasn’t enough. Therein lies one of the big pitfalls of “Show-Biz”… one must know one’s limits.
I bought a Jag thirteen years ago from Ray Catena which is a “celebrity dealership” in Jersey. Once you purchase a vehicle from them you can bring it there to be washed any time. The show room is complete with a gym, computers, pool tables, a shoe- shine stand and refrigerators full of salads, fruit and sandwiches. The last time I was there I got my shoes shined with Buster Rhymes. I would occasionally see Bobby Brown there. I really didn’t know him so all we did was casually speak. I knew he was getting a bad rap for “turning Whitney out”. Whitney knew a whole lot before she met Bobby Brown.
I was never more than a “minor celebrity” but I made sure to keep my children as far from the “Business” as I could given I had a studio in my basement and some of everybody used to come through.
We lived pretty much a normal middle class life. By thirty-nine I had quit the ”bizz” and was teaching at the local high school; pretty normal - right. I don’t think Bobbi Kristina ever had the advantage of a normal life.
She was not talented like her mother and father and grandmother. She was not as pretty as her mother but she lived in the world of success they created for her. I used to watch these kids of some of my friends and associates, who could lavish the rewards of their wealth and success on their children by giving them the things they never had and most likely things they never earned or really needed.
I was prepared for the “whatever you want is waiting for you” world of show business. My grandfather owned a tavern and I grew up behind the bar. I was twenty-eight before I tasted any real success, before that I was just a gigging musician on the scene. Granted I was one of the top cats at what I did in N.Y.C., but let me tell you my pockets certainly had plenty of room left in them.
I never like when people in the business choose other people in the business for their significant other, it can work but mostly it doesn’t. For Whitney and Bobby this certainly didn’t make for a successful home life and for that I feel sorry for Bobbi Kristina. Just because your parents do drugs doesn’t mean you have to do them. I believe drugs are a uniquely personal choice. When you get high it isn’t about your grandmother, your mother or your father; it’s about you. That being said… what did she have to ground her? She didn’t have to make a living, she had money for mostly whatever she wanted and few examples to show her how “normal people” do shit. I remember a “star” you all know who shall remain nameless said to me, ”Fletch, if I ever have to go back to being a regular person I think I will shoot myself in the head”. I asked him, ”Just when was it you become irregular?”
So who is to blame? We all are charged with manipulating our own destinies for better or worse. It doesn’t matter who our parents or grandparents were. It is Whitney who is dead, it is Bobbi Kristina who is dead. When Whitney died I said to my wife, “The tragedy here is that she had it all and it wasn’t enough”. Bobbi Kristina was a product of her environment. I’m sure there was love there but I am also sure that there were things around her that shaped her vision of how life should be lived. Like Billie Holiday said, “Mama may have, papa may have, but God bless the child that has their own”.
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