"Why do people call
you Brownman anyway?"
|I get asked this a lot and once my most obvious of jokes die down, I usually just say, "it's a long story… I’ll tell you another time". Sometimes I do... sometimes I don't... ‘cause it IS a long story and when you tell the SAME damn, long-ass tale over and over you start to get sick of telling it after a while. NOW I say - "it's a long story, BUT the answers you seek are up on the website (yeah… I do it in a Yoda voice too), so puh-lease save me having to re-tell it and go check it out?"|
When I was 7 years old I had a buddy named Russell King. Russ had
this way of looking at the world that, in retrospect, was more advanced
than any other 7 year old I knew then and know today. In the 70’s
in suburbia, racism was still running rampant and I was often referred
to with disgust by the school yard bullies, usually 2 or 3 years older
and about as bright as dirty socks, as "Pakie" or "Brownboy".
This was the depth of the under-12-year-old insult back then. They
would accost me in the halls and say, "my dad told me that you Brownboys
come here and take our jobs." Me?, I didn't take your jobs!
And my dad sure didn't take anyone else's job… geez… they came to him at
his old workplace and asked him to come work for them. I was confused.
All I knew was that I just wanted to be friends… hey man - I was a damn
personable 7 year old! But it was Russell that really made a difference…
he saw that the names were bugging me… "Pakie" didn't bother me
so much as I rationalized that - "I wasn't from Pakistan... I'm from
Trinidad... so why do they call me that??". But "Brownboy"
got to me. The way they said it especially… with such gross disdain…
and emphasis on each syllable … "BROWN - BOY", grinding both the color
and age difference into me. Yeah… it bugged me. Then
one day, out of the blue, Russell called me Brownboy. I hit him in
the head with my lunchbox (Spiderman, of course). Rubbing his head
and shooting me a sidelong glare, he says to me "why does that bug you
anyway - is it a lie??". Very slowing, starting quietly, almost
meekly - I laughed. Giggled really, but it quickly built to full-on
roaring gales of preadolescent laughter . He started calling me Brownboy
all the time at school and the other kids who knew me well enough, once
seeing Russell - my bestest buddy - calling me that name with no apparent
worry, ALSO started. This infuuuuuuriated the bullies. Their
favorite insult had had all the wind blown out of it's sails! And
now I found myself suppressing laughter when they called me that, no matter
how much poison they put into their voices when they said it.
Well… I got older and the nickname stuck… a good number of that group from public school would go on to Jr. High and then High school together. I was Brownboy until I turned 18. On my 18th birthday a group of friends threw me a surprise party and I was formally crowned BrownMAN by the girls that night. *cough* I still have old birthday cards from that day with things written in them like "the Brownboy becomes a Brownman today - so how's it feel?".
Once graduated from high school and off to University, a handful of my high school classmates ended up at the same school. All it takes is one old friend in the halls screaming "YO’ BROWNMAN!!! WE GETTIN’ FOOD OR WHAT??" for the name to be explained to those with raised eyebrows and then added to their vocabularies. And by then I was in the habit of introducing myself as Nick the Brownman anyway… university is so much less uptight than reality… I rarely found myself explaining the personal history of my nickname. It wasn't until I started gigging… and meeting folks with their own hang-ups about political correctness and propriety that I realized that some people were actually uncomfortable calling me that. Most of the time once I explain the story, everyone gets cool… but there's always that one dude who just can't get over it. *shrug* It's not important enough to me to insist on it, but I just feel better hearing it.
The name was borne of the ironic mind and kind heart of a 7 year old boy trying to make his friend feel better about something he shouldn't have felt bad about. So when next we meet and I say to you, "my friends call me Brownman"… what I'm really saying is - I like being called Brownman… it makes me feel 7 again… with all the warmth and fuzziness that goes along with that age.
My closest friends permutate it…
goes to my old friend Costas "Dino" Conistis, who called me that first
Being Brown isn't about color… it's about a state of mind.
........."Don't use your eyes only… use your ears, then your mind."
......... - Russell King at age 16 (expletives deleted) bawling out some guy at school who was offended by the whole brownman thing... Russell... my friend...
Hear the Jan 18, 2005 Jazz FM Interview (5.5meg | 12min:07sec) with Ralph Benmurgui where the origins of the Brownman moniker are discussed along with Brown's experiences in New York with Randy Brecker and a recent Havana Jazz Festival Performance (where CRUZAO had been asked to represent Canada).
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