With Brown, interviews are simply another requirement in the show-business process--like a costume fitting. He sits in a chair patiently, answering the questions politely. But you know he'd rather be back where he feels more comfortable--working on his music.
Despite almost a decade in the pop spotlight, there still is an endearing touch of innocence and spontaneity in Brown. But there's also a complexity, which results in frequent contradictions in his answers. This may be due, in part, to his early start in show business, at age 14, with New Edition.
Young singers or actors are generally coached in what to say to the press--and what not to reveal. It's image-building at its extreme--and a lesson not easily forgotten.
In Brown's case, he sometimes seems torn between maintaining a strong, positive public posture and acknowledging the moments of personal doubt and discouragement.
When asked if he and the other youngsters in New Edition got caught up in pop music's "fast lane" excesses, for instance, Brown at first denied it.
"I think the reason my head kept so close to the ground was I always had my family around me . . . to keep me on my toes, to keep me (away from) the things that turn a great artist into a wiped artist or washed-up artist," he says convincingly. "They kept me away from drugs, alcohol, from running rampant with all kinds of girls. That's what basically kills an artist."
But when reminded of all the published reports about sexual escapades surrounding New Edition during those teen-age days, he amended his answer.
"Well, we did definitely have our share of women, but it wasn't to the point of abusing anything," he says, speaking with equal ease.
Similarly, Brown denied strenuously that the drug rumors bother him personally.
"Those rumors don't really hurt me," he says. "They hurt my mom, my dad, my sisters and brothers. I could care less what anybody who doesn't know me says about me."
Yet, when later asked what is the biggest misconception about him, he again amended the answer.
"That I'm a drug user . . . that's the biggest thing," he says, this time a bit disconsolate. "I wish I didn't have it over my head--that and this thing that I'm a 'bad guy.' I'm not a bad guy at all. I don't think I am. Sometimes I get in my little moods and I get a little angry, but that's true of everyone. I just get on stage and try to bring out all the feeling inside."
The time that he is the most comfortable--and perhaps most open--is speaking about his music.
In "Go Away," a song that he co-wrote for his new "Bobby" album, the Boston native seems to be talking about the gossip and the other pressures of show business. The song includes the lines: \o7 I need piece of mind / I'm stressed out today.\f7
When asked about the song, Brown seems to finally express the frustration that has been building during the months of rumors and whispers.
"It's a way of telling those hack writers to leave me alone," he says sharply. "It's my life. I've done no wrong to no one. The song is telling how I feel sometimes that I want to go behind a door and slam it.
"This business demands so much from you, most of your free time. I never get a chance to take my kids anywhere. I know this is something I have to do and I love doing it, but I can't take the bad parts of the business . . . the \o7 paparazzi, \f7 the tabloids, the press.
"Hopefully somewhere along the line, I won't have to do interviews anymore--just like Michael. Maybe I can just sit down with one or two people and let it go at that."
Brown catches himself--as if surprised by his sudden outburst.
"But don't get me wrong," he says, earnestly. "I love this business. I'm a positive person."
Brown's family lived in Roxbury, Boston's inner-city ghetto. Brown's older brother, Tommy, says it was a relatively pleasant working-class area when the family settled there, but had become a "pretty tough place" by the time Bobby was born in 1969.
At home, Bobby was exposed to a lot of music. His mom, a grade-school teacher, loved soul singers like Sam Cooke and Donny Hathaway. His father, a construction worker, leaned toward the blues. The whole family sang every Sunday in church.
But the sound that most caught his ear was funk--the records by groups like Parliament/Funkadelic and Earth, Wind & Fire that used lots of spicy horns. However, Brown didn't think seriously of music at that young age. He spent most of his time just running around with kids in the neighborhood.
"I was rebellious . . . like a lot of kids," he says of that time, sitting in a rehearsal hall office. "We didn't get into anything serious . . . like guns or anything. It was more just getting some of the same stuff other kids had.
"I didn't want to ask my mother or my father because they didn't have a lot of money. I'd just go to the store and take it. If I wanted a sweat suit or a pair of shoes, I'd just go pick them up."