By Wil Forbis
I can't exactly recall how I first discovered the music of Bob Brozman. It might have been by stumbling onto this YouTube clip which featured Brozman performing early jazz songs and talking about his beloved National brand Reso-Phonic guitar. I was stunned by his complete mastery of early American guitar styles like blues and ragtime. He appeared as a genuine guitar hero, but one torn from a century past, before the era of wailing guitar solos and fluid fret board histrionics. I recall watching the video and thinking to myself, "Why haven't I heard of this guy before?"
I forgot about Brozman for a while, but not for too long. His name just kept popping up; I learned that a friend of mine was a casual acquaintance of Brozman and had shared several interesting conversations with him. I stumbled across a few more of Brozman's performances online. I noted that he was going to be playing a show near me and would have gone were I capable of even the barest forms of self-organization
I'm slightly ashamed to admit that it wasn't until Bob Brozman died this past April (2013) at the age of 59 that I really looked into his career. I began digging up performances, tutorials and interviews featuring him on YouTube. One thing became clear: Brozman was as fascinating to hear talk as he was to hear play. He had deep and well-formed ideas on topics such as how culture and music interacted, how the human brain evolved to perceive music, and what the goals of a performing musician should be. (I especially liked his quote, "Stop playing guitar, start playing music")
The initial reports stated that the cause of Brozman's death was suicide. He had, the story went, killed himself because pain he had been struggling with (caused by a decades previous car accident) was threatening to eliminate his ability to play music. This surprised me a bit; it seem out of character for a man whom I saw in interviews as possessed of a certain calm. Granted, he could be excited and frenetic when discussing music and performers he admired, but he seemed devoid of the personal disappointment and inner conflict that a lot of musicians and creative types are mired in. He came across as unpretentious and imbued with an honesty seldom seen in practitioners of an art form that often seems focused on self-aggrandizement and myth creation. Brozman once even made a passing reference to his honesty by stating, "If you always tell the truth, you never have to remember anything."
While I continued researching Brozman in the weeks after his death, I only found my admiration growing. As a result, I decided to write an acid logic eulogy for him. I was about 800 words into it when I went to a search engine to look up some particular biographical details. I typed "Bob Brozman" into the Google search box and a familiar thing happened: Google popped a little drop down of popular search phrases related to the phrase I was entering. One of those phrases was "Bob Brozman child abuse allegations."
This, uh, threw me for a loop. I ran the search and came across several sites - mostly web forums and music zines* - heatedly discussing disturbing allegations about Brozman. From what I could piece together, two people - a former music associate of Brozman and a woman who claimed to be Brozman's first wife - were alleging that Brozman had sexually molested young people. (The music associate, Gary Atkinson, charged that Brozman had molested Atkinson's own daughter when she was 9.) It was also alleged that formal criminal charges were about to be filed and this was the reason that Brozman took his life.
* View the comments sections of the following sites for discussion of the charges: here, here, and here. More recently SantaCruz.com has published a news article on the controversy, The Dark Side of Genius
I was stunned. Bob Brozman, to repeat a phrase that has been uttered a million times throughout history, sure didn't seem like a child molester. And yet why would people make such a charge if there was nothing to it? Of course, I also had to keep in mind that these were just words on a page. I couldn't be sure the people making these claims really were who they said they were. For reasons I still don't completely understand, Brozman's death purportedly stopped any formal filing of charges, so I couldn't even know of that part was true. It simply came down to whom you decided to believe.
Upon discovering the allegations against Brozman I tabled my article about him. I waited, wondering if time would condemn or absolve him. However, here we are months later and things aren't any clearer. Little additional information has arisen, and things seems as vague as ever.
If I had to take a guess, I would presume Brozman guilty. It does seem clear that he was not suffering from pain so bad as to be debilitating and thus one has to wonder, "Why would he kill himself?" One answer that makes sense is that he was about to be exposed as a monster.
At the same time, I've become bothered with the mob mentality that seems to thrive on the internet*. We've all seen the process: A politician or celebrity is accused of some impropriety and then fans or haters either defend or damn the accused before an investigation can even begin. The target is, often enough, guilty but the point is that people see no need to wait for the facts before generating their opinion. We humans can't tolerate uncertainty.
* I expressed some of my concerns in this matter in my recent piece, A Defense of Michelle Shocked.
It's because of my discomfort with the mob that I find myself in a limbo when it comes to the strange case of Bob Brozman. He could be guilty - I suspect he is - but I just don't know for sure. Unless someone comes forward and offers irrefutable evidence supporting the allegations, I may never know.
Sigh. It would so much easier if people just followed that tiny bit of advice. "If you always tell the truth, you never have to remember anything."