The Cruel Irony from the Family Called "Brown"

Three years ago, my grandparents — the Browns – removed me from the family. My younger sister, who was 16 at the time, hit a rough patch in her life and, dreading embarassment for the entire family because of her, my grandparents acted. They understood the drugs and they understood the alcohol (teenagers will be teenagers, after all). But when Gail gave birth at the young age of 16 to a black baby (my niece, Keira), that was the final straw. Instead of supporting my sister and showing a little heart, they chastised her and shunned her (a cruel irony from the family named Brown, if you ask me). They continued speaking to my mother (their daughter), but only out of spite — they ridiculed her, manipulated her, and insulted her parenting. Mom wouldn’t stand for it, so she shunned them in return.

That left me.

When I first moved to DeKalb for university, I still had a relationship with my grandparents. In fact, during that Spring semester, I received a D in a class because my professor refused to allow me to retake the final that I missed, so my beligerent grandmother called the department chair and demanded an explanation (turns out, my professor never asked if allowing me to take the final was okay)! A few months later, when the worst of my sister’s problems was coming into fruition, Grandma emailed me, saying, “Whenever you have time, Deda and I would like to come visit your new apartment and have you take us on a campus tour!” I wrote her back: “If you don’t have time for my mom, my sister, or my new niece, then I don’t have time for you.” And that was the last I’ve heard from them since.

About a week ago, I was talking with my cousin, Katy. Her family’s going through some rough times (as is mine, coincidentally), but is trying to save face and act like everything is normal and hunky dory. She told me that both her mom and her dad are going to our grandparents house for Christmas, even though they are in the midst of a separation. “It’s going to be really awkward,” she said. “You should come over just to experience that!”

“Oh, yes, because my presence there will calm everything down!” I replied.

My cousin is a really great kid. She’s four years my minor (the same as my sister — they were born three months apart) and one of the most mature 19 year olds I’ve met in quite some time. She and I truly represent the future of our family. When our grandparents inevitably pass on, there will be a generational void to assemble all of us together for holidays and birthdays and other sorts of familial gatherings. My mother and her mother have a sordid past and, even though my aunt has reached out to our family in our time of need, ignoring the wishes of her parents, her offers of help have fallen on deaf ears with her sister. They don’t talk anymore — at all. So when the Browns are no longer with us, it truly will be up to Katy and I to “assemble the troops,” as it were.

“Well, it’ll still be awkward, but at least they’d be happy to see you,” said Katy.

“I’ll tell you what — call up the Browns and ask them if they’d mind if I came over,” I said. “Because I do kind of want to see everyone again — especially you and your family. But I have a feeling they’re still upset with me.”

After Katy called and spoke with them, it turns out they do want me to come. They also said they’d enjoy it if my mom, youngest sister and stepdad came. However, Gail and Keira were not invited. They are still unhappy with her and, though they claim their reasoning is that they just don’t want Gail’s drug culture and gang lifestyle around the other kids who will be there, I still believe they see Gail as an embarrassment. That will be a deal-breaker for my mom — I know it will. That was what made her turn her back on her parents all those years ago — their incapacity to empathize, their heartlessness, and their inability to offer any sort of help.

And so it seems as though nothing has really changed. I hoped that my grandparents were building a bridge to reconciliation, but as it turns out, they’re still burning it down.


Top of the Pops -- 2008

Here we are in December — the end of yet another year. With that in mind, it is time to reflect on all of the things that made 2008 such a great year. This is a yearly segment I like to call Top of the Pops: The Year In Review.

2008 was a historic year: the price of gasoline got to its highest point in our nation’s history and, within weeks, went to its lowest price in the past four or five years. Barack Obama, our nation’s first African-American president-elect, was voted into office. The unemployment rate is the highest it has been since the Great Depression. Michael Phelps broke the record for most gold medals in one year at the summer Olympics in Beijing. Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested for attempting to sell a Senate seat for his own financial gain (God be praised that slimeball was finally stopped! Illinois has got to get back on track!). Guns & Roses finally released the long-awaited Chinese Democracy album (it only took Axl 17 years and it still sucks!).

But all of these things aside, there is one thing that matters more to me than anything else in the world: the music releases. With all of the history that was made in 2008, were artists able to supply a perfect soundtrack for it all? Was the music exciting and original? Did it push boundaries or redefine the definition of art? Or was the music of 2008 stagnant and dreadfully dull?

As usual, these year’s top 15 releases was hard for me to choose because, quite frankly, I didn’t have a lot of great material to choose from. As far as legendary years in the music industry, I’d just as soon leave 2008 behind and look forward to 2009 (some mighty fine releases are scheduled next year). What was most heartbreaking was that 2007 was such an incredible year. I was really looking forward to 2008 just based on the couple of bands that I knew had stuff scheduled to come out this year; bands like Coldplay, U2, Franz Ferdinand, My Morning Jacket, and The Killers.

First, U2 and Franz Ferdinand both pushed their album release dates to 2009. There were rumors that Clap Your Hands Say Yeah was going to surprise us this year, but that also never happened. Then Rivers Cuomo surprised us once again by reuniting Weezer to release another eponymous album — Weezer (Red). After hearing the first single, “Pork & Beans,” I got really pumped up because, to me, that song was kind of reminiscent of the acoustic grunge sound they had on their debut. Silly me — I should’ve known that Rivers’s larger-than-life ego would once again get in the way of great music. In a most triumphant fashion, Weezer recovered from the dibachle that was Make Believe and rose back up to a level I call “moderately awful.”

Speaking of larger than life egos, Coldplay released a new album this year! I’ve always been a fan of Coldplay. Let me say that straight away. As much as I would love to hate them, I can’t deny how incredibly talented they are. That being said, I was so happy when they told the world that their new release would sound radically different than anything they had ever done. To me, this was good news! Because it seems that Coldplay started off on the right foot — a good between sound amongst Radiohead and U2. Their second release was a bit more radio friendly, but still had that bizarre sonic edge. Their third album seemed more like a greatest hits compilation as every song could have been released as a single. It was good, better than most other bands could achieve, but disappointing coming from them. So you can imagine my chagrin when, after listening to Viva La Vida I realized that Coldplay really hadn’t done anything new — even for them.

Peter Gabriel released a new album this year (after a six year hiatus). Before his last release, he had waited 11 years between albums and vowed he’d never make his fans wait that long again. I am assuming that worrying he would break his vow, Gabriel released Big Blue Ball. I should’ve known the album would blow big blue balls just based on the title. It breaks the scheme of his eight previous releases: 1, 2, 3, Security, So, Up, Ovo, & Us. Three words in the title?? Come on, Peter! The good news is that this album isn’t a complete Peter Gabriel album — it’s a compilation of demos he found laying around in his studio that date all the way back to the early 90s. Better news yet is that the best songs on there are Gabriel numbers. All is not lost it seems!

Finally, Kanye West released his highly anticipated follow up to Graduation. Now many of you might be wondering how Kanye could possibly top the enormous success and pure genius of Graduation. Simply enough, he didn’t. In fact, 808s & Heartbreaks is quite possibly one of the worst albums I have ever heard. Yes, the production is great — it’s a Kanye album! He’s an amazing producer! But, here’s the bottom line: Kanye sings. He SINGS. If there’s one thing Kanye should never do, it’s sing. Kanye and R&B do not mix. At all.

But without any further ado, here we go and away we go!

First, the Top 5 Honorable Mentions:

5) Electric Arguments, The Fireman (Paul McCartney)
4) A Hundred Million Suns, Snow Patrol
3) Skeletal Lamping, Of Montreal
2) Seeing Sounds, N.E.R.D.
1) Evil Urges, My Morning Jacket

And now, here they are — the Top of the Pops from 2008:

10) Narrow Stairs, Death Cab for Cutie

9) Everything that Happens Will Happen Today, David Byrne & Brian Eno

8) Viva La Vida, Coldplay

7) Volume 1, She & Him (Zooey Deschanel & M. Ward)

6) The Stand Ins, Okkervil River

5) Modern Guilt, Beck

4) Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes

3) Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend

2) For Emma, Forever Ago, Bon Iver

1) með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, Sigur Ros