Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Smokey Robinson releases new CD today
A music legend recalls his remarkable journey.
This feature by Nina Hämmerling Smith appeared in Guideposts magazine.
For the past 50 years, his sweet voice and staggering talent have made him a beloved star. But for Smokey Robinson, whose new album, Time Flies When You're Having Fun, will be released August 25, the journey wasn't always fun—or easy.
It was 1958 when he helped his friend and fellow Detroit native Berry Gordy found Motown, which in turn shaped popular music for generations to come.
Over the next few decades, he wrote and recorded dozens of hit songs, including "I Second That Emotion" and "The Tears of a Clown," for his group, The Miracles, and for other Motown acts.
He married his high school sweetheart and had three beautiful children. Robinson's life seemed perfect—until things started to fall apart.
In 1984, some of Robinson's friends who were doing cocaine introduced him to the drug. Robinson had grown up in a pretty rough neighborhood, and yet he'd stayed out of trouble thanks to his love of sports, music and God.
But now, as a man in his 40s, he found himself hooked on drugs.
For two years, he suffered through his addiction; his health declined, his marriage disintegrated, he withdrew from his friends, and yet none of that mattered, because "all I cared about was the cocaine," he says.
One Sunday in 1986, his dear friend Leon Kennedy unexpectedly appeared at Robinson's apartment. Robinson and Kennedy had a special bond, one that had been cemented nearly a decade earlier.
In 1977, Robinson was sitting home alone when he heard a voice. "I was upstairs looking at TV and I heard God's voice say to me, I want you to know my son, Jesus, and I want you to tell your friends. I heard it audibly, and I thought somebody was playing a joke on me. I searched my closet. I opened the bedroom door, but nobody was there. I was kind of scared, and I didn't tell anybody."
At the same time, Kennedy, an actor, was in the Philippines making a movie. When he returned, Robinson recalls, "He said, 'I'm going to tell you something I wouldn't tell anybody else. About two weeks ago, I was in my hotel bed trying to sleep. And I heard this voice saying, Leon, I want you to know my son and I want you to tell your friends.' That was when we both got saved and started our relationship with Jesus."
So when Kennedy arrived at his friend's apartment that night in May of 1986, a heartsick and physically frail Robinson opened the door. Kennedy prayed for him through the night, and in the morning he took him to a service.
It was at a storefront church in L.A. called Ablaze Ministries where the preacher, Pastor Jean Perez, called Robinson up to the front. She hugged him. She told him that she knew he was coming. She prayed over him. Robinson started to cry, and then he felt a release, and, "It was over," he says. He never did drugs again. "It was instantaneous; I gave it up."
Since then, Robinson has traveled to rehabs, schools and churches, speaking about his experience. "I tell everybody I was not cured or medically helped," says Robinson.
"I was actually healed. I was healed by God. I tell them, 'Rehab can help a lot of people. But you have to get in contact with your spiritual self or you're never going to beat this [addiction].'"
Robinson knows how blessed he is; not just because he was healed, but also because he's able to share his musical gifts with the world.
"Almost every day of my life, I write a part of a song," he says. "I know it's a gift from God. That's what He would have me do, I guess, because I've been writing songs since I was 5 years old."
That gift is evident on “Time Flies When You're Having Fun,” which features 10 tracks of original material, as well as a cover of the Norah Jones-popularized "Don't Know Why". Joss Stone, Carlos Santana and India.Arie lend their vocal support on three of the songs.
Unlike many other contemporary albums, “Time Flies” was recorded "the old-fashioned way," says Robinson, "by having all the musicians playing while I was singing.
"There's another kind of feeling when you have that, you know? It's almost like you’re doing a concert in a studio. Everybody feeds off of each other; it's a fun way to record."
The album's title is a pretty fair description of how Robinson feels about music—and life—these days. He's been remarried for seven years; he's recording great new music; and he's sharing his inspiring story.
"I know that's one of the reasons probably I'm still living," he says. "Because I get the chance to go and spread that message.
"My life is wonderful. I'm very happy."