Smokey Robinson went gospel in 2004 when he released his first spiritual album, Food for the Spirit. We spoke on the phone about his religion, my lack of religion, and his rabid female fans. Here are some highlights.
YOUR SONGS ARE MORE POSITIVE THAN MANY GOSPEL SONGS, WHICH THREATEN HELLFIRE AND DAMNATION UNLESS WE GET OUR ACT TOGETHER.
Well, thank you because that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to give people food for the spirit. That’s why I called it Food for the Spirit. I don’t want to frighten people or anything like that. It could have been called Food for Thought.
WITH ALL THE RATBAGS YOU’VE MET IN THE BUSINESS OVER THE YEARS, IT MUST BE HARD TO PUT A SENTIMENT LIKE “JESUS TOLD ME TO LOVE YOU” INTO PRACTICE?
Not for me, man. I really feel like that in my heart. I don’t have to like you, but Jesus told me to love you, so I’m going to love you. I’m going to love you as a human being. I’m going to love you as one of my human brothers. I love the guys in the Ku Klux Klan as one of my human brothers, you know what I mean? But I don’t have to like them. I don’t have to like what they do. I don’t have to condone their actions. But I do have to, as a human being, love them. If one of them was in a burning lake or something like that, and I was there and I had the chance to save them, I would.
YOU’RE A SAINT!
No, I’m not. I’m just a follower of Jesus. And a real follower of Jesus would do that.
DO YOU FEEL COMPETITIVE WITH YOUNGER ARTISTS?
I am competitive, and I listen to everyone. I love Usher. I love Maxwell. There’s some stuff by Nelly that I love. I listen to everyone, I love Beyoncé, and Céline Dion. I listen to everybody, man. You might catch me listening to Mantovani, or you might catch me listening to Muddy Waters, and everybody in between, because I love music. I do feel competitive, and I do feel like I’ve gotta know what they’re doing in order to be competitive in the record market. But, however, you mention those people. I’ve been doing this for 40 years. I’ve been doing this for 40 years, and everywhere I go my concerts are sold out and packed.
HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH TEMPTATIONS, CROSSING OVER TO THE DARK SIDE?
No, no, no, no, no, no, no. There’s no temptations for me. Dean, are you a believer?
See, I can hear that in your voice. And I hope that one day you are, man, because you’ll know what I’m talking about … If you ever become a believer, if you ever embrace Christ, then you’ll know the comfort that I have. Other than that, I can’t explain it you. I can’t tell you what a comfort it is to know, in my heart, that I’m cool because Christ is my savior.
ON A MORE EARTHLY LEVEL, DO YOU HAVE VICES, BIG EXPENDITURES?
I’m not a collector of things. I collect golf stuff. I love golf. I collect old golf books and golf clubs and stuff like that because I love golf. Golf is my passion. I’m very, very, very, very blessed, I’m very fortunate because I live a life that allows me to go in the store and if I see suit that I want, I can buy it. But it doesn’t make me say, “Hey I’m blessed.” It doesn’t make me not know that everybody can’t do that. It doesn’t make me not look at my fellow man, and look at my brother, and say, ‘”Well, golly man. He can’t do that.” I don’t think that I’m such hot stuff that I’ve got all this stuff and nobody else has. I’m very, very, very blessed and I’m living under the grace of God, and somehow or other he allows me to do what I do. And I think one of the reasons he allows me to do what I do is because I’ve never taken my feet off my ground. I’ve never taken showbusiness to the point where, “Shoot, I’m Smokey Robinson, so blah-blah-blah-blah-blah.” I know that it’s a blessing. I’ve known it since Day One.
SO EVEN DURING THE ’60s, WHEN YOU HAD MILLIONS OF SCREAMING WOMEN—
—That still happens, Dean. Everywhere I go. I just came home from Atlantic City and that happened every day while I was there. It still happens. But that doesn’t let me think, “OK, this is Smokey Robinson and I am hot stuff.” I am blessed. I’m blessed. I live this life, and I’m blessed to live it. I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing with my life. I can’t think of anything that could have even occurred to me. I’ve had this dream since I was a child. I’m getting a chance to live my dream.
I WANT WHAT YOU’VE GOT!
I want you to have it too, Dean. I really do, man. I want you to have it … The next time you think of something that’s wrong, know it’s your spirit talking to you.
NOTE: Unrelated to the above interview, my gossipy rock bio Strange Days: The Adventures of a Grumpy Rock ‘n’ Roll Journalist in Los Angeles is available here. For more info, go to strangedaysbook.com
Copyright © 2004, 2013 by Dean Goodman. PLEASE DO NOT CUT AND PASTE THE WHOLE THING