Smokey Robinson has been writing poetry as long as he's been writing songs. (Yes, his songs are poetry. Pure poetry.) And he's been singing onstage for years. But in all that time, he's never done a whole stage show of his poetry. Until now.
On Friday and Saturday, September 21 and 22, in a show called "Words" at the El Portal Theater in North Hollywood, Smokey will recite long poems, like this one he excerpted on Def Poetry Jam, which includes swearwords and the N-word:
Smokey told me, "My people have done everything that somebody could do to to be a citizen of a nation, and so for me to have to revert now, after all these sacrifices and contributions to America, and revert to be called African-American, pisses me off." The poem "Black American" is long, eloquent, probably offensive to some, and very powerful. If all the poems in "Words" are as powerful, it'll be a good night.
Smokey, by the way, says he's not campaigning to be LA's first poet laureate, but he'd be a solid nominee.
And then there's "Cruisin,'" which for my money is one of the few perfect songs by any composer. Music, lyrics, performance, and production all combine to take you on a trip that's part slow drive in a convertible on a beautiful day, and part slow torrid lovemaking. Probably mostly the latter.
And while some songs came quickly to the composer -- "Shop Around," he says, took half an hour to write -- "Cruisin'" took much longer. First came the tune from Marv Tarplin, his late guitarist. Then came four or five years of looking for exactly the right words to match the sinuous, soaring, sensuous melody. Smokey says The Young Rascals' "Groovin'" provided the key, and a classic was born.