CKC #35: Is it hot in here, or just Smokey?


So this is how it went.

I met the planet’s most compassionate and generous man when I interviewed him for a feature story – Three Men Who Save Children –  for the Meyer Memorial Trust’s annual report in 2001.

Duncan Campbell grew up on Portland’s north side, the story of his childhood can be illustrated by his memory of wandering the streets in the wee hours of the night when he was a toddler as his parents drunk themselves into a stupor at the local tavern. Somehow, against all odds, Duncan survived childhood and grew up to be a very very successful businessman. He used his success to reach back and find the children who had lives like he had – and worse – and provide them with what he didn’t have: support that builds resiliency.

He founded Friends of the Children, one of the most impressive nonprofit organizations I’ve encountered. The organization identifies children in its communities who have the most dire and challenging lives and provides them with a friend. A mentor who is there for them for whatever they need whenever they need it. And they usually need a whole lot a whole lot of the time. Friends of the Children pays its mentors the same salary as public school teachers and hires only the best among those who apply.

Duncan is delighted by Smokey’s performance and by his bringing the delight to such an appreciative audience (us)

This model has been replicated in other cities, but the heart and soul of the organization is in Portland, not all that far from where Duncan toddled out in the middle of the night alone to look for his parents.

I’ve met a lot of people who appear to enjoy the happiness of others. Some of them genuinely glory in success they see others achieve. But I’ve observed that if you stick around long enough, some people’s apparent celebration of others is hijacked by feelings of envy and bitterness lying somewhere at varying depths beneath the surface. Eventually it shows and it is so painful to watch.

I don’t think I’ve met anyone who enjoys others’ happiness more than Duncan. He is the genuine article. His delight grows as it is powered by his enjoyment of another’s delight. That’s one reason so many people love him.

When Duncan learned about our household’s love of soul music, especially from the golden years of Motown and Stax Volt, he’s made it a point to help us get where and when a legend from that era appears in Portland.

For example, we sat in the second row at the Schnitz when Jerry Butler came to town. When he sang Your Precious Love (one of the all time most incredible love songs, he wrote it for a school assignment when he was a teenager!), Ric and Blaine had to spray reconstitution oil to the puddle on the floor that was me. And then we got his autograph and I begged him to please come join the Multnomah County Commission (it was in a hot mess at the time).

So this summer Duncan found himself with three unused tickets to see Smokey Robinson at Spirit Mountain Casino. So he called us and asked if we’d like to go with him. Hello? Smokey Robinson? Is the Pope Catholic?

It is the unanimous opinion of the household that Smokey Robinson is among the greatest music geniuses of all time. And we are not kidding. Has there ever been a songwriter with a more clever and distinctive use of words? We think not. Have you really listened to his rhyming structure? Take this line from Tracks of My Tears:  “My smile is my makeup I wear since my breakup with you…” Do you see how amazing that is?

Smokey Robinson at Spirit Mountain

Smokey left it all on the stage at Spirit Mountain (his band was great as well)

It’s not just our opinion, by the way. You do realize that Bob Dylan, no slacker when it comes to words, called him the Shakespeare of Soul? So if you don’t know Smokey, you better go there now. Your life’s work is not done yet.

We had seen Smokey live twice before years ago (once at the Oregon Zoo and once at the Oregon State Fair) but the performance we just witnessed was the best ever. The man is 72 years old. And he jumps and leaps around the stage. And bumps and grinds. Yes, he really did. We weren’t expecting that.

And he wore purple leather pants. They were awesome. He’s still writing and recording and we thought his new music was great! Some people just keep on getting better. Wouldn’t we all like to be one of those people??

I must point out that I took all the photos used here with my iPhone. Yes, my iPhone.

Oh, yeah, we ate dinner at Legends at Spirit Mountain Casino before the show. I would tell you what we ate, but I can’t seem to remember. I think it might be because it’s all smokey up in here.

Closeup of Smokey Robinson at Spirit Mountain

See how it’s all smokey up in here!


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