When I heard Joey Robinson died a couple of days ago I must admit I wasn’t overcome with grief. That doesn’t mean I didn’t feel something. When his mother Sylvia died I actually cried a tear or two. When his father Joe died I smiled in respect and recognition of a life well lived, I shook my head and said “That was a hell of a man.” So now that two of their three sons are dead much too soon I feel obligated to say something.
The admiration and respect I felt for Joe and Sylvia Robinson is not unknown. What a lot of people don’t know are the acts of kindness, if that’s what they were, shown to others and to me by Joe and Sylvia Robinson, and for me Sylvia in particular. Sure I got “robbed” but un-like a lot of others I went into the situation with my eyes wide open. My father was a rampant Q-dog, one of his frat brothers was at the bar in our basement one night when my father suggested that I have a word with this “old guy”. Now most people don’t want to meet their father’s friends. I have always been different. More often than not they had daughters and wanted us to be friends (me and the daughters that is). That being said, this guy who had been a Manhattan attorney said, “So you working for Joe and Sylvia Robinson. Listen… I was Joe Robinson’s lawyer when he was buying bars up in Harlem with attaché cases full of cash. That man is a bonafide Gangster.”
I never forgot that. What people don’t know is there were times when I needed money to keep my son in “Harvard” and my daughter in “Elon” (which is also a great value for your money college). After hitting up my real parents for whatever money they might give me, I would head up to Englewood Cliffs and sit down with Sylvia and she might give me five or six thousand dollars. That might happen two-three times a year, occasionally more.
Now… did she owe me that money? “Hell to the fucking yes.” Did she have to give it to me? “Hell to the fucking no.” Sylvia and Joe respected “talent, loyalty, family, and intelligence”. In me they saw most or all of that. I never got a dime like that from Joey and I certainly don’t expect a dime like that from Leland, the third remaining son, because he took the best and worst of both Sylvia and Joe in a way only second generations can.
I really didn’t feel “no way” about Joey. The second generation rarely carries the dream of the first. They most often don’t share the drive, determination and talent of their parents. First generations are blessed with the fact they often are nothing and want to make something of themselves. Case in point; my own father was born in 1921 and he was a child of the depression. That means from 29 through until 44 when he got out of the army there were “hard times”. I was born in 1951 “good times”.
If you talk to the wives of our fathers and their friends the one thing they all had in common is that they were all going to “make something” of themselves (curious how the women almost always outlive their husbands). What ever you think of Joe and Sylvia Robinson they certainly made something of themselves. Now Joey, most might think he had it easy and in some ways he did, but in other ways he didn’t. There were certainly elements of the “poor little rich boy” syndrome but Joey never gained my respect the way Joe and Sylvia did. Even Leland went out of the family business and was Vice President of Motown for a while (I hear tell he has a daughter that can sang her “whole ass” off).
Things have not turned out so well for the second generation of Robinsons. The studio that Joe and Sylvia built some how burned to the ground. I watched Sylvia and Joe take that place from an old joint you really didn’t want to work in to a state of the art place we were all proud to be in; that shit means something. Joey even had a couple of hits his him mom and us cut for him, he even took his boy on the road with him. He had a real friend in this kid who turned out to be a state trooper. I don’t remember too many others that I would call his “real friends”.
I resist feeling smug when someone passes. I try and resist feeling like “they gone and I’m still here”. I try not to feel maybe the Lord does work in “Mysterious Ways.” I can’t say I really liked joey, but I can’t say I disliked him either… and there are certainly people who are responsible for me not spending money I earned that I do dislike.
Joey and I were embroiled in various legal battles as I write. What happens could mean dollars in my pocket and until the end he was trying to get me to sign something when I told him, “I wouldn’t just sign that kind of paperwork when your mother and father handed it to me. As back then, my lawyer will contact your lawyer. And yes, I told your father the same thing when he asked me the same question, “It’s not a matter of trust, you have a lawyer don’t you.”
I’m sixty-four and have faced the “fellow in the white night shirt” (that is what W.C. Fields and I call the grim reaper or death for the uninitiated). I read my Bible nearly daily now. I don’t go to church and I don’t even want a funeral. I want to be cremated and then my friends, when they have a minute, I want them to take a drink or smoke a joint (that is as far as I’m requesting… any harder drugs certainly aren’t prescribed by me dead or alive) and tell at least one “Fletcher” or “Duke Bootee” story. That’s it, I don’t want people having to drive somewhere they don’t want to go and have to go to church for longer than they want to be there.
People have called me with near glee over the death of a human being. I am certainly not happy Joey Robinson is dead. If only for Joe and Sylvia and Leland, I felt twangs of sorrow. Family will miss Joey Robinson for sure, and I know at least one true friend that will miss him… but the best I can do for him personally is say “Me No Feel No Way”.
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