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  • Cy White

Why Smokey Robinson's 'I'll Try Something New' is Important to Me

Something happens the first time you understand love. Something irrevocable. It never leaves. You can't run away from it (though as you continue to grow and learn, you try your damndest to).

I'm going to attempt to describe that feeling without devolving into the purple prose I'm oftentimes known for. (And I'll fail.)

I was 5 or 6 the first time I heard a harp. It was the first shimmering notes of a song I'd never really listened to before. Cascading from old speakers, bouncing off walls and half-shined surfaces. It sounded like the kind of music that would play in Heaven. (At 5 years old, I truly believed Heaven was the ultimate destination.) Flowing like the clearest water, an element I would forever be drawn to.

Then there was a soft voice, high-pitched but unmistakably male. "I will build you a castle with a tower so high it reaches the moon." I felt, truly felt, a space in the middle of my chest turn red and shine, full of starbursts and heat. There in that first line was the heaviness of something beautiful and intangible. Something that from that moment on I knew I simply had to find and have and put in that space where I knew it would fit.

Smokey Robinson and the Miracles was a household staple, insofar as Motown was a staple. Every artist and song from Motown was holier than gospel. In fact, much like Heaven, I thought of Motown as a destination, a place you would ultimately want to end up when the everything of the world ceased to exist. I'd been listening to the likes of Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross & the Supremes, the Temptations, of course the Jackson 5. And Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Their greatest hits were often what woke us up, the aged tinny sound of "Shop Around" blasting throughout the house with the sunrise. The third song on that album I never paid attention to on those mornings. Too busy getting ready for school and making sure I was ready before my mother called for us to be in the living room and ready to go out the door. But one day, perhaps it was evening, my father decided to play music. Normal. Maybe the adults were playing cards. Maybe we were waiting for dinner. All I know is that for the first time I heard a harp. And I felt my limbs grow warm.

This was the beginning of everything. I'd been reading since I was about 1 years old. Been read to every night much earlier than that. I knew words. I knew fantastic worlds over the rainbow and beyond the cornfields and flatlands of Kansas (where I was born, so it must be true, because Topeka, KS, is a real place). But this...This was something different. Something new, as it were. This was a rhythmic, melodious piece of romance that swept me up in fantasies of true love before I knew what romance and the truth of love really were. Every line of the song made a promise, and those promises came from someone having so much of that red starfire feeling in him, he would drag down celestial bodies for the person who gave him those feelings. "And every day we can play on the Milky Way." And in the event the heavens themselves weren't enough to express that starry-red feeling inside of this man, he proclaimed "I'll try something new."

Thinking back on that moment, when an emotion I'd never grappled with suffused my body with lava and galaxies, I feel tears cresting beyond my eyelids. This is the moment, my dear reader. This is the moment I knew whatever this was, whatever this big, bigger, biggest feeling was in my chest and coursing throughout my body, I needed to give it a home. I needed to find it. This "love" feeling Smokey vowed "on the moon above" belonged to this mystical being he was singing to. And again he swears, "If that don't do, I'm gonna try something new." Then a common phrase I'd learned when I'd tried to learn words for myself: "If at first I don't succeed, try again is what I'll do." The words must be true, because that phrase is real.

At two minutes and thirty-seven seconds, "I'll Try Something New" was the single most profound piece of music I'd ever heard in my 5-year-old life. It was the first time I'd ever heard poetry. The first time I'd heard something that actually sounded like the fairy tails I loved. This was a song out of a story book. A song that suspended time and space and created a singular moment of clarity. This was that moment when I no longer walked through the world darkly. I might have only had the words of a child, but I could never see or hear things the same after.

This was my first encounter with raw and untouched love. Love. Love. And it felt good to hear in my head. It felt good to roll around on my tongue. And it filled me to the brim and hurt to feel because it was just so damn big. But I craved that ache because it felt real and true and necessary.

When you're first confronted with the unshakeable reality of love, from that moment until the end of time, love becomes your obsession. Whether running away from it or chasing it into an inevitable oblivion. Love becomes your soul's purpose for surviving in a world wretched enough to soak it in darkness. Love becomes the light. And there's no escaping its glow.


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