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Marvin Gaye: Magic and mayhem

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Musing by blogger Craig Lyndall about bad behavior and contemporary rock stars has me thinking about some of the singers and musicians from the 60s, 70s and 80s, I have beecome interested in lately. I am currently focusing my listening and reading on Marvin Gaye. One would be hard put to find a towering personality in music who was more screwed up. Gaye, a self-taught virtuoso on several instuments, including piano and drums, a composer who did not read music, and a songwriter, in addition to his reknowned ability as a singer, came about his possible psychoses honestly. His father, a cross-dressing fundamentalist preacher, beat him at the drop of a hat from the time he was a toddler until he fled their Washington, D.C., home when he was 17. They would continue to do battle until their conflicts reached an eerie climax.

In the intervening years, the name Marvin Gaye, which he shared with his father, became a household word. The singer first gained notoriety as the male half of early Motown duos. He performed duets that charted with Mary Wells, Kim Weston, and most famously, Tammi Terrell. The persona projected on the records was of young, sophisticated lovers who had discovered the formula for compatibility after their share of ups and downs. However, during that period, Gaye’s real love life consisted of mental and physical battles with Anna Gordy, his older and jealous wife. The line between home and work was blurred by the fact that Mrs. Gaye was the sister of Motown founder Berry Gordy. Infidelity was the norm for Marvin and Anna, serving as constant fuel for their fights. It is now believed Gaye fathered the son they would rear with Anna’s 15-year-old niece. It was about that time that Gaye began to abuse drugs, starting with alcohol and marijuana.

His second coming was as the socially conscious voice of the seminal album, What’s Going On? in 1971. The album, which examined controversial aspects of society from the Vietnam War to the environment, is considered once of the most important recordings ever by Rollingstone and other arbiters of American culture. Gaye entered serious meltdown after finishing What’s Going On?. He separated from Anna and began an affair with a seventeen-year-old high school student, Janis Hunter, at 33. The relationship would include ontinual drug use by both and ongoing mutual infidelity. Marvin would beat Janis whenever they were together, behavior that much resembled his father’s treatment of him. He encouraged Janis to seduce his friends and associates and regale him with descriptions of her exploits. He had become a consumer of pornography and prostitutes. He also participated in sado-masochism, said to be the holder of the whip. Though Gaye’s inability to perform because of the ravages of cocaine and heroin would impact him most, his unreliability also effected fans, who could not rely on him singing capably or even showing up for concerts. Eventually, Gaye would exile himself to Hawaii, London and Belgium, not performing live for five years.

In 1982, he made a comeback with the hit generating album, Sexual Healing, which lauded the transcendent qualites of sensuality. However, by the time of his late American tour for the album, Gaye began the day with a tumbler of liquor, a huge joint and doses of cocaine. He believed that people throughout the country, including members of his staff and strangers, were out to kill him. His wealth had evaporated as a result of profligate spending and garnishments by the I.R.S. Broke and broken, Gaye eventually retreated to the house he had bought for his parents in Los Angeles.

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  • SevenSisters

    [quote]“It was there that Marvin Gay, Sr. shot and killeded Marvin, Jr. on April 1, 1984. The father was barely penalized for the death because the son had pummeled and kicked the elderly man at the beginning of the encounter. Marvin, Sr., fetched the gun his son had given him and shot him at least three times with it. Marvin Gaye would have turned 45 the next day.”[/quote]

    Isn’t the scene in Jungle Fever where Gator (Sam Jackson) the crackhead son of Preacher “the Good Reverend Doctor”?

    [quote]“It is now believed Gaye fathered the son they would rear with Anna’s 15-year-old niece. It was about that time that Gaye began to abuse drugs, starting with alcohol and marijuana.”[/quote]

    It seemed that just pushed the young Gaye over the edge, poor guy. I often equate Berry Gordy to Satan’s Disciple. From what I have read and heard about the personal life of his charges at motown ..he seemed very capable of creating hotel Califonia situations for those young impressionable talents.

  • Kparrent

    I grew up in Detroit in the sixties and seventies. Motown music was everywhere and I loved it, from the simple, innocent early days to the more sophisticated later music. I happened upon Dyson’s book recently and saw Marvin Gaye’s handsome and familiar face on the cover so I bought it. I had known how Marvin was killed, but not the details. And I never knew about Marvin’s misogyny, drug crazed psychosis and the dark side of his sexuality including committing statutory rape with a relative. After learning all of this I feel like I’ve opened Pandora’s box. I wish I could stuff it all back in! I just hope I can still listen to the music without remembering his life.

  • Tim

    I admit that reading about his life is crazy and disturbing considering that this man was abused and was abusive also but the man DID leave a great collection of classics that’ll be endured long after we’re all gone. For all of his imperfect personal demons, his voice was the soundtrack of young America during the sixties and seventies and it’s because of that, his legacy will remain imprinted. RIP, Marvin.

  • peter stafford

    Quite often great talents are decidedly different than the perceived NORM They are in fact completeley different, more often than not tortured mentally by the apparant helplessness and hopelessness of the human condition
    Often with trajic painfull results