Monday, June 06, 2005

Mercy Mercy Me: The Theology of Marvin Gaye Pt. I

One may not have questioned after listening good to the complete song collection from the genius of the late Marvin Gaye that he had a spiritual side to him. Hailed as being the first son of Motown and crafting a musical style that embodied the energies of sophisticated soul, R&B and pop music, Marvin Gaye never failed in exposing his listening audience to his inward fight with spirituality. And even though it truly has been a mystery to interpret by most music critics, most can draw the conclusion that his faith in God was never a joking matter to his main audience. Even though he was known to divulge into the spiritual realm and express his heart for God, he never succeeded in balancing his involvements with secularism with his spiritual side; which probably resulted in his untimely death on April Fool’s Day, the day before his 45th birthday, in 1984. Find it even more fascinating when you hear that his father Marvin Gay, Sr., whom shot and killed him after a heated argument, was also a licenced minister.

Gaye’s career took on many transitions and transformations that helped explains how Gaye endured with popularity, even while music took on its share of alterations. Even though Gaye embraced the sounds of Nat "King" Cole during his early years at Motown, Berry Gordy, founder and CEO of the independent black music empire, persuaded Gaye to cater more to R&B. The idea worked and helped launch Gaye into a series of hits which included "You’re A Wonderful One", "Stubborn Kind Of Fellow", "Hitch Hike" and "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)". But even in the midst of all of this, he had the heart and passion to pull out a few, rare spiritual songs in the process, such as the moving rendition of "His Eye Is On The Sparrow" which can be found exclusively on the double-CD project "The Very Best Of Marvin Gaye" (2001). As the Vietnam War escalated with terror and no trace of its conclusion, Marvin indulged himself further into his music; as a way of escaping the realities of the time. All of his crafty escapism eventually failed when he lost his dear friend and duet partner Tammi Terrell with her bout with a serious brain tumor in 1970. Her death left Gaye deeply shaken, but would help usher Gaye into his most prized musical offering ever assembled; "What’s Going On" (1972). This album was a landmark effort which many claim was the re-invention of soul music. It was a social, political and spiritual suite that continues to prove its enduring worth after all these years. But it was his spiritual views that lead this album into its intense posture for change with his urgent address to environmental woes, military turbulence, urban decay and poverty. It seems like every issue of the day was tackled on this one amazing musical offering and Gaye was unashamed of his attempts of dealing with them in his music. "Wholy Holy", a song co-written by Gaye that Aretha Franklin is best known for reintroducing to the world on her "Amazing Grace" project, appears for the first time on here. "God Is Love" reveals Gaye’s love for Christ Jesus in the most compassionate way. "Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler)" showcases Gaye’s desire for new direction in the ghetto as he becomes somewhat of a political tour de force on this popular track. Though many will cherish the title cut of all of the offerings here, each song has become as important as the next track. "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)", the environmental conversation piece of the whole project, bears a prayer-like structure to it, even though it never comes off with the intensity of a sermon. These words ring the loudest: "Oh mercy mercy me/Oh, things ain't what they used to be no, no/Where did all the blue sky go?/Poison is the wind that blows from the north and south and east." It speaks of the turbulence of the times, but it is true concern. And what is ironic about the song is its eerie conclusion which floats into a swelling orchestration, with few vocal runs from Gaye. Then it ends as if the song has no answer...mere darkness...completely odd. This pretty much proves, of course, that Gaye was genius, but that he also wrestled with his own share of demons and problems inwardly. And that was surely conveyed in his own music.
After that breathtaking album, you see and hear more of Gaye’s spiritual foundations, even in the most unpredictable moments of his musical career.

Remember "Let’s Get It On"? The loosely, seductive composition of all of Gaye’s popular songs? While it floats as a celebration of sex, it unexpectedly runs smack-face into his infatuations with his faith. He then asks his lover if she understands what it means to be "sanctified". This isn’t the only time Marvin gets this charismatic on record.


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