Friday, July 22, 2005

Mercy Mercy Me: The Theology Of Marvin Gaye Pt. II

Where we left off? Almost forgot.

Marvin Gaye records the triumphant musical masterpiece, "What’s Going On" and merits thousands of accolades for its diversity and courageous theological foundations, which before was unheard of in soul or R&B music. And while Marvin Gaye was being trumpeted for being an activist in some odd way against racism, and preached global fairness, economical, Marvin suffered in attempting to write songs that compared to his former success. He suffered writer’s block; which normally happens after you poured out your best previously and aim to reinvent the same success. "Trouble Man" is his finest of his compositions during this time of frustration and proved to be a success. It was fun for Marvin since he allowed him to revisit his early days and desires to relive the sound of Nat King Cole. His ultimate dream was to pursue jazz music and this was his chance. It was a heavy mix of jazz and swing-time blues, glossed up with funky horn and string orchestration popularized by Issac Hayes’ Shaft movement.

But then we already discussed "Let’s Get It On": the sensual Quiet Storm classic that continues to gain favor through the pillars of time. But before we continue with Marvin Gaye’s theological approaches and precepts, don’t forget the closing remarks on that song from Marvin asking his lover if she knows what it means to be "sanctified". Could this be a crafty innuendo or is Marvin just playing around with religious terms? Some believe the former and some even believe Marvin is just revealing his demons and inner issues on vinyl, but time would later tell a different story.

Throughout the bulk of the mid and late 70s, Marvin creeps disco with ease and showcases his imminent presence of survival from the various musical shifts of the time. He survived funk, disco, pop/rock, adult contemporary and punk. And he remained true to his soulish roots.
There is a funny story that goes with his classic take on disco, "Got To Give It Up". Berry Gordy was anxious for Marvin to record a disco record; or at least a disco song. Marvin rebelled. Gordy had an ear for what the public demanded and urged all of his artists to take their swing at the popular fad of the late 70s. Issued on the "Live at the London Palladium" album in 1977, Marvin wrote and recorded "Got To Give It Up" and it burst to the #1 slot on both the R&B and pop charts. It was the most dreadful decision Marvin hated to do. His distaste for disco was strong. Probably because of its visible associations with drugs, promiscuous sex and even homosexuality, but it was there. Everyone at Motown knew that Marvin did no want to do a disco album or song. He also didn’t want to be pigeon-holed into the disco category: he was a soul artist and wanted to remain just that. Even though his heart’s desire was to become a jazz artist, he had grown more comfortable with his soul imagery during this time.

Marvin faced yet another downfall in his personal life: the divorce from Anna Gordy Gaye (sister of Berry Gordy). And the final settlements were severe. So severe that she would receive an extensive percentage of royalties as well as a portion of the advance for his next album. Because of the mental anguish Marvin experienced through this horrific ordeal, Marvin records "Here, My Dear": the pivotal project capturing perfect gruesome imageries of divorce and the heartbreak of love. At least in the eyes of Marvin Gaye. Some even wondered how Marvin could release such a project about Berry Gordy’s sister on the Motown label with approval from Berry himself. But the two-disc collection made it to the record stands and features tough lyrics on the demise of the relationship. This was Marvin’s way of expressing his hurts and pain. Gaye uses the album, right down to its packaging, to exorcize his personal demons with subtle visual digs and less-than-subtle lyrical attacks. It is even noted that within the inner sleeve of the 2-record collection there is a "pseudo-board-game-like illustration" entitled "Judgement," in which a man’s hand passes a record to a woman’s. One side of the sleeve has Gaye’s music and recording equipment, while the other side of the board includes jewelry and other luxurious artifacts. The divorce was that brutal and Marvin displayed that perfectly on record. This also allowed another gateway for individuals to see the inner emotions and fears of the real Marvin Gaye. But it wouldn’t be the last.

Rampant drug use ranging from marijuana and cocaine began to invade Marvin’s life. On his autobiographical musical collection entitled "In Our Lifetime" (1981), Marvin chooses to dwell on his religious concerns while dealing with "party-like" themes. On the cover, there is a picture of cartoon forms of two individuals bearing the likeness of Gaye in both angel and devil outfits. They are both fixed in mid-air, seeming like they are having a roundtable discussion in flight. Individuals that picked up this project should have had a clue that Marvin’s theological beliefs were close for personal examination. "Ego Trippin Out" reveals his denouncing of the drugs that he noticed was only doing him wrong. In a certain lyric, Marvin sings, "The toot and the smoke won’t fulfill my the need." Immediately following that track, a perky, upbeat song entitled "Praise" is heard. It opens up with lyrical notice to a person referenced as "baby" and sweetly sings "let your love come shining through". It’s not a preachy track, but when one listens carefully to the closing vamp, Marvin goes into a gospel-like formation of praise and adoration to another individual. One higher than a sweetheart. More on a spiritual level. Believed to also be somewhat autobiographical, it is a picture of a brother’s search for love and then his attention shifts to God. For His goodness and grace. He even cites "praise Him when you got no dime, praise Him come rain or shine, praise Him when you’re feeling bad, praise Him when you’re feeling sad." Another spiritual moment can be found on "Love Me Now Or Love Me Later" finds Gaye comparing and examining good and evil.

Before Marvin Gaye’s untimely death, he released "Sexual Healing": the ode of serenity for Marvin’s very soul. It was what he wanted, but proved to be unattainable. His life would eventually creep to its erupt ending on April Fool’s Day, 1984. The fight between father and son proved to be colossal. Gaye’s return to cocaine addiction and psychosis after his new career jump with Columbia/CBS Records after disbanding Motown all together left him in the midst of the fight for his life. That life would be taken by his own father.

Unbelievably, in the midst of all of this havoc, Marvin was preparing material for his follow-up album to "Midnight Love" (the album that featured "Sexual Healing"). That material has been batched unto "Dream Of A Lifetime"; the only posthumous project of Marvin’s unreleased material. Since Marvin’s latter career showcased his struggles for spiritual awakening and deliverance, the ultimate revival of this development takes place on "Sanctified Lady". He wants a "sanctified lady, a good ol’ church girl, reads the Bible, to bring his children in the world that will say the name of Jesus". The background vocals in church choir formation pours out with spirited affection "Jesus, Jesus", while Marvin follows.

Marvin Gaye’s world still, to some, is hard to sum up in words. And if you were to deal with his spiritual dilemmas alone, you are bound to run across conflict and many contradictions. But you will discover one thing that is pretty obvious in all of his craftsmanship: that is he loves music, acknowledges it as being a spiritual instrument and possesses an intimate transparency throughout all his contributions. Within his soul and spirit was a enduring faith to hopefully overcome all of life’s odds. And his sensitivity to matters concerning God and salvation were never taken lightly. It remained just as important to him as the world that surrounded him. In no way was Marvin perfect, but he was human. A human with a humble heart and a sensitive soul.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Really good article. No one has looked at Marvin's life from the spiritual standpoint and you did a great job. I look forward to your indepth analysis of other artists.