On April 1, 1984, Marvin Gaye was shot and killed by his father following an altercation at the family home in the West Adams district of Los Angeles, California. His death plunges millions of fans into mourning as they struggle to find a logical explanation for an illogical tragedy. Gaye left behind two former wives and several children. His second Janice later published her own book about her life with Gaye ‘After the Dance ‘. Thirty-two years have passed since his death but he remains an music icon and was formally inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
On stage he captivated audiences and sold out arenas, but behind the scenes there existed a dark, cynical and disturbed side to Gaye. A musical genius cursed with a self-destructive nature, he lived his life in a Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde existence that confused even those closest to him. On many occasions, he struggled to maintain the fine line between genius and insanity. David Ritz became friends with Gaye during the 1970s and has compiled his memories of his time with Marvin adding them to what is a phenomenal biography of one of music’s greatest singers.
Taking us back to Marvin’s childhood, we bear witness to the dysfunctional environment in which a young Marvin is forced to mature in. His last name and cross-dressing father served as the basis for a life of inner turmoil from which Gaye often sought relief in the use of recreational drugs. Their toxic relationship never improved and ended on a deadly note. In spite of his trouble upbringing, he found his voice in music and his breakout with Motown highlighted a critical time in his life. His marriage to Anna Gordy and battle with Berry Gordy over the release of ‘What’s Going On’ reveal the continuing struggle he faced in becoming his own artist.
A divorce, the death of Tami Terrell, marriage to Janice, only 16 at the time of their first date and his escalating use of drugs formed the basis of a pyramid of instability. And like Janice’s memoir, Ritz also focuses on Gaye’s mental state which changes repeatedly. And for all of his success, he never finds peace even up until he takes his final breath. Some have said that for Marvin death was his way out. He is no longer with us and cannot inform us what he was truly thinking at the time.
For those who are diehard Marvin Gaye fans, parts of this book will be tough to read. His music touched millions and sounds as incredible today as it di when it was recorded more than 30 years ago. But any great biography has to be as neutral as possible and include all parts of the subject’s life. Marvin was at times his own worst enemy but a musical genius who left behind a number of great sons that are still played today. This is his story, the good, the bad and ultimately the tragic.