Mercy, Mercy, Me
The Art, Loves and Demons of Marvin Gaye
– Michael Eric Dyson (Basic Civitas Books)
by Yugen Fardan Rashad
He left behind a legion of fans. An adoring public. A family to mourn the loss. Questions about his personal demons and spiritual life linger to this day. Self destructive drug use and philandering ways with women. A dichotomous body of music that shifted from secular decadence to spiritual reconciliation. And it was the music of Marvin Pentz Gaye, Jr. that captures the episodic and, sonic vacillations of one of soul music’s most virulent artists. A body of sustained melody that also validates his humanity during his too short sojourn among us that ended tragically on April 1st, 1984.
A number of books that range from well to poorly written chronicle aspects of his life, love, and loathsome artistic odyssey that took Gaye to the top of the R&B and pop charts, with Motown Records in tow. He paid a tremendous price to be crowned Prince of Motown; Battles with record executives, family, and drugs; all handled with candor, and outright grandiloquence, that marked Gayes private and professional life.
Three of the books are: Ben Edmonds – Whats Going On? Marvin Gaye And The Last Days Of The Motown Sound; Frankie Gays w/Fred E. Basten – Marvin Gaye, My Brother, and Michael Eric Dyson – Mercy, Mercy Me – The Art, Loves & Demons of Marvin Gaye. The latter provides a witness account of Gaye’s life.
Mr. Dyson uses interviews, anecdote, and the scholarship he’s known for to configure the life and times of an artist that came and went to abruptly. Dyson’s intellect guides the reader down the alleys of Gaye’s descent, to the heights of his greatest triumphs, and ultimately to that fateful day when tempers flared between father and son: “…Father, father, father – there’s far to many of us dying…” (A lyric from his greatest single that sadly became a self-fulfilling prophecy).
Fans will love reading juxtaposition between recording dates and anecdote, during the creative process in the studio for albums like What’s Going On, Let’s Get It On, and I Want You. Here you get the artist at his absolute rawest, and surreal moments when the line blurs between the personal and the musician. For example, how the recording session of Let’s Get It On became a public courtship that found him singing to his future bride, Janice Hunter. This was a time when Gaye’s eroticism took center stage in contrast to the more political, social prose of Whats Going On. “Let’s Get It On” also marked a return to the stage image groomed of him by Motown as sex god. In addition, Dysons book snapshots Gaye’s roller coaster ride marriage to his first wife, Anna Gordy.
This episode is adroitly captured by Gaye’s most intimate and salient recording, Here, My Dear. An album he reluctantly made as alimony payment in his divorce from Anna Gaye-Gordy, sister of Motown mogul Berry Gordy, Jr.
There are a number of dark secrets, and surprises, too. The two other books also provide pieces of the puzzle that was Marvin Gaye. However, from Dyson’s perch, we obtain historical relevance and depth he’s known to produce with his writings.
But not to give too much away, be encouraged to buy the book MERCY, MERCY ME, by Michael Eric Dyson, available online at amazon.com or in the Portland, Oregon area at Talking Drum Coffee Shop and Book Store (Call Gloria at 503 288-4070.)