20 YEARS AGO TODAY
So if the picture I paint makes me a sinner or makes me a saint I won't try, no not I, to deny it." — Marvin Gaye, "Dream of a Lifetime"
When the television special honouring Motown's 45th anniversary is recorded Sunday night in Los Angeles, poignancy will be mixed with celebration for the record label whose motto was "The Sound of Young America."
So many of the young and outrageously talented artists who created that sound are now gone.
Four of the five original Temptations are dead, as are original members of the Supremes, the Four Tops and the Miracles, Tammi Terrell, Mary Wells… the list sadly goes on, but the most notable absence will be that of Motown's prince and its biggest-selling artist, the incomparable Marvin Gaye.
Today, Thursday 1st April will be the 20th anniversary of Gaye being shot to death by his father. Friday would have been his 65th birthday.
Like many who remember where they were when they first heard about Kennedy or John Lennon, I remember very vividly where I was in 1984 on hearing about Marvin’s murder on the news.
Marvin, dead? Killed by his father? The day before his birthday?
My mind wrapped itself around one of his most famous lyrics, "Father, Father, we don't need to escalate; For only love can conquer hate."
Had Gaye merely been a singer, his remarkable voice with its astonishing range would have been enough to earn him his status as a soul icon. But he also was a versatile and innovative songwriter, producer and musician, and an artist of unflinching candor.
He could be erotic with "Let's Get it On" or prophetic with "What's Going On."
His version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" before the 1984 NBA All-Star Game in Philadelphia which had the crowd clapping in tune is the ONLY soulful rendition ever performed.
Except for one notable exception, most of his albums explored the relationships between men and women and the sometimes sacred, sometimes treacherous grounds on which they're built.
Perhaps more than any other singer, Marvin Gaye's name is invoked in songs by other artists as being synonymous with romance — in lyrics like, "Let's play some Marvin Gaye," or "Listening to Marvin all night long."
His 1973 album, "Let's Get It On," is a masterpiece of seduction and one of the most sensual albums ever recorded. His duets with close friend Terrell set the standard for the romantic R&B duet.
The notable exception to his focus on romance was one of the greatest albums ever recorded, 1971's "What's Going On," a socially conscious concept album that gave beautiful, eloquent and visionary witness to poverty, inequality, the Vietnam War, the environment, drug abuse and spiritual longing.
Gaye was a troubled man. He was married and divorced twice. His first wife was 17 years older than he was, and his second wife was 17 years younger.
He had run-ins with the IRS, suffered from insecurities, depression, cocaine addiction and a lifelong conflict with his father.
But we remember him because of his genius, heart and insight.
We listen to him (some of us every day) because Marvin Gaye was a supremely gifted artist who painted songs that makes us want to say over and over again in amazement: mercy, mercy me.