After the Dance: My Life With Marvin Gaye - Jan Gaye (2015)

Raw Soul

After the birth of Nona, I was alarmed by my weight gain. I had lost my perfect shape. My bodily imperfections had an enormous impact not only on my sense of self-worth, but also on my relationship with Marvin. My body had been my currency, my greatest asset. Marvin had loved to praise my physical beauty. When that praise stopped and criticism began, I fell into fear. He said that he loved me as the mother of his child but was no longer in love with me. Those words shocked and stung. Why this sudden change? Where was this coming from? I was too taken aback to reply.

“You need to lose some weight, dear,” he said.

I panicked. Lose the weight, I thought, or lose Marvin.

I hit the gym and worked out religiously to get down to 126 pounds. The weight loss afforded me some comfort and seemed to please Marvin, but there was another body issue that caused me even more alarm.

One day when I was shopping with my mother and trying on clothes, I stood in front of a full-length mirror in a dressing room. I took off my top and saw these pronounced red marks below my navel.

“Mom!” I cried. “What the hell are these?”

“Stretch marks.”

“Will they go away?”

“Of course not. They’re something to be proud of. Badges of motherhood.”

“I hate them.”

“All women hate them. That’s only natural, baby. But you’ll get used to them.”

“I want to get rid of them.”

“I’ve read that doctors are working on certain kinds of surgeries, but I’m not sure it’s all been perfected yet. We can look into it if you want to, but it’s easier just to accept them.”

But would Marvin?

The answer was no, not entirely. My once-ideal form was blemished. The imperfections bothered him. The weight was gone, but the stretch marks remained.

“Surely there is a way to rid yourself of those things,” he said one night.

His words were harsh, as though I appeared repugnant to him.

“My mother and I have looked into some possibilities, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll be effective. I’m not crazy about the idea of plastic surgery.”

Marvin just smiled. The smile drove me a little mad. He wasn’t insisting that I have surgery, but at the same time he was hardly supportive of my current condition.

Days passed. Then weeks. He touched me less even as I yearned for him more. I needed reassurance, affection, attention. I feared that my postpartum condition would permanently turn him off. Postpartum depression started to weigh me down.

When Marvin and I did sleep together, the sex was less satisfying. The bloom was off the rose.

“Come up for the weekend,” said my sister Cass, who lived in the Bay Area. “There’s a band I want you to hear.”

Cass was five years older than me. She and I had different mothers but were both daughters of Slim Gaillard. We were thick as thieves.

Getting away for a minute sounded good. I thought it might lift my postpartum blues. Besides, Cass was fun. As Slim’s child, it was no surprise that she liked to party.

I left Nona with Mom and got the okay from Marvin to spend the weekend with my sister. I flew up to San Francisco, where Cass picked me up and whisked me back to her place. A beauty with a stunning figure, Cass got dolled up for the evening. Not to be outdone, I put together a knockout outfit myself.

Party time.

“What’s the band called?”

“Raw Soul.”

“And they’re that good?”

“Better than good. Dynamite. I’m in love with the lead singer,” said Cass, not at all concerned with the fact that she was married.

I breathed in the night air. The hills of San Francisco were beautiful. The city felt alive.

“Feels good,” I said. “I haven’t been out in a while.”

“You gotta get out more.”

“It’s hard to do. We had the Pie so quickly. And with my daughter came big responsibilities.”

“I’m surprised he let you come up here.”

“He’s not my dad.”

“He acts like it sometimes.”

“Come on, Cass. You make it sound like I’m his hostage.”

“Look, Sis, I’m thrilled for you, I really am. You won the heart of one of the world’s most talented men. But I also know that guys like that are possessive as the devil.”

“Marvin’s different. He’s basically spiritual.”

“I think he’s basically sexual.”

“You hardly know him. You’ve only met him a couple of times.”

“I knew it the first five minutes I was with him. I felt it. All women do. Why do you think he’s so popular?” asked Cass.

“His voice.”

“His looks.”

I flashed back to the first time Marvin looked at Cass. There was no doubt that he was attracted—and vice versa. But they both had the good sense to leave it alone. I was grateful. The last thing I wanted was to compete with my sister. At the same time, I couldn’t deny the sibling rivalry.

When it came to other women wanting Marvin, I had my guard up all the time. I was always asking myself: Do I look as good as them? Do I dress as well?

Cass and I arrived at the club, called the Scene. Raw Soul was already on the bandstand. The place was jam-packed. It was a young crowd. The vibe was casual, the ambience cool. Cass led me to a spot near the band. Men took note of the two super-sexy women sashaying through the club. I liked the attention. It’d been a long while since I’d been appreciated. I was back in form. I accepted a joint from Cass and took a hit.

Mellow high. Mellow crowd. And most mellow of all, the band. Their groove was kicked-back, tight-and-right R&B. A different sound.

The lead singer had soul to spare. Slender of build, short of stature, he was a cool brother. Short-cropped beard. Dark bedroom eyes. I couldn’t help but notice him noticing me. Cass noticed the same thing.

“His name is Frankie Beverly,” Cass told me. “He’s already taken. He’s mine.”

“I wasn’t even thinking . . .”

“You were looking.”

“You’re high,” I said.

“Everyone here is high. They’re funky, aren’t they?”

“They’re bad.”

“Frankie wants to meet you,” said Cass.

After the first set, we went back to the dressing room, where it was clear that Frankie Beverly wanted to meet Marvin.

“He’s my hero,” said the singer, his eye on both of us.

“I’m going to let him know how much I love the band,” I said. “I’m gonna try and get him up here to see you.”

“That would be in-in-in-incredible,” said Frankie, who spoke with a slight stutter. “I don’t know how to t-t-t-t-thank you.”

“Thank me,” said Cass, “for introducing you to my sister.”

“She’s a cool sista,” said Beverly.

“We’re outta here,” said Cass, whisking me out of the dressing room, out of the club, into the car, and back into the San Francisco night.

The excursion helped my frame of mind. Hanging at the club, hearing the band, meeting the singer, being seen and desired by men had done wonders for my sinking spirit. And, to be honest, I found Mr. Beverly extremely sexy.

I returned to LA to find Marvin in a good mood. He was talking about buying a house far out in the country. While Motown was putting pressure on him to plan a new album, his only plan was to escape Hollywood.

“I need time between projects,” he told me as we drove out to the foothills of the San Fernando Valley, some forty miles from Los Angeles, where a real estate agent was going to show us a home. “I need the well to fill back up.”

“That’s good, Marvin,” I said. “Take your time.”

“I will, dear. I’m not some music machine churning out hits. That’s Berry’s way—the assembly-line Motown method. I can’t be pressured. I won’t be. We need space between us and them.”

I was gratified that he said we and not I. Nona and I were part of his plans. We were now his family. The home he envisioned was for the new and calm domestic life he yearned to live.

The home appeared perfect. It was in Hidden Hills, a small community of luxurious but tasteful suburban homes on enormous lots with paths for horses running through the community.

“I love the name,” Marvin said softly. “Hidden Hills. It is here where we will hide and live happily ever after.”

“I love the house,” I said as we inspected the property, which sat on five acres on Long Valley Road. The ranch-style design was casual. There was a swimming pool, hot tubs, and horse stables. What caught Marvin’s eye, though, was the regulation-size basketball court.

“We’ll buy the house,” he told the agent even before being told the price. “My management will be in touch.”

Marvin was on a buying streak. There was property in Jamaica, a ranch in Round Mountain, a place in Lake Tahoe. There were all sorts of cars—a Cadillac, a Mercedes, a Rolls-Royce, a Jaguar, an Excalibur, not to mention a motor home and a van.

“The motor home is for us and the kids,” he told me. “We need to have another baby.”

I watched Marvin’s moods swing from despondency to ebullience. When he was down, he sulked and spoke of the hopeless condition of the world. He claimed that the devil was winning the war with God. When he was up—like today—his spirit was bright and loving. God was in charge. All was good. Why not spend money on a better life for those he loved most?

On the ride back to the city, Marvin praised my beauty, expressed his love for me, and gave gratitude for the ways in which I had enhanced his life. We held hands. For the moment, he seemed to have forgotten that only days before he had said he was no longer in love with me. I saw no reason to remind him of that painful statement. I was thrilled to see that he had changed his mind.

“I want to know about your trip to see Cass,” he said. “You said something about a band. You couldn’t stop talking about them.”

“That’s because they were great,” I said. “Great band. Great singer. He idolizes you. He wants you to hear him.”

“And you think they’re happenin’?”

“I know they are.”

“Then maybe we’ll make a quick trip up the coast to see them.”

“You won’t be sorry.”

The trip happened in a hurry. The meeting between the soul men was magical. Frankie was enamored of Marvin’s genius but professional enough not to be intimidated by his presence at the Scene. Frankie and his band performed flawlessly.

“Raw Soul isn’t the right name,” Marvin said afterward. “These cats are smooth as silk.”

“That’s what I said,” I asserted, elated that Marvin loved the group as much as I did.

After the show, the smooth grooves of the music were reflected in the rhythm of the banter between Marvin and Frankie. I saw how the men were in sync. They both loved to lay back, enjoy a smoke, and engender a laugh. They were both quick to praise the other’s creativity.

Marvin promised to help Frankie find a deal with a major label.

“Who are you going to take them to?” I asked Marvin when we were back in their hotel room.

“Not Motown. I have enough competition at Motown. Frankie’s better off at another label. But don’t fret, dear, I will help your boyfriend.”

“He is not my boyfriend.”

“I saw him looking at you. I saw you looking at him.”

“I was only looking because Cass is in love with the guy. Cass is already sleeping with him. He’s a cute little guy—that’s all.”

I tried to deny my attraction but didn’t get far. Strangely, though, Marvin did not appear upset. He seemed excited by the prospect. It was the kind of potential drama on which his dark side fed.

That same night when we made love, he was aroused beyond his normal passion. I was thrilled to see that his desire had been restored.

“I love you so much,” I whispered.

“I love you, dear, but can’t help but wonder one small thing.”

“Tell me.”

“When we were in the throes of all this sweet ecstasy, were you really thinking of me . . . or were you fantasizing about him?”

“‘Him’? Who?”

“Little man, of course.”

Oh boy, I thought, here we go.

“I was only thinking of you, Marvin. I promise, I swear.”

“I can’t believe you’re not haunted by that fantasy.”

“Why not? He’s fucking my sister and I’m with you. Hello!”

Our verbal wrestling match continued until we got tired of squabbling and went back to making sweet love.