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

A Deepening Maze

Marvin’s brother Frankie was flattered that our son was named after him. But he confided in me that he also expressed bewilderment. He couldn’t understand why Marvin was going out of his way to help the other Frankie—Frankie Beverly—and not him.

“I know he wants to help you,” I said, recognizing the love and mutual admiration between the two brothers. “But right now he’s really busy.”

“Not too busy to get Beverly and his band a meeting with Capitol Records. I heard they already have a deal.”

“You know your brother,” I said. “He adores Stevie Wonder. He knows that Stevie idolizes him. He knows that if it weren’t for What’s Going On, Stevie wouldn’t have found the courage to take on Berry and produce his own records. Marvin loves those records. We listen to them night and day. But every time Stevie wins another Grammy, Marvin sinks into a depression. All these years and all these hits, he’s never won one—not for ‘Grapevine,’ not for ‘What’s Going On,’ not for ‘Let’s Get It On.’ He can’t help but feel competitive with Stevie. Or, for that matter, with you. That’s his nature. You were the one who first told me that your brother was haunted by insecurities.”

“He is, but at the cost of others. Seems like the ones closest to him—those of us who love him most—are the ones who wind up getting most hurt.”

“He speaks of you lovingly,” I said. “I promise you he does.”

“And that’s how he speaks of you, Jan. But is he letting you sing? Is he doing anything to help you build a career free of him?”

“I don’t want to be free of him.”

“He knows that and he uses that. He wants you—he wants me, he wants our mother and father and everyone around him—to be dependent on him. That way he controls us.”

“You make him out to be so manipulative. You make him out to be almost evil, Frankie.”

“He has more love in his heart than anyone I know. But he also has all this fear. And the fear takes the form of control. If he feels like he’s in control, the fear subsides.”

“So what can we do?” I asked.

“Wait,” said Frankie. “Wait and hope that with all his crazy success he’ll feel more confident and not have to shut us out.”

“I don’t feel like he’s shutting me out,” I said.

“He loves you, Jan. He loves his babies. That’s how it should be. It’s a beautiful time in his life. You’ve brought out so much beauty in him. I’m just praying that he can feel worthy of this beauty. Because if he doesn’t, if the devil stays in his ear and tells him that he’s not worthy, he’ll do what he always does.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Find a way to turn heaven into hell.”

Meanwhile, Marvin was deeply involved with his wife. Yes, the involvement concerned divorce; and yes, the divorce grew more acrimonious by the day; and yes, Marvin was infuriated by her legal assaults. But from my point of view, the truth was that he was still passionately engaged with Anna, even if the engagement had assumed a malicious tone. As a result of the furious warfare, Anna was receiving far more of Marvin’s attention than me.

There were still sunny days and moonlit nights when we were alone together. There was still passionate love. There were drives up the coast with our family of four in the camper. There were stops along the ocean’s edge, the kids playing in the sand, Marvin and me filled with joy at the sight of our precious angels.

Marvin was a proud and doting father. I was an affectionate and protective mother. I loved those babies with all my heart; couldn’t have loved them more.

There were long nights at his Sunset studio where, again and again, Marvin returned to record the love ballads that excited his soul.

But there was also a negative undercurrent, very subtle, not always apparent. Case in point was Marvin’s relationship with Frankie Beverly.

“He’s coming to town to meet with Capitol at the end of week,” Marvin told me one afternoon. “I think it’d be nice if you picked him up at the airport.”

The suggestion took me by surprise.

“Why me?” I asked.

“You guys are buds. You introduced me. You’re his girl.”

“No, I’m not!”

“You know he wants you,” said Marvin.

“He’s not my type. He’s too hairy.”

“Right,” he responded with wicked sarcasm.

“Marvin, why are you starting up this mess?”

“Mess?”

“Yes, mess. Just be nice. Be cool.”

“I still want you to pick him up at the airport.”

“I will,” I said, “if you back off.”

For the rest of the week Marvin went out of his way to shun me, especially during the midnight hour when I hoped my frilly negligees would lure him to bed. Yet he regarded me indifferently.

“What’s wrong?” I wanted to know.

“Nothing’s wrong. Just wanna go out and shoot a few hoops.”

“At this time of night?”

“I have energy to spare.”

“I love your energy,” I said, hoping that he’d say, I love yours.

Instead he said, “Save your energy for Frankie.”

“You won’t even look at me,” I said, dropping the negligee to my waist. My breasts were still firm and, while not as perfectly sculpted as when we’d met three years ago, surely they were alluring.

Yet Marvin wouldn’t look. He was out the door and headed for the basketball court, leaving me to consider all that was wrong with me.

His rejection stung. In his eyes, I did not appear in the least desirable. At the same time, he did not relent in his insistence that I pick up Frankie Beverly at the airport.

Well, if Marvin wasn’t turned on by me, Frankie was. And, in anticipation of picking him up, I dressed accordingly. I wore a revealing red sleeveless leotard and tight jeans that showed every last curve. The outfit excited me. I wanted the outfit to excite Marvin, but he had left the house. He had continued to avert his eyes from me.

I wanted Frankie’s eyes on me. I wanted the absolute reassurance from another man that, after birthing two children, I was still desirable.

I was only half conscious of the fact that Marvin had understood my emotional vulnerability. He perceived my need to be appreciated. And by not appreciating me—and encouraging me to seek such appreciation from Frankie—he had set me up. He had set up a scenario in which misery would prevail.

Driving to the Burbank airport in my Benz, I was anything but miserable. I was wary yet stimulated by the danger ahead. When I pulled the car up to the curb where Frankie was waiting with his luggage, I waved to him and flashed a big smile.

“Not sure I’m worthy of such personal service,” he said.

“Marvin insisted,” I said.

“Marvin’s the man.”

I felt Frankie’s eyes all over me. I put down the top and headed out on the highway. My hair was down, my curls bouncing in the breeze.

“You look fantastic,” he said.

“You must be happy about your deal,” I rejoined in a weak attempt to change the subject. “I don’t see how Raw Soul can miss.”

“There’s no more Raw Soul,” he said.

“What happened to the band?”

“The band’s the same. The name’s changed.”

“I always liked Raw Silk better.”

“We’re going to be Maze.”

“Wow. That’s different.”

“Marvin’s idea.”

“He didn’t mention it to me.”

“I’m surprised. I thought he told you everything. Did he tell you that he’s invited us to open some shows for him?” asked Frankie.

“No, but I think that’s great.”

“He’s a prince.”

“He is,” I said, still feeling the heat of Frankie’s gaze.

As we rode the rest of the trip in silence, I was certain that the connection between Frankie and me was powerful. His attraction to my body had me feeling powerful. And heady.

The joint he offered added to my headiness. The smoke melted what little tension remained between us. I drove us back to Hidden Hills, where Marvin was waiting. I then made myself scarce.

My mind was reeling. I didn’t want to do right. But I also didn’t want to do wrong. Something in my head said that Marvin was pushing me to do wrong. He’d delight in my wrong. But wrong was wrong and right was right.

It was only right to avoid Frankie.

Marvin was the man I loved, the father of my children, and the reason my life was worth living. I couldn’t conceive of any life other than the one I was living with Marvin. I couldn’t risk losing him, even if he was the one provoking me to take that risk.

Motown was provoking Marvin. The label had no choice. His contract demanded that he turn in a new product. When he allowed the label execs to hear the ballads on which he had lavished such loving artistry, I saw that they were unimpressed. They didn’t consider it new product. These were old tracks, after all, that he had been reworking for years. Besides, they had no currency in the marketplace of the mid-seventies. In the view of the suits, the collection did not contain even a hint of a hit single. I heard them tell Marvin that he was wasting his time. He needed to get off his cloud, come down to earth, and give his fans another “Let’s Get It On.”

“Is Miles Davis’s label telling him to come up with a hit record?” asked Marvin.

“Miles is a jazz artist,” the execs responded. “Jazz is different. Jazz is an experimental art.”

“Art is art,” Marvin responded. “Miles goes where all true artists go. He goes further out because that’s where his muse takes him.”

“Miles’s market has nothing to do with yours.”

“And markets have nothing to with anything,” Marvin snapped back. “Miles is looking for the truth, for a way to awaken man’s mind to something other than markets.”

Miles Davis was, in fact, in touch with Marvin. I heard them speak about a project. The conversation was easy; the two men were in sync. They came to a quick agreement to record together. Nothing would be prearranged—no orchestrations, no advance song selections. Improvisation would be given free rein. They would create in the Eternal Now. Marvin was convinced that this, more than another commercial outing, was exactly the nourishment his artistic soul was seeking.

But Miles, like Marvin, was a proud man with a sturdy ego. He wanted Marvin to come to New York to record. Marvin preferred that Muhammad come to the mountain—that Miles venture to California and work at Marvin’s own studio. I witnessed the negotiations breaking down. The meeting of the two masters never happened. If it had, what miraculous music would have been made!

Now without Miles and without Motown’s interest in Marvin’s extravagant treatment of standards, what would happen next?

“It’s another Marvin standoff,” brother Frankie told me. “Just like he’s relishing this standoff with Anna, he’ll push this standoff with Motown as far as he can. He’ll push them to the point where they’ll threaten to sue if he doesn’t turn in some new tracks.”

Then, suddenly, fate intervened. In the course of a few hours, I saw the script flipped. Motown gave Marvin a set of tracks created by another Motown artist that caught Marvin’s ear, awakened his imagination, and spoke to his wildest erotic fantasies.

Just like that, a new Marvin Gaye suite of songs—by far his most sensuous—was underway.