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

Hawaii Is Heaven/Hawaii Is Hell

A big gig in Hawaii came at a fortunate time. Hawaii was where Marvin and I escaped the realities of a mainland where his financial empire had crumbled. It was only through the offices of Berry Gordy that Marvin was able to hold on to his studio and home. Gordy paid the IRS bill for Marvin while, at the same time, binding him to a new long-term contract.

“It’s humiliating to still be in Berry’s debt,” Marvin told me as we walked along the private beach in front of the Kahala Hilton on the island of Oahu.

“What other choice did you have?” I asked. “Who else would bail you out?”

“No one. That’s why the irony is so thick. I declared my independence from Berry long ago. That was the point of What’s Going On. Free myself of the Motown machine. Go my own way. Now look . . .”

“What I see, dear,” I said, “is that you’re still doing what you want to do, still making the music you want to make.”

“That will never change.”

“Then everything is all right.”

“Until Berry and Anna listen to Here, My Dear. How is he going to feel about putting out a record on his label that slams his own beloved older sister?”

“I told you,” I reminded Marvin, “that there are lyrics that went too far.”

Marvin chuckled. “Either way, Berry won’t be happy. He adores his sister. She has been as much a mother to him as she has been a mother to me. Now that I am casting aspersions on her, how can he not be pissed off?”

“But you have creative control. You can put out any record you want.”

“That, my dear, is exactly right. And I will.”

“And you’ll take care of all those money matters that your accountants say you can’t afford to ignore.”

“We can’t afford to ignore this splendid Pacific Ocean that calls to us like the Siren’s song. The spirit of the islands is on us. It’s calm and healing and soothing to our souls. This is where we need to be, Jan—far away from everyone.”

“It’ll be fun. The Jacksons are opening. You love them.”

“The Jacksons only make it worse. After Michael’s through dancing, the crowd will be ecstatic, and in no mood to hear me.”

“That’s not true. You and Michael are totally different,” I said.

“We are, but at the same time I do not underestimate Michael Jackson.”

“Michael idolizes you,” I said.

“But not enough to keep him from putting on a show that will put mine to shame.”

“Stop it!” I shouted. “You are Marvin Gaye!”

That night the kids had fallen asleep and Marvin and I were chilling in our suite. The windows were wide open. The tropical breeze was blowing strong.

A knock on the door.

“Who is it?” I asked. I looked through the peephole.

The high-pitched voice was tentative. “It’s Michael. If I’m disturbing you two, I’ll go away.”

I opened the door. “No, no . . . come on in, Michael. Hey, dear, look who’s here.”

“Hey, Mike,” said Marvin. “Pull up a chair. Have a toke.”

“Oh, no thanks,” said Michael, refusing the joint. “I don’t ever . . .”

“So I’ve heard. Well, that’s great. More power to you, brother. What’s happening?”

Twenty years old at the time, Michael fought his shyness to say, “I just wanted to come by and say hello to my favorite singer.”

“Love you too, Michael,” said Marvin.

“I wanted to know if I could come by the studio when we get home. You could give me some tips.”

“Man, I should be getting tips from you, Mike. You should be teaching me some of your moves.”

“They’re nothing.”

“They’re dynamite. I know Berry’s kicking himself for letting you guys off Motown. He should have met CBS’s price and then some. Are you happy over there at CBS?”

“Very. They finally gave us what you got from Mr. Gordy a long time ago—creative freedom. I tried to follow your lead, Marvin. My hope was that if you could write and produce your own material, I should be able to do the same. But Mr. Gordy didn’t see it that way.”

“Now radio won’t stop playing that dance hit of yours. What’s it called?”

“‘Shake Your Body Down to the Ground.’”

“Sing a few bars,” said Marvin. “Show me your moves. Let me see if I can follow.”

“Sure you can,” Michael reassured Marvin.

When Michael started singing, Marvin did his best to follow a few of Michael’s signature moves. He was not successful.

“Making a fool of myself,” said Marvin.

“You’re doing just fine,” Michael reassured him.

Michael kept singing as Marvin tried negotiating a few spins. Mocking his own attempts to keep up, Marvin broke out laughing.

“I’m hopeless,” he conceded.

“You’re great,” Michael exclaimed with a little giggle.

“I’ll never be Michael Jackson,” said Marvin.

“And I’ll never be Marvin Gaye,” said Michael.

As they hugged, I thought, This is a very cool moment to witness.

Michael’s visit did Marvin a world of good.

The concert came off beautifully. Marvin’s dance moves remained modest but effective. His singing was sweeter than ever. Even though the Jacksons were enjoying a huge pop hit at a time when Marvin was not on the charts, they treated him with great respect. After the show, Michael wanted to come back to the suite for another long hang with Marvin.

“Tell him another time,” Marvin instructed me. “I love Michael, but I want to be alone.”

When we returned to America, Marvin’s money problems continued to mount. Motown’s payment to the IRS satisfied only one creditor. There were many others. The only thing that could save Marvin was a blockbuster album. Yet the only music Marvin returned to after completing Here, My Dear—clearly not a blockbuster—was the collection of ballads that would eventually be titled Vulnerable.

“Vulnerability is the necessary condition for producing great art,” Marvin insisted. “The more vulnerable, the more human, the more honest the feelings.”

I saw how he felt especially vulnerable when it came to be time for Anna to listen to Here, My Dear, a month before it was released. That’s why he made sure not to be around when she came to the Sunset studio. Engineer Art Stewart was at the controls. For the entire time it took the two-disc album to play, Anna sat without expression as she listened to the story of her life with Marvin. When the last track—“Falling in Love Again”—was over, she got up, politely thanked Art for his time, and quickly left.

“What did she say?” I heard Marvin ask Art the next day.

“Nothing.”

“Was she okay?” he asked.

“I couldn’t tell,” said Art.

Weeks later there were rumors that Anna would sue for slander, but she never did.

In LA, Marvin’s world was increasingly pressure-packed. His money managers showed him that the only way he could hold on to the studio and the Hidden Hills home was to generate income immediately. That meant touring. When a promoter offered still another tour of Japan, Marvin refused. Still uncomfortable on planes, he hated the idea of a twelve-hour flight. When I suggested that we cut the trip in half by stopping over in Hawaii, Marvin’s eyes lit up.

“Not just a stopover, but stay a while,” he said. “Only this time let’s take the kids and go to Maui. Maui has a spiritual vibe that’s sure to chill us out.”

Marvin and I required a great deal of chilling out.

Although marrying my man was the fulfillment of a dream, the dream was dissipating before my very eyes. I wondered whether our vows had changed the chemistry. Was Marvin happier when he viewed me as his girlfriend rather than his wife? Did the formal institution of marriage feel restrictive to Marvin? Did it bring out the rebel in him? Did he see the commitment as another prison, just as he felt imprisoned by his long-term marriage to Anna?

Even worse, I worried that Marvin was simply tiring of me.

That’s why I hoped this trip to Hawaii might restore the romance that had been eroding.

In the beginning, there was a restoration of sorts. Maui did have a magical quality that put Marvin in a mellow mood. Seated on the balcony of our beachfront condo, we held hands as we looked at the landscape before us: the orange sun sinking into the green-blue sea, the gulls sweeping across the majestic sky, the distant mountains shrouded in mist.

Marvin put his arm around me and said, “We are blessed to be in paradise, aren’t we, dear?”

“Yes,” I said, my heart filled with the hope that this trip would ease the tension and bring us closer.

“I love you, dear,” he said.

“I love you, too.”

“I know you do, but things are changing.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that while I love you, I’m no longer certain that I am in love with you.”

I had heard him say this before—and then recant. It was his way of hurting me. I wanted to believe that he would recant again. But even if he would, to hear him doubt his love for me caused incredible pain. My heart sank. I thought my life was over. In my mind, I even saw him going back to Anna.

“I don’t understand,” I said, my heart pounding. “You always said our love is forever.”

“People change. Feelings change. Love changes.”

“Love should grow stronger. I know our love has.”

“Has it?” asked Marvin.

“Of course it has. You know it has.”

“All I know is that I see you differently, dear. There are changes in your character, changes in your body.”

“So that’s it—my body?”

“There’s a big difference between pleasure and excitement. As a man, I can’t help but seek excitement.”

“I’ve never stopped you. When you asked me if you could ‘ride out,’ you think I didn’t know where you were going? I knew you were going off to be with someone else.”

“This discussion isn’t going anywhere.”

The talk ended, but the pain lasted. The pain worsened.

With a dark cloud over our heads, the next day Marvin suggested we go out in the sunlight and visit a nude beach. Nona and Bubby were delighted to run around naked. Marvin was also not in the least self-conscious about shedding his clothes. But I was hesitant.

“Why?” Marvin asked me.

“You know why.”

“Your stretch marks?”

“I hate them,” I said.

“No one will notice,” Marvin tried to reassure me.

“I don’t care. I’m not taking off my bathing suit.”

“Then you’ll be out of place,” he said with an edge of disdain.

The hours spent on the nude beach proved difficult. Marvin made no secret of his appreciation of several women who, like me, were in their early twenties but, unlike me, displayed flawless bodies. I felt hurt and ashamed. Except for my legs, I kept my body covered. I tried to play it off like it wasn’t ripping me to pieces, but it was. I was dying inside, telling myself that I would never regain the figure that I’d once had. I was barely twenty-two, yet convinced that I had lost my youth forever.

Marvin didn’t help by saying my breasts were sagging. He remarked how the sun made my freckles that much more prominent. And when he pointed to another woman’s perfectly proportioned nose, I took that as a criticism of my own nose. If there was cruelty, the cruelty was camouflaged in Marvin’s peculiar mixture of slyness and charm.

The cutting comments increased during family outings to quaint towns like Lahaina and the beaches at Kaanapali and Kapalua. In a deserted section of the island, Marvin and I watched Nona and Bubby run through a beautiful open field, only to realize that the field was filled with psychedelic mushrooms. Afraid that our kids might be breathing in the spores, we gathered them up and hurried down the windswept coast, but not before we took our shrooms to go. A local taught me to mix the shrooms with honey to put in the tea that we drank twice a day.

The Maui trip became more entangled with the arrival of Marvin’s brother Frankie, sister Zeola, and mother, Alberta. Joining the entourage was the ever-affable Wally Amos. Marvin was one of the original investors in Wally’s Famous Amos chocolate-chip cookies. Jazz guitarist and pop singer George Benson, a longtime resident of Hawaii, also knocked on our door. Marvin and I were big Benson fans. He and Marvin shared a passion for the Bible and spent long hours discussing Scripture. George was a wonderful guide, graciously taking us to his favorite spots on the island.

All these people vied for Marvin’s time and attention. He welcomed the distractions.

“I thought we came here to be alone,” I said one night while Marvin and I were driving back to our condo in the midst of a punishing thunderstorm. The kids were in the backseat. We’d been to dinner with a large crowd of family and friends, each of whom had sought and secured Marvin’s ear for one request or another. Those requests almost always came with a price tag.

“What’s the point of being alone?” asked Marvin. “When we’re alone, all you do is harp at me.”

“And you ignore me.”

“I can’t stand your bitching!” Marvin screamed.

“I can’t stand your insults and your nasty attitude!” I screamed back.

“And I’m tired of you looking at other men!”

The fighting quickly escalated. At one point Marvin lost all control and began to wildly swerve the car.

“I’ll drive this thing off the road!” he screamed. “I swear I will!”

“Daddy, don’t!” Nona shouted. “Don’t kill us!”

I knew he wouldn’t—and he knew he wouldn’t—but the kids didn’t know that.

Marvin brought the car to a screeching halt.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” I asked. “What in God’s name were you thinking?”

He didn’t respond. Instead he just sat there behind the wheel, his face in his hands, reciting the Lord’s prayer.

“Our Father, who art in heaven . . .”