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

Betrayal

The first night that Marvin flew off and left me alone, the phone started ringing.

“What are you doing?” asked Frankie.

“I’m bored,” I said.

“Well, let’s just get together and hang out.”

“If we get together,” I said, “we could wind up doing more than talking.”

“That’s my hope.”

“Stop it,” I said.

I couldn’t help but laugh. I couldn’t help but feel the pressure, couldn’t help but fantasize about the pleasure, couldn’t help but enjoy the attention.

I closed my eyes. My imagination was on fire.

“I hear you thinking,” said Frankie. “You’re thinking what I’m thinking. See you tonight.”

Our kids were with island friends. It didn’t take long to pick out a provocative outfit—a white maxi dress. When Frankie showed up, he was wearing a black leather vest, no shirt, drawstring pants, and flip-flops.

We went to a quiet bar where we sat at a dark, secluded corner table and sipped wine.

A little later we were in his car, where we shared a joint. At his place we snorted more than a few lines. He approached me. I did not resist.

We both thought back to when Marvin had broken up our near connection the first time we’d been alone in a room together. Frankie worried that history might repeat itself.

“It won’t,” I said. “I drove him to the airport. I watched him get on the plane.”

“There are return flights.”

“He has a show.”

“He’s been known to cancel shows.”

“Not this time.”

Another joint and Frankie’s fears went up in smoke. He changed the tone of the conversation and admitted, “I’ve been dreaming of this.”

“Me too,” I confessed.

The lovemaking was intense.

For the first time in months, a man was whispering how deeply and completely I satisfied him.

But satisfaction was soon overwhelmed by guilt. And despite the thrill that came with the forbidden, I carried the great weight of betrayal.

The next day, I thought about both the thrill and the betrayal.

Part of the thrill came from my recognition that I had battled back in the war waged by Marvin. He had assaulted me with insults and called me undesirable. Now I could assault Marvin with the fact that another man had found me desirable.

Yet when Marvin returned, I was unable to attack him with the truth.

“Did he fuck you?” Marvin asked.

“No,” I lied.

Marvin detected the lie and pressed the case.

“Why can’t you say it?” he asked. “Why can’t you admit what you did? Why don’t you just say how much you loved it?”

Days passed before I could say the words. By then we were back in Los Angeles. Marvin and I were alone in the home in Hidden Hills, which was on the verge of foreclosure because of his refusal to face his financial reality. He had also refused to accept my story that Frankie and I hadn’t slept together.

“No, we didn’t do it!” I kept crying and denying.

“But you wanted to do it,” Marvin insisted.

“No. Nothing happened.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Ask Frankie.”

Marvin did just that, and Frankie denied it as well.

But the fighting went on. The battle zone was toxic. It was not only awash with literal toxins like highly potent pot and coke, it was where Marvin felt most powerful. It was where he operated. In the battle zone, he was a master manipulator.

Once drawn into the battle zone, I was forced to rely on my greatest weapon, one I had used to snare Marvin initially: my sexuality. And the more Marvin undermined my belief in my desirability, the greater my need to reestablish that belief.

“Maybe Frankie Beverly wants you,” Marvin told me, “but no one else does. Not really. Not the way you’re looking these days.”

The uglier his remarks, the more my determination to disprove them. That meant seeking the approval of other men.

I felt Marvin slipping away. I felt myself slipping away.

When Marvin called Frankie Beverly, he insisted that I listen in. In the brief conversation, Marvin assumed a calm tone. He never raised his voice.

“I don’t blame you,” said Marvin. “I know she’s been after you for years. You’re a man and men do what they do. I’m not interested in hurting you, Frankie, but you are no longer my friend. I never want to hear your name or see your face again.”

Frankie denied anything had happened, but Marvin didn’t believe him and hung up.

“Now are you satisfied?” Marvin asked me. “You’ve ruined a perfectly good friendship.”

“Nothing happened,” I said, keeping up the lie.

I argued the same argument I had been expounding for months—that it was Marvin, not me, who was obsessed with ruination.

Marvin was also obsessed with Teddy Pendergrass, who was being called the next Marvin Gaye. When Teddy left Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes in 1977, his solo career took off like a rocket. Reporters couldn’t resist comparing him to Marvin. While Teddy’s star was rising, Marvin’s was fading. After “Got to Give It Up,” Marvin fell off the charts.

In 1978, while Teddy was red-hot with super-sexy hits like “Only You” and “Close the Door,” Marvin released Here, My Dear, the divorce narrative that flopped both commercially and critically. Reviewers called it “self-indulgent” and “irrelevant.” The highly personal nature of the material was too obscure for all but the most devoted Marvin Gaye fans. Marvin also complained that Berry Gordy would never promote a record that demeaned his sister, even if she did stand to make money from it.

“Here, My Dear has no singles,” Marvin told me. “I did that on purpose. I didn’t want people to read a short story, but rather a whole novel. Most people don’t have the patience. So they’re switching allegiance. They’re all over Teddy. They’re calling him the new sex symbol and calling me last year’s news.”

“Your fans are loyal,” I tried to reassure him.

“No more loyal than you. It won’t be long before you fuck up. Teddy thinks that I’m weak, and that means he’ll be coming after you.”

Marvin’s obsession with Teddy manifested in a song he called “Ego Tripping Out.”

The result was a proto-rap record with Marvin reciting, rather than singing, a story about a man who had the baddest cool, the biggest house, the flashiest car, the most sexual prowess. The boasting continued until, halfway through the song, Marvin broke off a melody set to unexpectedly meditative lyrics. He sang about how egomania led to pain, how self-centeredness was rooted in fear, and how “the toot and the smoke”—cocaine and marijuana—wouldn’t “fulfill the need.” The goal was to transform the fear into energy and find a way back to God.

I realized that, although the song had been written to ridicule Teddy, it had become self-reflective. The song was really about Marvin and his struggle with his own ego.

When it was released as a single, there was little airplay, thus doing further damage to Marvin’s sense of self-worth. I saw how “Ego Tripping Out” only served to deflate Marvin’s already wounded ego.

But Marvin didn’t stop there. He was motivated to do an entire album that would compete with Teddy and reestablish himself as the sultan of sex. Marvin tried to write a suite of love songs with the intention of outselling Let’s Get It On. The tunes had titles like “I Offer You Nothing but Love” and “A Lover’s Plea.” He planned to call the album Love Man.

“The lyrics might be superficial,” Marvin told me, “but no more superficial than Teddy’s. Besides, the grooves are more seductive than his. The album’s going to bring me back and knock Teddy off his throne.”

Marvin’s efforts were in vain. I saw how he could work only periodically. Blocked by self-doubt, he fell into a deep depression. His antidepressants were the drugs, pot and cocaine, which only compounded his emotional instability. Meanwhile, his life remained in ruins.

He was lost.

I was lost.

For a few hours he might be loving. For a few hours romance might be renewed. For a few hours he might attend to the children. For a few hours I might hold on to the hope that our family could be preserved. We’d fly back to Hawaii for a week, leaving the children with my mother.

“The peaceful spirit of the islands will renew our spirits,” Marvin would say.

But peace didn’t last. Even in that serene setting, Marvin sank back into despair. On a day when he had been drinking mushroom tea and eating mushrooms from the ground and topping it all off with cocaine, he went on a bad trip. He brought up my betrayal and became enraged. His fury turned to madness. This time the madness reached a new and dangerous level. His eyes turned red with hatred. I was filled with fear.

At one point he took a kitchen knife and put it to my throat. I was petrified, paralyzed. I thought it was all over.

“I’ve loved you too much,” he said. “This love is killing me. I beg you to provoke me. Provoke me right now so I can take us both out of our misery.”

I was too terrified to say a word, too frightened to move.

Fortunately, his rage subsided and he put the knife away.

But by then I knew what I had to do.

I had to protect myself and my babies.

As soon as we arrived back in Los Angeles, I took the children and fled.