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

The Dance

If a man threatens you, you call the police. You seek protection. You leave him. You have nothing to do with him ever again. You preserve your safety by putting great distance between him and you. Your course of action is clear. Only insanity will allow you to continue the relationship.

Reflecting back to 1979, when I was twenty-three years old, I have no doubt that I was, in fact, insane. So was Marvin. One definition of insanity—doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results—applied to virtually all my actions.

The dance looked like this:

Marvin lost his cool. He cursed me. He threatened violence.

I left.

Marvin called to apologize. He sent flowers. He promised to change. He said that he’d been on his knees all night asking for forgiveness.

He wrote songs in which he pleaded to me—“If God in heaven can forgive me, why can’t you?”

I forgave. Reconciliation was forged. Romance was renewed. Sex happened. Sex was satisfying. The dance recommenced. The cycle started anew.

This crazy cycle drained me of all self-confidence. I couldn’t trust Marvin’s sanity any more than I could trust my own commitment to avoid him at all costs. When he was stark raving mad, it was easy to stay away. But when he reemerged as his charming self, filled with love for me and the children, I’d watch my resistance melt like butter in the sun.

At the same time, I had life-threatening problems of my own. My own drug addiction was dragging me down. At one point, out on tour with Marvin while the kids were back in LA, I broke down completely. All that cocaine flipped me out. I locked myself in the hotel room and swallowed a fistful of antidepressants. I ODed. One of Marvin’s security men had to knock down the door and rush me to the hospital. Were it not for my dear friend Barbara Stroum, who came running to my aid, I would have never made it. It was Barbara, not Marvin, who got me on my feet again.

I needed my mother, and thank God my mother was there for me. The kids and I moved into her place in Hermosa Beach at the same time Marvin lost possession of both the studio on Sunset and the sprawling estate in Hidden Hills. His world was falling apart.

I struggled to keep my world intact. It was summertime. I took the children to the beach practically every day. My mother was a conscientious and loving grandmother. I desperately needed her help. She was also my drug buddy.

Mom lived on Fourteenth Street in a funky green beach house right on the strand. There were two bedrooms and a sunroom and barely enough room for everyone. But it was home, my only safe haven.

Mom’s collection of odd male friends came and went. Some were sweet; some were strong; some provided the household with dope.

Mom did her best to shelter us. She warned me to keep Marvin at bay.

“How can I?” I asked. “He’s their father.”

From time to time Marvin drove to Hermosa to visit the children. They adored him and he adored them. For an hour or two or three, the world was at peace. The world was wonderful. But then the attention would to turn to me.

During one trip, he said he never wanted to see me again.

During another, he said he couldn’t live without me.

I believed him one day and disbelieved him the next. I wanted to reconcile; I didn’t want to reconcile. I loved him; I hated him; I hated myself for loving him; I hated myself for hating him. My sense of self was completely shattered by the viciousness of his assaults—and my nasty self-assaults.

One day, in the midst of my emotional devastation, I came back from an afternoon with the kids at the beach.

“You got a call,” said my mother.

“Who from?” I asked.

“Teddy Pendergrass.”

“What did he want?”

“I presume,” said Mom, “he wants you.”

Mom was right.

Teddy wanted to see me. I asked my mother to set up the date.

I had met Teddy earlier, through my best friend Barbara Stroum, who also introduced me to Shep Gordon, Teddy’s manager. Barbara and I spent an afternoon with Teddy at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. He was a fascinating man. He was rough around the edges, but he had a charm all his own. His self-confidence was a large part of his sexiness. He also had enormous amounts of blow, another reason Barbara and I were pleased to spend time in his company.

I was excited that he wanted to see me alone. All the pain inflicted by Marvin was gone—at least for the moment. I was wanted. I was worthy. Teddy had his choice of any woman in the world, and he had chosen me. How could I not feel good about myself?

Surely Marvin would find out. And when he did, he’d have to face the truth that other men—famous and powerful men—desired me. The truth would hurt him.

But wasn’t that what he wanted? Didn’t he want to suffer deeper pain? Wasn’t he the one who predicted that Teddy, the man seen as his successor, would replace Frankie Beverly as my next lover? Didn’t he speak of the scenario as something he hoped would happen? Didn’t he relish the prospect?

Well, I relished the fact that Teddy had called. Teddy was interested. Teddy was asking that I meet him back at his suite at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.

I dressed in brown suede palazzo pants and a matching midi coat. I was feeling good. I was feeling confident. I was feeling sexy, but not sexy enough to give it up in this first meeting.

I got off the elevator on Teddy’s floor. Walking down the hall, I passed by a woman who had obviously just come from Teddy’s room. We purposely ignored each other.

I knocked on Teddy’s door.

“Well, hello,” said Teddy, dressed casually in a sport shirt and jeans. He was tall and devilishly handsome. His beard was trimmed close to his face. His eyes were smiling.

I saw that he was high on coke. I decided to take a chance and speak my mind. “Wasn’t that La Toya Jackson who I passed in the hallway?”

“It was. We’re old friends.”

He was unapologetic about La Toya’s visit. He was unapologetic about everything.

“So glad you could make it,” he told me. “I’ve been thinking about you ever since we met.”

It was a line, but I liked it. I liked the praise. I needed the praise. Teddy and I fell into easy conversation. He was delighted to learn that I could talk intelligently about the music business. He saw that I had superb taste in artists and songs. He liked that I was funny, articulate, and candid. Within no time, I had Teddy completely charmed.

He couldn’t keep his eyes off me. He listened carefully to my every word. Yet he made no move. I was both impressed and disappointed. I was certain that he’d expect sex—and was prepared to deny him that pleasure. Instead he exhibited the behavior of a perfect gentleman. After an hour, he thanked me for dropping by but unfortunately had to prepare for a business meeting. He excused himself.

I got up to leave.

“Before you go, though,” he said, “why don’t we share a little treat?”

He brought out a vial and laid out several lines on a small mirror.

“Ladies first,” he said.

I snorted up as much of the cocaine as I could. It was mighty strong. I wondered whether he would now make his move. He did not. Instead we chatted a few more minutes before saying good-bye. He gave me a hug, not a kiss.

I drove back to Hermosa Beach in a state of happy confusion. I wondered:

Is that it for me and Teddy?

He waited a day before calling me again.

“How ’bout if I drove down there and took you to dinner?” he asked.

“Would love it,” I said.

He showed up in a big black Mercedes. Came to the door. Met Mom and Nona and Frankie. Again, the perfect gentleman.

We shared a joint as we drove up to Beverly Hills, where he had reserved a table by the window at the Mandarin restaurant on Rodeo Drive. The place was super sophisticated, fabulous floral arrangements, soft lighting, exotic cuisine. We ordered cocktails.

“I’m excited to see you again,” said Teddy. “You look beautiful tonight.”

I was moved by the flattery, coming from the man a million love-starved women called the Teddy Bear. In the crazed soul-disco era of the late seventies, Teddy stood tall as black America’s new romantic dreamboat. He was also one of the only men self-confident enough to ask me out. Others were intimidated by Marvin, but not Teddy. I was excited to be out in public with him.

“I’m glad you called,” I said.

“I had no choice,” said Teddy. “I couldn’t get you off my mind.”

“Sounds like a Teddy Pendergrass song.”

“It’s the truth.”

I smiled before Teddy, looking surprised, said, “Hey Jan, Marvin just cruised by this restaurant.”

“It couldn’t have been.”

“Jan, I know what Marvin Gaye looks like.”

“How could he know that we’d be here?”

“He’s obviously been following you.”

I shook my head and sighed. Marvin, I said to myself, what is wrong with you? Why do you do this to yourself?

“Don’t worry, Jan,” said Teddy. “I’m not afraid of Marvin. Let him shadow us all he wants. As long as you’re comfortable with me, I’m comfortable with you.”

Comfort was one of the many emotions I was feeling. Teddy did make me comfortable. I was impressed that he was not bothered by the fact that Marvin was stalking us. I also couldn’t deny feeling some satisfaction that Marvin now undoubtedly knew that Teddy was pursuing me.

Let Marvin see that other men saw me differently than he did. Let him see that other men, unlike him, were eager to praise me to the sky and lure me to bed. Let him see that I could lead my life without him. Let him see that I was finally free of his control.

Let him drive by the restaurant two or three more times before the meal was over. Let him do whatever the hell he wants to do. I’m going to stand my ground.

But when Marvin returned and parked his car right in front of the restaurant, I couldn’t take it anymore.

“Would you mind if we left?” I asked Teddy.

“Not at all.”

We went out the back door and Teddy drove me back to my mom’s house in Hermosa. He saw me inside and had a nice chat with Mom. Unlike Marvin, he treated her like a queen. He gave me a sweet kiss good night, and that was it.

My next date with Teddy was more intimate. This time he had a luxurious suite at the L’Ermitage hotel. I was ready. Snorting copious amounts of cocaine, I was happy to fly high over my doubts and confusions. I was willing to let the big man have his way with me. Not just for a few hours, but all night and all morning. Time out for food, time out for blow, but then back to bed—talking, sleeping, loving, snorting, drinking, and loving some more.

Two days and two nights in Teddy’s suite.

When it was over, he said, “We’ve got a good thing. Too good to stop.”

“Hmm,” was all I could say. I wanted to believe him.

“I leave tomorrow for New York. But I’ll be calling you. I’m doing a gig at Chino for the lady prisoners. It’s a captive audience.”

“Terrible joke,” I said.

“Sorry, but come to the show with me.”

“I have two kids to look after.”

“You’ll bring the kids with you. I love kids. I want you and the kids to come to all my shows.”

Teddy was true to his word. He sent me and the kids first-class tickets to come to his concerts in faraway cities. Once he had me meet him at the Brown Palace in Denver. While Teddy was at rehearsal, the phone rang. It was Frankie Beverly.

“I know you’re with Teddy,” he said. “I know Teddy from back in Philly. You need to get out of there. You’re in the wrong place with the wrong guy.”

I ignored Frankie and stayed put. It turned out to be a wonderful weekend.

Back in LA, we’d pile in to Teddy’s Rolls and he’d take me and the kids to Universal Studios. He loved visiting us in Hermosa Beach. There were times when I saw Marvin’s car parked down the street from my mom’s house, but I paid Marvin no mind. I had moved on. If Marvin wanted to torture himself, that was his business.

When Teddy played the Greek Theatre in LA, I couldn’t make the show. Later he told me that Marvin had sent him a dozen red roses—all dead. Teddy laughed it off.

“He’s obsessed with you,” I told Teddy.

“No, he’s obsessed with you,” Teddy told me. “He’ll always be obsessed with you. He’ll always want you back. You just have to find the strength to resist. You have to keep him away.”

But how was it possible when he was the father of our children?

A mother in possession of her full sanity would see that keeping her children away from a father like Marvin would be an act of protection, not punishment.

I was not that mother.

I was acting out my anger at Marvin by juggling affairs with both Frankie Beverly and Teddy Pendergrass, knowing that both men had other women. And when Rick James, whose Fire It Up was the hottest album in the country, came to call, I found myself forging a friendship with still another superstar whom Marvin viewed as a competitor.

The attention and praise lavished upon me by these men kept me from sinking into a deep depression. They boosted my sense of self-worth. They kept me high.

And yet underneath I was miserable.

My marriage had fallen apart. My husband was falling apart. I was falling apart. My family was falling apart.

I entertained the hope that my marriage, husband, and family could all be saved. That hope was sparked when Marvin called.

He was not manic; he was mellow. Mellow Marvin was beautiful Marvin, loving Marvin, sweet Marvin, soft-spoken well-mannered Marvin, the Marvin I had met six years earlier who was all charm and graciousness, a man in tune with his heart, a man whose soul radiated warmth.

“Dear,” he said, “we need to talk. I need to come down there to Hermosa. We need to discuss our relationship. We need to get it together.”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“I do. I clearly see what I need to do. I have a lot of making up to do.”

“Marvin . . .”

“Don’t argue, Jan. Just listen to reason. It is reasonable to allow your husband to visit you with a plan for reconciliation. It is reasonable to let your children enjoy the company of their father. It is reasonable to assume that love—pure love, deep love, everlasting love—is strong enough to heal even the deepest wounds. It is reasonable to believe in God and the undeniable truth that God wants us all together, happy, strong, and united. How can you argue with that?”

I couldn’t.