After the Dance: My Life With Marvin Gaye - Jan Gaye (2015)
Avoid war at all cost.
Do anything to protect my children and myself from the fallout of a romance turned rancid.
Stay away from any encounter with a man seething with anger.
When Marvin called me, though, I didn’t hear his anger. I felt his hunger for reconciliation. To resist reconciliation was to risk a chance to finally make things right.
“I need to go back to him,” I told my mother.
“Don’t,” said Mom. “He’s playing you. Let go.”
I couldn’t. I had to hold on to hope. I had to see Marvin again and allow visitations with our children.
Once we agreed to visitations, Marvin showed up in Hermosa at a time when I wasn’t home. He greeted Mom, who was caring for the children, with great contempt. He played with the kids for a short time and then took little Frankie with him.
“What are you doing?” asked Mom.
“I’m taking my son.”
Before Mom could object, Marvin and Frankie were gone. Mom was alarmed, but there was nothing she could do. Nona was devastated. Her dad had taken her brother and left her behind. A half hour later he returned for Nona and whisked her away, too. When I returned home, my children were gone.
Now the game had suddenly changed. Now the children were in play.
Marvin was using the children to wound me, just as my affairs had wounded Marvin.
More than feeling wounded, I was feeling frightened—even terrified. I didn’t fear that Marvin would harm his children, but I worried that he’d never return them to me.
Marvin took Nona and Frankie to the home he had bought his parents on Gramercy Place in an old neighborhood in Mid-City LA. The house was huge. The kids had their own bedrooms and a large yard to play in. Marvin’s mom was a doting grandmother. Nona and Frankie were made to feel safe there.
After a couple of days, Marvin called me to say, “I have an out-of-town gig. Please come and get your children.”
His voice was calm. When I arrived, the kids were happy to see me but disappointed that they wouldn’t be going on the road with their dad, where his entourage spoiled them to no end.
“Thank you for letting me care for our babies,” Marvin told me with seeming sincerity. “They missed you something terribly. They need their mom.”
I was comforted by Marvin’s words. I was convinced that, when he was right—and today he seemed very right—I had been right not to throw a fit when he took the kids. I was right to keep cool.
“When I get back to LA,” Marvin said with his customary cool, “I’ll come down to Hermosa and we’ll have that talk I’ve been wanting to have. Is that okay with you, dear?”
“I’d like that,” I said. “There’s no reason not to be civilized—especially when the children are involved.”
“Civilization is based on mutual respect,” Marvin added. “And the great civilizations are built on love. I’m always going to follow the path of love.”
A week later Marvin followed the path to Hermosa Beach. I was careful to make sure Mom left before he arrived. The animosity between my mother and husband would have only harmed the chances of a harmonious meeting.
In the first minute of the meeting, though, I realized harmony wasn’t happening. Marvin was coked up. I was too.
“I can’t talk to you in this house,” he said. “It’s filled with your mother’s evil spirit. If we’re going to talk, it’s going to have to be outside.”
I suggested that we take a walk to the beach. We had no choice but to bring Nona and Bubby with us.
Eager to get to the beach, the kids ran ahead.
“It’s over, Jan,” Marvin blurted out. “It’s been over for months. I’m no longer fooling myself about who you are and what you want to do to me. I have no choice but to save my own soul. I’m out. I want a divorce. And I want it quickly. We can go to Vegas.”
Feeling Marvin’s manic mood, I didn’t want to provoke him.
“Can’t we talk about cooperating—”
“There is no cooperating with you.”
“I don’t want to argue with you, Marvin.”
“I’ll agree to a divorce, but not before we work out the financial details—”
“What details!” Marvin screamed. “There are no details! You deserve nothing! You’ll get nothing!”
I started to cry. “And how will the children live?” I asked.
“They’ll live with me. The courts will see to that. You’re an unfit mother. The courts will see you as the slut that you are, and that mother of yours—”
“Shut up! The kids can hear you!”
“I’m going to have my children, no matter what!” Marvin insisted.
The kids were further down the beach, oblivious to what was happening.
Marvin’s fury had unleashed my own rage.
“Just leave us alone!” I screamed. “Just get the hell out of our lives—and stay out!”
Marvin snapped. He pushed me, and I fell onto the sand. Marvin was all over me, straddling my chest, talking about how we could both die right here on this beach.
Hearing the commotion, the kids ran to us. They were hysterical. Marvin grabbed Bubby’s right hand, I grabbed his left, and we started pulling the poor boy in opposite directions. A neighbor called the police. A squad car was in close proximity. Within a minute or two, four cops were forcing Marvin off of me. He resisted but was quickly restrained. He cursed them wildly. One of the policemen punched Marvin in the eye.
“All I want is my son!” Marvin screamed. “This woman won’t let me have my son!”
Nona heard this. Nona couldn’t stop crying.
Marvin was hauled off, thrown in the squad car, taken to jail.
I remained dazed, devastated.
Within hours Marvin was bailed out. The next day I learned that he and his mother were driven to Las Vegas, where a fighter in whom Marvin had invested heavily, Andy “the Hawk” Price, was facing Sugar Ray Leonard. Before the bout, Marvin and Mother Gay attended Diana Ross’s big show at Caesar’s Palace, where they ran into Berry Gordy. Marvin had a huge shiner.
Word had it that if Price could beat Leonard, Marvin’s financial problems would be dramatically lessened.
But his problems—emotional as well as financial—were dramatically increased when Sugar Ray knocked out Andy Price in the first three minutes of the first round.
Marvin was down and out.
A week later, Marvin was frantically calling me again.
“You sent your daddy Earl out to kill me,” he said.
“Earl’s not trying to kill you,” I said.
“But he’s looking for me, isn’t he?”
“He doesn’t have to look. He knows where you are. But I’d never let him hurt the father of my children.”
“I don’t believe that,” said Marvin.
“Believe what you want. But stay away. There’s a restraining order. If you come back to Hermosa, you’ll be arrested.”
“If Earl isn’t looking for me, someone else is. You’ve got gangbanger friends. You’ve got gangbanger lovers. You’ve got gangbangers hunting me down.”
“You’re paranoid. You’re paranoid out of your goddamn mind. You gotta get help!”
It was clear that Marvin was sinking into spells of insanity. And yet how could I call it insanity when Marvin sent me songs that he was recording, beautiful new songs filled with remorse and pleas for reconciliation?
“I hate that Love Man album,” he told me. “I’m keeping some of the tracks but none of the lyrics. They meant nothing. Instead I’m writing about the state of the world, the state of my soul, and the state of our relationship. My point is to repair the relationship. Listen to the music and you will hear my heart.”
I was unable to listen to Marvin’s music without falling in love all over again. One song called “Praise” was just that—an open invitation to praise the God of love every day in every way. It was among Marvin’s most uplifting anthems. “Heavy Love Affair” was a synopsis of everything that had been right and wrong about his relationship with me. He sang about “loving the pleasure sweetly” but also “loving the pain as deeply.” He sang about how he thought of me “every day” and in “all kinds of ways”—hating me, loving me, obsessing over me.
But the obsession was more than personal or romantic. The obsession concerned the apocalypse. It was clear that his early religious upbringing, first learned at the feet of his father, had come back to haunt him. He told me that these were the end days. The world was on the brink of destruction. “In Our Lifetime?” was the key song in this suite, a question that referred to the annihilation of the planet—Will it happen in our lifetime? If it was going to happen—as Marvin increasingly believed—then all we could do was “live and play and laugh and be happy.” All we could do was make love every day. Since the end of the world was just around the corner—“Revelation’s prophecy nearly fulfilled,” he sang in a song called “Love Party”—all we could do is celebrate the here and now.
As much as he tried, Marvin could not reconcile the two sides of his nature or, for that matter, mankind’s nature. The spirit and the flesh were at war. God and the devil were at war. War raged within Marvin’s heart and soul. In a song he would eventually call “Life Is for Learning,” he saw himself in the role of the suffering artist. “The artist pays the price,” he sang, “so you don’t have to pay.” We just have to listen to what the artist has to say.
What did Marvin have to say?
Return to love. Return to God. Bring out the best in your character. Praise the power that can heal all wounds. Believe in that power.
When I heard those songs even in half-completed form, I realized what Marvin’s violent behavior had made me forget: that he was a genius. I felt his genius being expressed in not simply a single voice of indescribable sweetness, but in many voices—all of which were woven in a tapestry of enchanting harmony. Marvin’s musical expression broke me down—broke down my animosity for all the ways he had hurt me, broke down my vow to protect our children from his presence, broke down my pledge to Mom and Earl that I would never again respond to his overtures for reconciliation.
In short, to hear Marvin sing was to forgive him. Any man who sang so soulfully must possess a loving soul. Any man who sang so lovingly must be incapable of living without love. Marvin required love. Every song he sang said so. Marvin required my love, Nona’s love, Frankie’s love.
“I’m going back to Hawaii,” Marvin told me during one of our midnight phone calls.
“It’s all over for me here. The house, the studio, all my money. My family is gone. My spirit is depleted. Hawaii is the only place where I’ve ever been able to find peace. Hawaii will be salvation. When I get settled, I’ll send for you and the children. By then I know you will have forgiven me for all the suffering I caused. By then all will be well. God will be served. We will be together. I will see you in Hawaii, Jan. Until then, just remember—I love you, and I always will.”
I spoke the words that I had sworn never to say again:
“I love you, too, Marvin. Always.”