Escalation - After the Dance: My Life With Marvin Gaye - Jan Gaye

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


In the album eventually titled In Our Lifetime? Marvin wrote a song he called “Love Me Now or Love Me Later.” I heard it as Marvin’s version of the creation myth. For the album cover, Marvin commissioned an artist to draw a twin version of himself—Good Marvin with angelic wings and a halo sits across from Evil Marvin, with horns on his head and a black cape around his body. They are engaged in a life-and-death chess game in the clouds. Beneath them the planet is being destroyed in a nuclear holocaust.

At the end of the seventies, as I watched him escape once again to Hawaii, this was Marvin’s vision of himself and the world in which he felt trapped. He was filled with love; he was filled with hate. He was filled with hope; he was filled with despair. He was filled with creative energy; he was filled with destructive energy. There was nothing he wanted more than reconciliation with me; there was nothing he wanted more than ongoing warfare with me. I wanted him to forgive me, but I kept up the ridiculous and destructive behavior. I kept making the same mistakes.

When Marvin called me to come to Hawaii with the kids, it was the loving Marvin that I heard, the Marvin who expressed his great need for us. But when I arrived, it was the angry Marvin who greeted me. He wanted details of my current affairs. There were no details to report. My relationships with Frankie Beverly and Teddy Pendergrass were mere diversions. They involved lust, not love, and had run their course.

“What about Rick James?”

“He’s my friend, not my lover,” I said truthfully.

“And you expect me to believe you?”

“The only thing I expect of you, Marvin, is to make good on your promise to try and bring us all back together.”

My words had an impact on him. He wanted peace. He and I walked on the beach, swam with the kids, watched the glorious sunsets. There were a few days of calm, a few nights when intimacy was restored. My sweet Marvin was back.

We rented a condo in Kihei and went for long drives around the island. We hung out at Longhi’s in Lahaina with John McVie of Fleetwood Mac and visited friends in the hills. We moved from Kihei to Kaanapali and went house hunting with George Benson, who already owned three properties on the island. He urged Marvin to move to Maui.

“I’d love to,” Marvin said. “I feel like it’s definitely in my future.”

Optimism returned. Our hearts filled with hope. But then, like the purple sun sinking into the ocean, hope vanished.

We couldn’t escape the darkness.

Was it the drugs?

Probably, because he and I kept getting high.

Was it Marvin’s ongoing battle with chronic depression? Was it my similar battle with acute depression?

Certainly. There were prolonged periods of darkness that separated us from everyone and everything.

Whatever it was, Marvin moved from mellow to manic, then from manic to violent. His arguments with me got physical again. I feared for my life. I prepared to flee with my children.

“You’re not taking them anywhere,” he insisted. “They’re staying here with me.”

I was terrified, confused. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t leave without my children, but Marvin was adamant. Then he offered a compromise.

“Take Nona back with you,” said Marvin. “But Frankie stays with me.”

At first I rejected the offer. I also saw the pain that the compromise was inflicting on Nona: Marvin wanted his son but was willing to lose his daughter. I wanted both my children. But Marvin wouldn’t let me have them.

Lacking the resources to hire a lawyer, I reluctantly accepted the proposal. Openly weeping, I embraced my son. I could barely speak the words:

“Be a good boy, Bubby. Listen to your father.”

“Say good-bye to your mother,” said Marvin. “You won’t be seeing her for a long time.”

“Not too long,” I told Marvin.

“We can’t foresee the future,” said Marvin.

Back in LA, living with my mom and Nona, I grew more fearful that my son was not safe. Word came down that Marvin was growing more despondent. His money had run out completely. He was down to begging old friends like Smokey Robinson for loans.

A week later, another report came back from Maui: unable to pay the rent, Marvin was evicted from his condo. He and Frankie were living in an abandoned Helms Bakery truck.

“I’ve got to go back over there,” I told my dad Earl. “I’ve got to go get Bubby.”

“I know Marvin,” said Earl. “He won’t give up his son voluntarily. Your only chance is to go over there with a court order—and that’s going to take time.”

I started those proceedings, but they were slow going. For every step forward, there were two steps back. Because I was high a good deal of the time, I just couldn’t pull it together.

Another report from Maui: Jeffrey Kruger, a big-time promoter out of London, had traveled to Hawaii to convince Marvin to tour Europe. It was Kruger who called me with the news.

“Your son is safe,” said the Englishman, “and he is eating well. He looks fine. His father, however, looks terrible. Marvin is close to a complete breakdown. I suggested that we immediately fly you over here to care for Bubby. But Marvin has flat-out refused. So I’ve convinced him to allow me to send for his mother.”

I was both relieved and crushed—relieved that Frankie was all right, crushed that I could not come to claim him. I continued to work through my lawyer as Kruger prepared Marvin for his European tour.

When Mother Gay arrived from the mainland, she, Marvin, and Frankie moved into a condo in the town of Lahaina. Kruger also brought over Marvin’s band, led by Gordon Banks, a fine guitarist who had married Marvin’s sister Zeola.

Frantic phone calls from me, concerned about my son’s welfare, went unanswered. Marvin had instructed his mom not to speak to me. Only Kruger kept me in the loop.

The winter of 1980 had come and gone. Kruger returned to London. Realizing that Marvin required more time to build up his strength, he postponed the tour. In the spring Marvin went into a recording studio in Honolulu to work on what was once Love Man and was now In Our Lifetime? His philosophical-theological writings continued.

Money for production came from Motown, which was clamoring for the release of the record. It had been three years since the commercially unsuccessful Here, My Dear. Berry Gordy had done nothing but pour money into Marvin. Marvin had squandered and mismanaged that money. He was on the verge of being indicted by the IRS.

I was on the verge of losing it. I had to see my son. I had to get him back. I had to find a way.

After months, good news. My lawyers persuaded the Superior Court of California to issue a writ of habeas corpus. In June, when Marvin was due to fly into Los Angeles to change planes for London, he would be served and forced to give up Bubby. I’d have my son back.

But someone tipped off Marvin’s mother about my plan—and Mother Gay tipped off Marvin. To avoid the writ, he avoided LA and instead flew into San Francisco. I was enraged, but there was nothing to do. Even though Marvin had lost his passport, Kruger managed to convince the authorities to allow him and Bubby to leave the country and make the transatlantic journey.

In June of 1980, Marvin and Bubby arrived in London along with an entourage that included Mother Gay.

Having failed to reclaim my son, I fell into despair, the deepest and scariest of my life.