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

The Pipe

Ed Townsend introduced me to the pipe.

Oh, the pipe . . . freebase cocaine . . .

The pipe was addictive beyond imagination.

The pipe warped one’s imagination.

The pipe destroyed one’s life.

The pipe led to utter madness.

Crack cocaine is like no other drug. It has a life of its own and a dark, dark spirit. It obliterates your senses. You become married to it and it leaves you with no moral compass. It’s true, once you try it, you forever chase that high.

I had an apartment of my own in Reseda, a suburb in the San Fernando Valley outside LA. This was not only the first place I had lived without Marvin since meeting him seven years earlier, this was the first place I had lived on my own—ever. It was just me and Nona.

Nona was at daycare. Ed had come to visit. As a housewarming gift, he brought the pipe. This was not an unusual act. In the drug culture, sharing the newest high was customary.

Cooking up this high required a kit with baking soda, a torch, a giant plate, a bottle of rum, and the cocaine itself.

“This is taking forever,” I said impatiently. “I don’t need to be bothered.”

“Oh, yes you do,” said Ed as he prepared the pipe. “This high ain’t like no high you’ve even known. You’re gonna love it.”

Ed was wrong. I didn’t love it. I worshipped it.

The pipe took over my life, seducing me with a euphoria I had never known before. Every three or four days, Ed returned to my apartment with a fresh supply. He overcharged me like crazy. I didn’t care. Just keep the shit coming.

In a monumentally ironic and tragic way, the pipe reconnected me to Marvin, who, while in England, was also freebasing cocaine. During his first high in London, he called me.

“I’m seeing something I’ve never seen before,” he said. “I see myself floating above myself. I look down and see all my selfishness. I see how spoiled I am. How destructive. How I hurt everyone around me. I see how much I need you, Jan.”

“I need you too,” I said. “But I have to be sure that Bubby is okay. Are you taking care of him?”

“My mother is right here,” Marvin assured me. “She guards him with her life. He’s never been safer, never happier—except for how much he misses you. Why don’t you fly over with Pie?”

Floating on the same high as Marvin, I was ecstatic.

This time he means it; this time he is really reconnected to his heart; this time his soul and mine are in perfect alignment; this time nothing can keep us apart. This love is real! This love is right! This love is forever!

A day later, though, when I called him to make plans, he was too fucked up to talk. Two days later, when he called, I was too fucked up to talk. Another week passed while our love for the pipe deepened. When we finally did talk, he was enraged because I was asking for money. I had no choice. I was dead broke.

“Get it from Teddy P,” he said. “Get it from Frankie B. Get it from all those friends of mine who you’ve been fucking. But don’t expect a dime from me.”

I had no choice but to look cold reality in the face. I needed to work.

I got a job answering phones. I got a job as a housekeeper and nanny for a professional single mom. At one point I couldn’t pay my rent and had to turn to my dad Earl. He had a big house in Mid-City LA but instead sent me and Nona to live with his hooker friend I’ll call Miss Thing. Nona and I slept on pallets on the floor of Miss Thing’s living room. After a few weeks, Miss Thing threw us out and kept my clothes.

Ultimately, all roads led back to Mom’s house in Hermosa Beach. I would have liked to declare independence from my mom, but I couldn’t. Mom remained the most dependable character in my undependable life.

Mom got me drugs. Mom helped care for Nona when I was too high to manage. When Marvin called and learned that I was back with Mom, he was infuriated. He loathed Mom. During these moments, I loathed Marvin. I got satisfaction from letting him know that Nona and I were living with a lady that he despised.

The animosity deepened.

The addiction deepened.

Rick James, himself an addict, appeared as something of a savior. He called to invite me back to Maui, where he was staying at a posh resort. I flew over, hoping that this, unlike the liaisons with Teddy and Frankie, would prove lasting.

The setting was opulent. The seaside suite was palatial. Rick was expansive. He talked a mile a minute. He had nothing but praise and admiration for me. I saw that, like Marvin, Rick was brilliant. While Marvin’s default mode was mellow, Rick’s was manic. But that was okay. It was a sweet manic, a poetic manic. He was interested in politics, religion, art, history. He was a reader, a thinker. He was also a sensualist, but when night fell and we returned to the bedroom, the cocaine he had consumed rendered him impotent. He was embarrassed, but I reassured him. He needed a friend; I did too. At this moment in our journeys, friendship was more important than sex. God knows that each of us had had enough sex to last a lifetime. We fell asleep in each other’s arms. We remained close friends and nothing more.

Back in Los Angeles, Rick gave me a job in his office. The idea was that I could write press releases and publicity for his new records. But in the end, he basically used me as an errand girl to bring him drugs. I didn’t mind because he didn’t mind if I skimmed off the top.

So it went: a scattered life, living here and there, scuffling for enough money to eat and live, to buy drugs, to stay high on the pipe.

My growing friendship with Rick was a blessing. I saw the best in him, just as he saw the best in me. We often talked of quitting drugs but—at least for now—neither of us had the will.

Meanwhile, there were reports from London.

Marvin’s mom had returned to Los Angeles but had little to say to me—only that Bubby was fine. I missed my son terribly.

Kruger had Marvin on tour, but the tour proved disastrous. Like Marvin’s former manager Stephen Hill, Kruger thought he could control Marvin. But the truth was that Marvin was uncontrollable. No one could manage him. He couldn’t manage himself. Marvin manipulated Kruger unmercifully. He got him to give him money, get him gigs, and then wound up humiliating him. When Kruger held a press conference, Marvin avoided the reporters by sneaking out through a bathroom window. When Kruger booked a command performance for Princess Margaret, Marvin refused to appear. In a panic, Kruger called me in LA to ask me to persuade my husband to take the stage. For the time being, I was back in Marvin’s good graces. We’d been having long and loving transatlantic phone conversations. I was the only one he’d talk to. Kruger told me that if I could persuade Marvin to perform, he’d send me a first-class ticket to England so I could finally see my son.

“What is going on?” I asked Marvin when I got him on the phone. “Kruger says the princess is a huge fan of yours. Why won’t you sing for her?”

“Because Kruger had me take a six A.M. flight from Switzerland to London this morning,” he said, “claiming that was the only nonstop. Later I learned there was a noon flight that he didn’t tell me about. He was afraid I’d sleep through it. So he kept me up all night and drove me to the airport at five A.M. You know how I hate getting up in the middle of the night. You know how I hate flying. I will not be played like that. I will not be disrespected. Let himsing for the princess.”

“He’s willing to pay you an extra twenty thousand dollars,” I said. “He’s saying his reputation is on the line.”

“Fuck his reputation. Fuck him.”

“What about the princess?”

“Fuck her.”

“I’m sure she’d like to fuck you,” I said, finally eliciting a laugh out of Marvin.

“There are many women over here,” he said, “but they don’t understand me like you do, Jan. They can’t make me laugh. They can’t love me. If you were here, dear, you could make me sing. I’d sing for you, not some silly princess.”

“Look, dear,” I said, “just be a good boy. Go out there and sing for the royals. Make your manager happy. He’s sending me a ticket so we can be together. I’ll see you soon.”

“Yes! And put all this foolishness behind us! That’s beautiful, dear. I’m getting dressed as we speak. I will sing tonight. Thanks for talking me through this.”

But by the time Marvin arrived at the concert hall, he was two hours late and the princess, tired of waiting, had already left. Kruger had no reason to send me a ticket to London. In fact, this marked the end of Marvin’s relationship with his English manager.

Motown released In Our Lifetime? in January 1981, before Marvin had tweaked his final vocals and approved the final mix; that marked the end of his two-decade relationship with the label. He was enraged and vowed never to record for Berry Gordy again—and never did.

He turned his fury inward and fell deeper into his addiction. And in his fury, he renewed his anger at me. His head was filled with fantasies of me with other men. Our transatlantic calls became bitter and ugly. I responded with a fury of my own. In our verbal battles, I became as nasty as Marvin. I was tired of his broken promises, tired of his bullshit, tired of a ruinous relationship that brought only pain. I was also tired of myself. I was filled with self-hatred.

Only the pipe brought relief.

There were men who would bring me drugs. There were men who would praise my beauty and provide me with comfort. They may not have been Marvin Gaye, but they would do. They would have to. And if my drug buddies didn’t come through, I turned to Bacardi 151 rum to drown my disgust.

Marvin was in London with no plans to return. He had a young Dutch girlfriend named Eugenie who, if the rumors were true, was a groupie he’d met after a show. She was willing to do whatever freakish things he wanted to do. She was entirely submissive.

When he tired of Eugenie, there was a sixty-three-year-old English lady, an aristocrat with a great country estate where he spent weekends.

“I have found my true home here,” he told me during one of the calls when we were being civil with each other. “I’m certain that in a former life I was English. I adore their speech, I adore their style, I adore the way they appear cold and controlled but underneath they’re the freakiest. I could live and die in London.”

“But what about Bubby? Who’s taking care of him?”

“He is his father’s son. He’s pampered by Patsy, his nanny. Round the clock women are watching him with loving care. You have nothing to worry about.”

“Put him on the phone. Let me talk to him.”

“Let me get him.”

“Mum,” said Frankie with a decidedly English accent, “is that you?”

“I miss you, Bubby. I love you so much. I can’t wait till you come home.”

“I miss you, too, Mum.”

“Are you okay, son?”

“Yes, Mum, I’m okay. I’m reading my Mr. Men books. Mr. Topsy-Turvy is my favorite.”

“You see,” said Marvin, back on the phone. “Everyone is doing fine.”

But no one was doing fine.

Marvin was sick and getting sicker.

I was sick and getting sicker.

Marvin had no money, no record deal, no willpower.

My willpower was less than zero.

In the middle of the night, the phone rang.

Marvin was calling from somewhere in London.

“I can’t stop thinking about you,” he said. “Have you been thinking about me?”

I couldn’t lie.

“Yes,” I admitted. “All the time.”

“Then it is love,” he said. “It’s always been love, hasn’t it?”

“Yes,” I repeated.

“And love will see us through all this garbage,” he insisted, “won’t it?”

“Yes.”

“Are we going to try again?”

“Yes, yes, yes.”