Isn’t It Funny How Things Turn Around - After the Dance: My Life With Marvin Gaye - Jan Gaye

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

“Isn’t It Funny How Things Turn Around?”

It was the late summer of 1982. I was living at the Brussels Hilton with the kids. During the day the children were attending school. Marvin was spending much of his time making the final tweaks on the album. Its first single, “Sexual Healing,” was about to be released worldwide.

Things were rapidly changing. For all my equivocation, I had returned to Europe. Marvin prevailed, just as Marvin always prevailed. The sincerity in his music, the sincerity in his promises, the sweetness in his demeanor—there were so many positive forces conspiring to convince me that this time it was different. This time there was a new album with songs about joy, a record that came as a result of Marvin’s recovery, his absolute determination to put the dark time in London behind him. He spoke about repentance and redemption. He spoke about living in Europe permanently and, despite the finality of the divorce, he wanted us to be part of his life.

Back in America, family and friends warned me, just as they had warned me before: Marvin had made and broken these promises time and time again. Yet even they couldn’t deny that something had changed. For the first time in years, reporters visiting Marvin in Europe were returning with stories of his remarkable restoration. They were writing about his robust health, forward-looking attitude, and powerful new music.

“On one level, it’s a party record,” Marvin told a reporter. “It’s a record you can dance to and even freak to. But if you listen closely and go beneath your surface, you’ll hear my heart speaking. You’ll hear my heart saying, ‘It’s time to put the madness behind and let love lead the way.’ You’ll hear me testify that I still believe in Jesus, I still believe in God’s miraculous grace, I still believe that the Lord forgives even when—and especially when—we cannot forgive ourselves.”

I was trusting that Marvin’s sentiments were genuine. From both his public and private statements, I was feeling his resolve. The children wanted to see their dad. The children wanted to see their mother and father together. For all that had happened before, I was predisposed to accept Marvin’s attitude. He was contrite. As the author of a new suite of songs, he once again cited me as his primary muse. No wonder I was drawn back to the center of his world.

Once I arrived in Europe, I saw that world was changing. In terms of Marvin’s management, there had been a profound power shift. During the course of making Midnight Love, Marvin had grown insecure and called for Harvey Fuqua, one of his original mentors. Marvin had come out of Fuqua’s Moonglows in the fifties. It was Harvey who had brought Marvin to Motown in the early sixties. Marvin had long looked at Fuqua as a benevolent father figure, an experienced writer-producer who understood the nuances of the studio.

Marvin’s close bond to Harvey threatened Freddy Cousaert. Fuqua quickly replaced Cousaert as Marvin’s main man. Making matters worse for Freddy, Harvey had arrived with his girlfriend, Marilyn Freeman, who began to function as Marvin’s manager. Freddy saw the handwriting on the wall. He feared that his days were numbered.

That’s why Freddy worked so diligently to keep Marvin in Europe. In Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands, where Marvin had worked on Midnight Love, Cousaert was on home turf. He knew the languages. Here he operated from a position of strength. I heard him argue loud and long for Marvin’s permanent residence in Ostend. At one point, Cousaert convinced Marvin to make a down payment on a comfortable country home just outside the city limits.

“To go back to America,” Cousaert contended, “is to lose everything you’ve gained here. The pressures there are too much to bear.”

“The money is in America,” Fuqua counterargued. “Your fans are in America. We’ve cut a hit album, and the only way to really cash in is to work it at home. That means media interviews, touring—the whole bit.”

Marvin’s siblings took Harvey’s side. They wanted their brother back in America. They wanted him to put his show back together and take it on the road. They wanted to be in his show. They needed money. Marvin living on another continent had not bettered their lives.

The CBS executives also wanted Marvin back in the USA. Publicity-wise, it would be far more effective to launch the record from America. The pressure on Marvin was intense.

“I want to stay in Europe,” he told me one night at the Brussels Hilton after we had slept together.

“The kids and I want to stay with you,” I said.

“I want you to,” said Marvin, all smiles. “I need you to. Isn’t it funny how things turn around? We needed to get this divorce out of the way so we could find each other again.”

These were the words I wanted to hear, confirmation of his commitment to finally doing the right thing.

Midnight Love was the name of the new album, and the midnight talks between us revealed the extent of his equivocation. He wanted to stay in Europe. He wanted to maintain a distance between his present and his past. But he wanted a comeback hit. He suffered with indecision about whether to follow his instincts and live a quiet life in Belgium or put all his efforts behind the release of the new record.

“I’ve decided to definitely stay,” he finally declared one afternoon. Marvin and I, along with the kids and the management team, were traveling through the Netherlands, where Cousaert had arranged interviews for Marvin to introduce the album to the northern European market. Afterward, we planned to travel to Paris, Rome, and London before returning to Ostend. Marvin’s plan to remain abroad, enthusiastically supported by Cousaert, gave him a measure of peace.

Riding around Rotterdam, everyone was happy—even thrilled—when “Sexual Healing” came on the radio while we were passing through, of all places, the red light district.

“It’s going all over the world,” Marvin predicted. “It’s touching people’s hearts—and touching people in other places.”

We laughed. It was a moment of healing and happiness.

Yet the ending of his final European foray was neither healing nor happy. I learned that Eugenie was also in Rotterdam, claiming it was Marvin who had called for her. Marvin denied this. But he did not deny her access to his suite.

This was just another version of the same scenario I had seen a dozen times before. Marvin not only created a dangerous form of domestic drama, he thrived on it. He liked hearing me and the other woman call each other names, just as he liked the vicious competition that he had fostered between Fuqua and Cousaert.

In a haze of highs, Marvin and I were back at it, bickering, blaming, and bemoaning the fact that we had even tried to revise a relationship mired in such deep vitriol.

Then came dire news from Los Angeles: Marvin’s mother had been diagnosed with bone cancer and required a risky surgery. It would happen in a matter of days.

“Marvin is petrified,” I told my mother when I called her to say that we would all be flying back to LA from Rotterdam the very next day. “I’ve never seen Marvin so frightened. He’s afraid he’ll never see Alberta alive again. He’s traumatized. It breaks my heart to see him like this.”

Just like that, all European plans were scrubbed. Harvey Fuqua was emboldened. Cousaert saw that he was defeated. Knowing Marvin as he did, Freddy realized that once Marvin landed in a place—as he had landed in Hawaii and London and Ostend—he remained there for a very long time. The chances of Marvin returning to Belgium were remote.

At Rotterdam the Hague Airport, Marvin, the kids, Harvey Fuqua, Marilyn Freeman, and I boarded the plane, leaving Cousaert behind. Marvin’s great European adventure came to a tumultuous conclusion. To calm his fear of flying, Marvin drank heavily as the plane winged its way across the Atlantic. I watched him fall into an uneasy sleep. I also glanced at Marilyn, another manager who thought she could control Marvin. I thought, Lady, you need to go away; you don’t stand a chance.

Frankie and Nona were also sleeping, but I stayed awake. I studied the sweet faces of our children. I studied the sweet face of my former husband. Each face projected an angelic aura. I loved each of them with all my heart. I thought about the future.

What would happen to Marvin when he returned home?

What would happen to him if his mother did not survive?

In the aftermath of still another collapse of our romantic connection, what would happen to Marvin and me?

Could I live without him?

Could I live with him?

Hours went by. The drone of the jet engines kept me awake. The unanswerable questions kept coming, kept haunting me.

The plane landed with a thud.

Our weary group walked through the airport to customs. The bags were retrieved and the vans pulled up to the curb. Before Marvin got into his vehicle, he kissed the kids and turned to me.

“Pray for Mother,” he said.

“You know I will,” I promised.

“Now that I’m back, I don’t know what will happen.”

“I don’t either.”

“Are you afraid, dear?”

“Yes,” I answered honestly.

“I am too,” he said. “I’m very afraid.”