After the Dance: My Life With Marvin Gaye - Jan Gaye (2015)
I wish this had been not the ending but the beginning—the beginning of Marvin’s recovery and rehabilitation; the beginning of his return to sanity, his family, and the God whom he deeply loved; the beginning of a new stage in which he finally learned to harmonize his personal life as beautifully as he harmonized his music; the beginning of renewed beauty, renewed strength, renewed hope.
Yet in April 1983, exactly a year after the composition of “Sexual Healing”—an anthem of hope—hope was hard to come by.
Before Marvin left to go on tour, he drove down to Hermosa to tell me and our kids good-bye. He did not look well.
“I know the tour is a mistake,” he said, “but it’s a mistake that’s already been made.”
“You can postpone it until you feel better about it,” I said, “until you build up your strength.”
“God is my strength. God will not abandon me.”
“I know that. I’m glad you’re talking about God.”
“I know God led me to you, Jan, but the devil led me away. The devil also got into you. But if we pray, if we believe, God will prevail.”
“I want to believe that.”
“You need to believe that,” he said.
“I want you to come along. I want us to be a family.”
For thirty minutes we were a family. For thirty minutes there was a sense of calm. We went to the park. We sang songs. We made jokes. We treated each other with patience and love.
Before he left, he invited me out to his car.
“We shouldn’t,” he said, “but I know you want to. I want to as well. This stuff is primo.”
He offered me a vial. I accepted.
“At least we aren’t smoking it,” he said.
But by evening time we were doing just that.
“Think of it as the peace pipe,” said Marvin.
After the high hit, there was peace.
The tour started in San Diego, snaked up the coast to San Carlos, and then turned eastward to Baton Rouge. Houston, Mobile, Atlanta, New Orleans, Dallas, Shreveport—city after city, night after night, the Midnight Love tour took its toll on Marvin’s frayed nerves.
Alarming reports came back to me. Crazy phone calls.
Marvin was in a perpetual state of fear. Afraid of flying. Afraid of performing. Afraid of facing less-than-capacity crowds. The fact that there were a number of sell-outs did not calm his fears.
“Remember what I told you,” he said when he called back to California. “‘A perfect love casts out all fear.’ That’s scripture. I have a preacher traveling with me who’s administering prayer night and day. Only prayer can protect me.”
“Protect you from what?”
“You know better than I do, Jan. Long ago you conspired with my enemies. You slept with my enemies. You inspired them to seek my ruin. I can no longer speak with you. Just put the children on the line.”
A week later I learned that, although Marvin had employed a clergyman to accompany him, drug dealers were also part of the entourage. Marvin had a three-bedroom hotel suite: he was in one room, the preacher in another, and the drug dealer in the third. Marvin was running between rooms, repentant one moment, sky-high the next.
Reports from the road grew more alarming.
At the finale of the show, Marvin would come out in a robe to perform “Sexual Healing.” At some point he’d disrobe, covered only by black briefs.
“I expose myself because the fans demand it,” he told me in New York, where I’d arrived to see him play Radio City Music Hall. “I offer myself up for slaughter. I am the sacrificial lamb. If their pleasure requires my destruction, so be it.”
“You don’t need to do that,” I said. “You don’t need to strip. You have a beautiful body, but it isn’t about your body. It’s about your voice, Marvin. Your fans love you because of your voice and the soul it expresses.”
“You speak in platitudes, dear, not in truth. The truth is that you have a vested interest in my destruction. And not only you. You and your dad Earl. There are others out here who are plotting. I’ve caught wind of those plots and have been forced to employ extreme security measures.”
Those measures included hiring his friend Dave Simmons as well as his brother Frankie to walk with him through the airports, hotels, and concert venues. Because both men resembled Marvin, Marvin felt that a potential assassin—and he was seeing assassins everywhere—would be unable to identify the real Marvin and consequently hold fire.
“There’s no one who wants to harm you,” I said. “You’re not thinking right.”
“And you are?” asked Marvin. “Are you speaking out of sound reason? Can you really set me on the straight and narrow? Have you really put down the pipe?”
I had no answer. Although my level of paranoia was nowhere near Marvin’s, I had not put down the pipe.
It was at Radio City when Columbia Records label head Walter Yetnikoff, a man Marvin liked enormously, came backstage before the show and got blasted with Marvin on coke. High as a kite, Walter put on Marvin’s red sequined stage jacket and went wandering off. When it was time to perform, Marvin had to find another jacket.
After the show, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton met with Marvin and pressed their case that he should be using a black promoter. Marvin argued that he often did just that, but on this tour he was using Don Jo Medlevine, who had been a longtime loyal supporter, especially during the dark days of Marvin’s tax problems. Despite the sharp protests coming from Jackson and Sharpton, Marvin held his ground.
My New York trip was reasonably calm. Maybe that’s the reason I agreed to join Marvin again on the road, this time in Miami. Big mistake.
I traveled there with my drug dealer and his wife.
When I arrived, Marvin looked dreadful. His eyes were bloodshot, his nose was leaking. He seemed lost. An aura of madness surrounded us.
“You’re fucking my bass player!” Marvin screamed the minute he saw me.
The accusation was unfounded.
“No, I’m not,” I insisted.
“You’ve come here to torture me!” Marvin insisted.
“You’re talking crazy!” I yelled.
That night I slept on his couch. Given Marvin’s volatility, I was afraid.
The next morning I was able to escape to the room of my drug dealer and his wife. I got high. The high deepened my confusion. How could I cope with the insanity surrounding Marvin and the tour?
“He probably just smoked some bad shit,” the dealer speculated. “Smoke some of this good shit and you’ll feel better.”
The good shit did make me feel better, and then worse, and then better again.
That night Marvin’s bodyguards called me to say Marvin wanted to see me. I knew I shouldn’t go there. For years I’d known that I had to get away. And yet I answered his call. I went to his room.
“I love you and I’ll always love you,” Marvin told me, “but you’re fucking my bass player.” Without warning, he threw a hot, steamy towel that hit me in the face.
“You’re fucking up my life!” he screamed.
Then he took a pot of hot water and threw it at me. I moved out of the way, but his violence stunned me.
I ran from his room. Ran down a long exterior hallway that stretched the length of the motel. I was on a high floor. I was sure Marvin or his men would catch me and throw me over the side. I ran faster and faster until I reached the room of my drug dealer.
“Get me out of here before something happens,” I said.
He gave me money to switch hotels.
The next morning I was on a plane heading to LA.
The next evening I was back in Hermosa Beach, where Mom was caring for the children.
I vacillated between sweet dreams where I was united with Marvin and nightmares in which he expressed murderous rage.
The dreams and nightmares were reflected in reality.
He called to say he was sorry.
He called to say that he knew I’d hired the Crips to murder him. When I called the accusation ridiculous, he hung up on me. I had never felt such frustration, such hopelessness. With all my heart I wanted to help Marvin, but I didn’t know how.
In August the Midnight Love tour hobbled back to California. By the time Marvin played the Greek Theatre in LA, he was spent. His voice was gone. He was gaunt. He was so paranoid about assassins that he stationed bodyguards to stand on either side of the stage during his performance.
After months on the road, he was sick—sick of mind, body, and spirit. Marvin couldn’t remain still. Because he felt chased, because he was increasingly uncomfortable in his own skin, he had to keep moving.
Dreams, nightmares, and reality collided. I couldn’t tell one from the other.
In my dreams, Marvin and I were fully recovered, fully healthy. There were blue skies and puffy white clouds, fields of fragrant wildflowers, green rolling hills. In my nightmares, people around me were lost in the dark, dealing with death by fatal diseases or bullets to the head. In reality, I was struggling for sanity.
I feared that Marvin was losing his sanity. He had no real home, moving from his sister’s apartment to Anna’s home in the Hollywood Hills.
“I need to stay on the move,” he said. “The devil’s on my trail. The devil can’t know my plan. No one can. I have a plan that will shock the world.”
His plan was to record a follow-up to “Sexual Healing” with “Sanctified Pussy.”
“Some say the song is beneath me,” he explained. “And yes, there is humor implicit in the title. But it is no joke. To find a church girl, pure and innocent—as you were once innocent, Jan—”
“I was never innocent,” I interrupted. “I lost my innocence when I was a child.”
“When I met you—”
“When you met me, you imagined me to be someone I was not. When you met me, I had already been to hell and back. So had you. You forget those things.”
“I remember everything,” he said. “I remember too much. It’s time to forget the past and turn back the hands of time. Time to meet that one woman, untainted and incorruptible—”
“Good luck on that journey,” I said.
“I need a woman as flawless as my own mother.”
“You’ll never find that, Marvin. We only get one mother.”
A week later, I was alarmed to learn that Marvin had gone to live with his mother. He had moved back to the rambling house on Gramercy Place.
His father was there, living in a second-floor bedroom next to Mother’s bedroom. Down the hallway was the room where Marvin slept.
Back in his parents’ home, Marvin grew more distant from reality. From what I heard, his paranoia grew alarmingly worse.
January 1984. February. March.
The winter came and went.
I knew that he couldn’t forgive himself for his inability to stop freebasing. For the same reason, I couldn’t forgive myself. I was disgusted with myself for staying on the pipe. He was disgusted with himself. He hated himself for turning away from God’s path.
Because money from Marvin ceased long ago, I was living on very little. I borrowed money from ex-lovers, friends, and family. I got a job cleaning house for a lady who paid me half in cash and half in cocaine.
Given Marvin’s state of mind, I couldn’t ask for a thing. He needed help, but no one around him—not his siblings, not his friends, not his management team—was able to reach him.
At one point he jumped out of the backseat of a moving car. He just wanted the pain to stop.
I knew he was desperate. Everyone around Marvin knew. But everyone, including me, was trapped in our emotional prison.
I was told that there was a gun. Supposedly Marvin bought it months earlier and gave it to his father.
“You need to protect me,” he told the man who had never protected him, the man who had tortured him. “They are after me. You must stop them. I am afraid.”
“I’ve never seen Marvin so afraid,” his brother Frankie told me. “He’s afraid of everything and everyone. Everyone except Mother. He clings to Mother.”
Mother was protection. But why had he appointed Father as his chief protector? Why had he handed a gun to Father? Or had he? Only God knows.
I was afraid to go over there. I stayed away. I didn’t really know the full extent of the madness.
On April 1, April’s Fools Day, the day before Marvin’s forty-fifth birthday, Father was screaming at Mother, accusing her of misplacing an insurance form. From what I was told, Marvin took up the role of protector. He felt compelled to protect Mother against the man verbally assaulting her, the man he had assigned to protect him, the man with the gun.
He felt compelled to do more than simply assault the man verbally; he had to assault him physically. I don’t know the severity of that assault, but I do know that Marvin harbored a lifetime of hatred for the man who had beat him unmercifully, as a boy.
I was home with the children when the calls started coming in. At first I didn’t believe any of them, but there were too many to ignore. I wanted to rip the phone from the wall. I didn’t want to hear the words. I wanted to run from the reality of what I was being told by a plainspoken detective:
It was true. Marvin Gaye was dead.
I dropped the phone and collapsed on the floor. When I picked myself up, I was still struggling to comprehend the incomprehensible.
Marvin had beaten his father.
His father had responded by fulfilling Marvin’s darkest and deepest hope.
His father had taken the gun Marvin had given him and shot his son dead.
Marvin was set free from his human form.
His father had punished him one last time, showing no mercy.
Marvin had punished his father by, according to the teachings of his church, insuring his father’s eternal damnation.
This was the last chapter of their poisonous story.
All these were ideas reeling through my brain. None of them made sense. All of them made sense. All I knew was that I was going to have to sit down with our children and tell them the most horrible thing they would ever hear.
“Daddy is gone.”