“I could never tell you the way I felt when the news of Marvin Gaye’s death came to my ears”, explained to me Carl MacIntosh (of Loose Ends) years ago in Paris after I’d told him how he tended to sound like him at times. “I was chillin’ home while listening to Kiss-FM when they interrupted their programs all of a sudden. It was something like 1:00am on Apr. 02. And it left me in a real state of shock for a while which seemed like never ending.” God surely remembers how he wouldn’t be the only one feeling like this…
I couldn’t exactly neither say where I was back on this fatidic date. Although I may affirm that the info came to me at about the same time. With the images of my few meetings with Marvin coming brutally back to mind…
I suppose we were somehow destined to meet. Even though nothing could predict such a thing would happen. As a matter of fact, I was doin’ my military obligations in Germany back then. And I had been agreed to have a few day break which got me to go by a friend of mine who was living by the North Sea in Oostende. Then, one morning while taken in my thoughts, seating on a bench, a man came at me. He simply asked: “May I?”, to which I politely responded by the affirmative.
We started exchanging platitudes about the surroundings and the weather. Then he asked me if I was living in the area, to which I responded by the negative. Although explaing him that a part of my family had Flemish roots. Meanwhile I started having that strange feeling of deja vu as time would go when havin’ a look at my interlocutor’s face. And even though it was kind of embarrassing, I said: “Excuse me, Sir, aren’t you… Marvin?” He softly said he was. Explaining me he was as well spending a few days in the area. Eventually searching for new ideas, inspiration for a new album to come.
“Marvin, he was a friend of mine, and he could sing a song, his heart in every line. Marvin sang of the joy and pain, he opened up our minds. And I still can hear him say: Aw talk to me so you can see what’s going on. Say you will sing your songs, forevermore (evermore)…” (from the Commodores‘ ‘Nightshift’)
Although I was not aware of Marvin Gaye‘s troubles which would be the reason why he landed in the area, I could feel the man was like absorbing everything he was lookin’ at. Probably to make himself familiar with this environment. Way different from his native American one. But also as if he was in search/need of a new breath.
We met like this, in front of the North Sea, like 3 or 4 times during my staying. Exchanging thoughts about this or that. With myself explaining him I was into Soul, Funk, Disco and Jazz, spinning here or there during the weekends. We eventually went to have a drink at some bar. There, I discovered he enjoyed playing darts along with local people. I would go back to Oostende a couple of months later at Marvin‘s invitation to see him performing live at the Kursaal (the city’s casino) during the first weekend of July 1981.
I could clearly realize how high he was on his search for perfection. Makin’ sure each and every single detail was sorted out when rehearsing. From the exact moment where he could take a breath. To the most carressing arrangements he could set up along with his musicians. Meanwhile always caring about maintaining a certain the distance he felt like he had to be from the microphone. An equation which is probably for much in Marvin‘s apparent body introversion on stage added to a certain reserve…
Marvin never got that talkative, as far as I could notice from the few exchanges we had. Although one could feel that his mind was full of countless things. I guess he was that kind of (troubled) man you might have some understanding of while havin’ a look at his uncomparable skills as an artist. And by this, I mean not only as a performer but also an author. And this, further more than what one might have read here or there. Knowing that there are things at times which can’t simply be fully expressed with single words.
I would meet him once again quite incidentally, a few months later, in London. And notice an evolution regarding his view of the time he was livin’ back then. This would be the very last time I saw him. Although he managed to get a copy of his 1982 ‘Midnight Love’ album coming to my place…
Now with the time, I would tend to see Marvin Gaye’s existence as a line made of unceasing ups and downs purely based on emotions. And this is probably what makes his contribution so vibrant. As well as it would have been the fuel of such a moody behaviour, based on contradictory feelings, not to say internal demons. A sort of Dr Jeyckill & Mr Hide unhidden version if you allow me the expression. Leading to those extremes including the ultimate one on Apr 1st 1984 which Marvin’s existence’s been made of…
Marvin, you were a friend of mine…
That Stubborn Kinda Fellow (Tamla)
What’s Going On (Tamla)
Trouble Man (Tamla)
I Want You (Tamla)
Here, My Dear (Tamla)
– Marvin Gaye, My Brother by Frankie Gaye with Fred E Basten (backbeat Books, Apr. 2003)
– Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye by David Ritz (Da Capo Press, Sept.1991)
– Mercy, Mercy Me – The Art, Loves & Demons of Marvin Gaye by Michael Eric Dyson (Basic Civitas Books, March 2004)
Tribute: Marvin Gaye (You were a friend of mine…)
Marvin Gaye Midnight Love Tour [More info…]