Thursday, February 21, 2008

Here My Dear; Divorce Devine

Marvin Gaye's last great album turn 30 this year an Universal celebrates with a two disc expanded edition. The story of "Here My Dear" is probably one of the most fascinating ones in the history of Soul. As is well know Marvin married into the Motown family when he tied the knot with Berry Gordy's sister Anna. When that marriage turned sour and the couple filed for divorce they settled out of court. Instead of Marvin paying Anna the sum of a million dollars he'd pay her the advance for his next album and the royalties that the album would reap. Gaye had little choice, he was broke. He snorted a fortune in coke and the IRS was after him. What Gaye intended to be a trite Pop album became his last masterpiece.

Anna was Gaye's muse though out his career. It was with Anna in mind that Gaye wrote Pop Soul gems as "Stubborn Kind Of Fellow" or "Pride And Joy". When Gaye sang them he simply closed his eyes and thought of Anna to get the feeling across. It was Anna that made his songs come to life, that gave them a heart and soul. Put like that their romance sounds idyllic, a match made in heaven. But nothing in Gaye's life was ever easy. His childhood was troubled to say the least. His father was a cross dressing abusive preacher who scarred Marvin for life. His mother he placed on a pedestal, she was his Madonna. In the excellent David Ritz book "Divided Soul" Marvin basically confessed that he married his mother when he gave Gordy, 17 years his senior, his vows. Marvin was in his twenties at the time, coming to terms with both success and the failures of his youth, looking for a consoling mother figure. Though Marvin masked his uncertainties with his suave Casanova crooner image he suffered from terribly insecurities. Anna was his comfort, his ego boost. Gaye needed her to dominate her as much as he resented that. The relationship was uneven from the get go, destined to fail.

The catalyst for the separation would be the 16 year old Janis Hunter ironically as old as the age difference between the two. Gaye first laid eyes on her while recording "Let's Get It On". He would later claim that it was this sweet sixteen that enabled him to sing the silky balled "If I Should Die Tonight" like he meant it. Janis would become his obsession. Though she may have been the catalyst the seeds for the divorce from Gordy were sown far before that, maybe on the onset of their relationship even. The closing piece on Marvin's second masterpiece was the biting "Just To Keep You Satisfied". Interestingly enough co-written with Anna. It was as if the couple was telling each other their relationship was bound to crash years before it actually did. The songs was filled with vicious indictments, a testimony of a relationship that was suffocating instead of liberating. Theirs was an ambivalent relationship at best. The song was one of Marvin's greatest artistically triumphs. After that his career would gradually slide into a slump. Although often a heralded album "I Want You" was a mere shade of the brilliance that was "Let's Get It On". Though not without its own merits, the near pornographic and coke infested suite never even nearly scratches the divinity of its predecessor.

It was never Gaye's intention to break that slump with "Here My Dear", but Anne proved his muse for better or for worse. As Gaye confessed to Ritz the record became his deep passion, it became an obsession, one of his many. The couple hadn't spared each other in court, their divorce had turned into the mud fight of the ugliest kind. At one point Anna even denied Marvin access to his children. That's how sour their union had turned. Neither could seem to stop that train and resolve things in a civil matter. "I knew I'd explode if I didn't get all that junk out of me" Gaye later confessed to Ritz. Allegedly Gaye went into the studio unprepared and had the engineer simply open up the microphones, the words and melodies simply came oozing out of him, exorcizing all the anger and frustration surrounding the divorce. The result would be an ego document covering two LPs. "Here My Dear" is Marvin Gaye at his most loose and honest. He literally opens his Soul by letting the songs chronicle the divorce. The unstructured nature of the recording sessions allowed "Here My Dear" to be the ultimate Soul confession going beyond the natural emotional exhibitionism that's trademark to the genre.

Given the loose nature of the sessions it is remarkable that the album is as cohesive as it finally became. Over four sides the album takes the listener on a journey through the relationship of Marvin and Gordy and their eventual demise. Marvin makes it clear on the opening track the album is his confession to Anna, giving the record a voyeuristic edge. Smooth as the arrangements may be at times the album gives that uncomfortable feeling you get when you're watching a couple fight at a dinner party. Through out "Here My Dear" Marvin delivers vicious stabs to Anna, accusing her of taking his money and children, while screaming out the next moment to his Anna in desperation, like the scared little boy she married. The album's centerpiece "When Did You Stop Loving, When Did I Stop Loving You" comes back three times, its that tormenting question that Gaye uses to express his anger, frustration, desperation. It's the track by which he tries to remember the good times they must have had and tries to pin point the moment where things started to turn sour. As a listener you're dragged from pure venom to almost absolute devotion and every emotion in between. Anybody who's ever gone through a painful separation will find some common ground on "Here My Dear". Maybe it is the confrontational nature which caused the critics and audience to shun the album, maybe its theme was simply too uncomfortable for a quick embrace, because on its release reviews and sales were disappointing to put it mildly. It nowhere near got Anna the money she had hoped for. Yet over the years this slow burner has reaped recognition slowly but steadily. So much it even wound up on the Rollingstone top 500 albums of all time. The tragedy of Gaye and Gordy would ultimately prove to be one of his greatest artistic triumphs, not to be missed in any record collection.

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