Despite his sultry, salacious crooning and all that iconic baby-making music (“Let’s get it on / Ah, baby, let’s get it on / Let’s love, baby”), Marvin Gaye was, in real life, not such a romantic. In modern parlance, one might call him problematic. He married Anna Ruby Gordy in 1963, when he was 24 and she was 41; the marriage was, by Gaye’s own admission, an attempt to break into the music industry — a business move. (He opined that “marrying a Queen” may make him “a prince.”) Add to that loveless union an Oedipus complex and Gaye’s unending affinity for prostitutes — a Madonna-whore predilection — and it’s no surprise that his insalubrious marriage quickly devolved into an imbroglio. The marriage survived for years (inexplicably, foolishly), despite a multitude of infidelities, a prodigious cocaine habit, and bastard children born to teenage girls; it finally came to an end in 1975, after the 33-year-old Gaye fathered a second child with his 16-year-old lover. Anna had grown fond of the lavish, opulent lifestyle Gaye afforded her, and the courts ruled that she, as Gaye later put it, had to “keep living the way she was accustomed to.” The singer-songwriter was ordered to give the royalties of his next album to his former wife. That album, Here, My Dear, was supposed to be a quick, careless project — an obligatory, court-mandated mediocrity to make money that Gaye would never actually see. Instead, Here, My Dear became a trenchant, enlivened, sexy-sad exegesis on divorce; pained and pensive, it’s one of the greatest breakup albums ever made.
Here, My Dear, was supposed to be a quick, careless project — an obligatory, court-mandated mediocrity to make money that Gaye would never actually see. Instead, Here, My Dear became a trenchant, enlivened, sexy-sad exegesis on divorce
Gaye’s album is not just about the fugacious nature of love, or the agony of heartbreak, but also the kinds of pain that are not often discussed — the practical problems and tumult of divorce, i.e. attorney fees. The album’s consistency and fluidity brings to mind a quote from John Cassavetes’s Love Streams: “Do you believe that love is a continuous stream?” Here, My Dear has a consistent tempo, and is replete with leitmotifs, mantras popping up again and again (“When did you stop loving me? / When did I stop loving you?” recurs, and the answers elude Gaye until the end); it captures the feeling of repeating the same mistakes and hoping for a different outcome. Love and heartbreak are here depicted with a kind of Sisyphean redundancy, a sense of lingering ailments, the future just a roulette of past maladies, unmitigated, unabating. The best track on the album — and, quite possibly, the finest song in Gaye’s oeuvre — is “Is That Enough,” a shimmery, undulating, eight-minute evaluation (evisceration?) of divorce formalities; it begins, “I was a fool from the start,” and it ends, after nearly eight minutes of some truly acerbic and acrimonious admonishments about the legalities that come with a divorce, with the lyric, “This is a joke / I need a smoke.” Gaye had already given up — when he still had almost an hour of album left to get through.
Part of Kicking the Canon – The Album Canon.