DIVIDED SOUL: The Life of Marvin Gaye by David Ritz

DIVIDED SOUL: The Life of Marvin Gaye

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Though abysmally written and crudely amateurish in its psychological analysis (the sort that unfairly gives all Freudian life-history a bad name), this biography is revealing enough--about Gaye's lifelong problems, about the Motown music empire--to interest more than a few fans. Depending largely on 1979 interviews with Marvin himself, Ritz centers his chronicle on the Pentecostal Gay(e) family's fierce Oedipal triangle: ""Father and Son competing for Mother's love""; beatings from Martin Sr.; both father and son plagued by spiritual/fleshly tensions, by sexual ambivalence, by fear/hatred of women, by leanings toward transvestitism. Thus, while Marvin's career moved from D.C. ""doo-wop"" to Harvey and the Moonglows to Berry Gordy's Detroit, he remained insecure--bedeviled by a whore/madonna complex, longing to be a sensitive balladeer but typecast as ""Dionysus, god of indiscriminate sex."" He married tycoon Gordy's sister, 17 years Marvin's senior; he failed to be a black Sinatra, succeeding only as a sex symbol. (""Pleasing women was a chore he approached with suppressed anger which manifested itself in his sadomasochism."") Despite a breakthrough triumph with the socio-political What's Going On, he was paralyzed by fear-of-failure; his 1970s attempts to integrate God and sex (in a ""horny, slightly porny"" style) left him feeling self-exploited, like the prostitutes he was drawn to; drug-use and paranoia escalated; a second marriage was fractured by his sexual hangups. (""He wouldn't be happy until Jan fell from her pedestal. He pushed her off and cried over the broken pieces."") Cocaine addiction led to money problems; despite the comeback success of ""Sexual Healing,"" he ""felt himself being dragged back as a servant of sex. In Marvin's mind, the devil called, the devil he could never quite resist."" So his death, argues Ritz, was really a virtual suicide (""Marvin couldn't stand it another day"")--as the disturbed Father and Son rekindled their ""smoldering acrimony,"" a nightmare that ended with Marvin Sr. shooting Marvin Jr. Ritz, whose friendship with Gaye ended in a dispute over credit for the ""Sexual Healing"" lyrics, is far from the ideally objective biographer; the sources of information throughout are sometimes one-sided, less than absolutely trustworthy. And Ritz's assessments of Gaye's work--certain late albums are ""masterpieces""--are often pretentious and unpersuasive. But, even if it's a nonauthoritative hodgepodge of gossip, memoir, and speculation, this is depressing, disturbing reading for Gaye admirers and--for followers of the Motown scene, from Stevie Wonder to Diana Ross.

Pub Date: May 6th, 1985
Publisher: McGraw-Hill