Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye by David RitzDavid Ritz first met Marvin Gaye in 1978, after the former had defended Gayes album of the time 'Hear, My Dear' in the Los Angeles Times against a wave of scathing reviews that met the albums release. Ritz had written books on other artists, most notably Ray Charles. They became close friends and this book contains hours of transcribed interviews and conversations between the two men. Neither of them would have been aware that a lot of what was said would become, as well as his music, Gayes legacy of his life as only six years later he would be murdered by his own father the night before his forty fifth birthday.
As well as the interviews that Ritz carried out with Marvin, as a family friend he got to talk to all the main players in the life Marvin Gaye. His parents, siblings, musicians and artists who worked with him throughout his career, including many of the people involved with the magic of Motown.
As a fan of many different kinds of music, I can't think of any other record label in the history of popular music that excites me as much as the Tamla Motown Recording Corporation of Detroit Michigan. My love affair with Motown started with my purchase of an old scratched copy of The Velvettes single 'Needle in a Haystack' from a record exchange in Wakefield's indoor market in the mid-1980's, and through all different kinds of music I have heard since then I always return to the quality of songs by Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Martha Reeves, The Four Tops, and The Supremes amongst many many others. Motown had the songs, the singers, and the consistent class, style, and unique sound that I would argue has never been bettered in recorded music.
Apart from detailing Gayes entire life Ritz presents the reader with a great insight into the Motown hit factory. Often presented as one big happy family, Ritz shows the other side of Tamla. Artists stifled, session musicians and songwriters getting paid a pittance for their craft, and at the head of it all the tyrannical Berry Gordy Jnr. A man with enough financial success to make Midas blush (Gordy's fortune is estimated at a cool $600 million).
The accepted image of MG is one of the ultra cool funkateer playboy. This it seems was the polar opposite of the real man. From a troubled childhood that turned into a troubled life, Gaye was a man in constant turmoil. A believer in Christianity but at the same time a hedonist, a man capable of jaw-dropping genorosity but who could be a total nightmare when it came to contractual deals, a man who was a romantic but could be cruel as hell to his wives and partners. Underlying all of this was Marvin's relationship with his father. Marvin senior it seems was a vicious man who's son spent his life trying in vain to win his fathers love and acceptence.
This is a great biography, but one that at least a few times had me looking away from the page and cringing at the missed chances and mistakes that Gaye made in his career and personal life. Ritz details how the fresh-faced boy from Motown with the world at his feet ended his days as a shambling paranoid drug addict. This is the saddest tragedy in pop music I have ever read about. A man who brought pleasure to millions, but couldn't find peace for himself.
Aside from the floored and torured character that I read about in this book, Marvin Gayes legacy to me personally is his music. From his early stuff like 'Can I Get a Witness' through to 1971's monumentally great 'Whats Going On' album, he survived changes in musical fads and embraced new ways of making music. This biogrpahy from the sources interviewed seems to be the final word on Brother Marvin. I think it would be hard to find a better book on its subject. God bless Marvin Gaye!