Thursday, January 13, 2005

Ain't Nothin' Like the Real Thing

About a month ago, I said I was going to go through the alphabet musically. I'm still doing that. I've only just gotten to G.

Marvin Gaye.

Not much to say, except that he rules.

He started off in the early days of Motown, a session musician who later went on to write successful hits for others (like "Dancing In The Street"). He came from the ghetto of Washington DC, and music took him away from all that, but (there's always a "but," isn't there?) his life was marked by bouts of substance abuse and depression. During the 60's, he graced both the r&b and pop charts, entering a dynamic collaboration with Tammi Terrell which ended in 1967, when she collapsed onstage in his arms. (She died of a brain tumor 3 years later, and Gaye used to say he died with her.)

After some time in seclusion, the man who occasionally referred to himself as "the black Frank Sinatra" came back, reinvented, with the classic "What's Going On," which I think is a must have for every living person on the planet. A socially conscious and intensely groovy concept piece, the album is as relevant today as it was in 1971. Oddly, the topics (Vietnam, drugs, poverty, the environment, inequality) seem to echo our current state of affairs... It's like a funk gospel, a beautiful album. It gave new cred to Motown and re-established Gaye as a potent force in music.

Gaye continued to make records until he was shot, while on a violent drug fueled bender, by his own father in 1984. He was an incredible talent.