Top critical review
6 people found this helpful
on 6 December 2010
My first experience of the "Motown Sound" was listening to a BBC radio show devoted to the company when I was about 12 or 13.
The music has a rhythm and energy that I had seldom heard in the pop music of the early 1980's. I knew nothing about the artists. At such a young age the distinction between black and white music was not a factor. Then I heard a sound I had never heard before......within seconds I reached for the cassette player and pressed "record". I had captured a short part of a song I could not explain but found compelling, joyful and addictive.
The song was "Let's Get It On" by Marvin Gaye.
That song made me force my Mother to buy me my first long playing vinyl album and since that day I have had an undying love for the music of Marvin Gaye. This love of Marvin's music extends to an early appreciation of the underrated yet classic album "Here, My Dear" which in 2007 received glorious "Expanded Edition" treatment.
Marvin Gaye always appeared to me as a sophisticate with a suave and cool exterior. I knew that he had been murdered by his own Father but the greater details about his life where of little consequence when his music seemed to tell me all I needed to know about the artist.
Recently I purchased from Amazon "Where Did Our Love Go?" by Nelson George and "Divided Soul" by David Ritz. I wanted to learn finally and authoritatively about about Motown and particularly about the life of Marvin Gaye.
I read "Where Did Our Love Go?" by Nelson George first and was a little disappointed. The book is very short considering the subject and many interesting facts are omitted. It is well-written but feels slightly rushed. I expected a more in-depth study of the label and its artists. Indeed the book begins with a discussion of the word "authoritative" and challenges the concept due to faulty memories and revisionist intentions. But a biography can be authoritative even if it contains slight errors or perpetuates certain myths. To be authoritative in the biography format is to cover all the bases with a wealth of research and present all of the available facts. In this case "Where Did Our Love Go?" by Nelson George fails simply due to the huge amount of material this biographer chooses to omit.
"Divided Soul" by David Ritz on the other hand is authoritative. David Ritz is confident enough to know or seek out his subject and the biography is a revelation. The disturbing elements in Gaye's character are explored in depth yet there is a sympathy for the man much like those around him had, even when he was behaving at his most belligerent. The paranoia Marvin suffered so greatly in his later life is clearly a result of his cocaine use. This drug has the power to induce extreme paranoia. Cocaine taken regularly, when a person is already mentally confused, fragile, depressed or disturbed only exasperates those conditions.
The lasting impact of this excellent biography are in two areas of Marvin's life. The first is illustrated by a picture of Marvin standing on stage in nothing but a small black "jock strap" with his trousers around his ankles. This "humiliating" image shows how Marvin perversely believed that this was what the audience wanted.
The second is the idea, believed by his family, that Marvin was in fact in control of his actions right up to the last and his murder was in fact a conceived and conscious plan to finally rid his Father from the family for good. This idea is made more palatable by the fact that Marvin gave his Father the gun that indeed finally killed him.
David Ritz's book is one of the best biographies I have read and it should been seen as the authoritative examination of Marvin Gaye's life. I am sure Marvin himself would have been very pleased with the revelatory, sometimes shocking yet wholly honest content of this excellent biography.