Honor Thy Brother-In-Law: A Visit With Marvin Gaye

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What's your normal Motown session?
Couple weeks. But not as a producer. As an artist it wouldn't take more than a couple weeks to complete a project.

As an artist you went into the studio and you were given 15 songs or however many . . .
Sometimes that many. If I were a good artist, I would do good and not squawk. If I'm a bad artist, I go in and say, "Hey, I'm tired of doing – I mean, the ball game's on tonight and I mean really, I'd like to finish them, I know that you don't care about the ball game, but I really want to get home and watch it." And then they'd call up and say, "Hey are you kidding me with this guy, he did two songs, and he's talking about going home to see the ball game." And somebody calls up and says, "Hey Marv, uh, time is valuable and I mean" . . . and they make me mad, and I say, "Yeah, well, up your Auntie's Fanny and off to the ball game and don't call me for the next session," and, "my contract will be up in three years, talk to me then," and . . . all that crazy temperamental jazz.

Tell me abut "Grapevine." Was that an accident?
Um hmm. No, no it wasn't. "Grapevine" was a divine thing. People . . . "Is he kidding? Not again!" you know. It wasn't supposed to be anything.

You were, what, the third person to do the song?

Who chose the song?
It was probably . . . who chose . . . well, I didn't choose it. I was being a good artist at the time. They tell you, "Marvin, you gotta come in and do this tune, because this song is a good song for you and it was written by so and so, so come right in there and be a good guy and cut it, Ok?" And that always bugged me. Generally I say go take your song and stuff it. But this particular time I said oh, hell, I'll be a good artist. But it was the Lord who was working and He knew I should have gotten to do it, so I did. And that's why it became a big hit. I needed the money, really, at the time. I was really a bad guy, and I needed the money . . .

How were you bad?
. . . Invariably, when you are a free-thinking person, one who feels he or she has something on the ball, and involved in a group of people who are in power, and you don't become part of the power or bend toward it, or . . . that's the problem right there, it was power against me, and I didn't like the feeling of being made to do something simply because a bunch of people said that this is what I should do, as though I'm a robot and couldn't think for myself or didn't know what I liked or disliked, and the biggest insult was that they always claimed they recognized me as talent, musical talent, but they never proved it by letting me do my own thing.

* * *

There's been a change, affected by dope, and I wondered . . .
You think I use dope, do you?

This morning, in fact, probably . . .
You thought I was floating around somewhere, [laughter] Could have been drunk, you know . . . Well, I enjoy . . . I think that if you know yourself and if you're in control of yourself, narcotics can be used in moderation, if you want to. I happen to be an individual, and if I choose to do something then I do it with full knowledge of what I'm doing, with the full knowledge of my body and its capacity . . . I'm a very careful person, I've always been, I was a careful teenager, and when the crowd was having a ball I'd drink my limit. I've only been drunk once in my life. And I had to get drunk one time to know what it was like. I do some things of course, but I don't think that marijuana is . . . I like grass, you know. I don't like booze.

The Spirit, The Flesh, and Marvin Gaye

You decided at one time that you didn't like booze. When did you make that choice about grass?
I've been open to grass since I was a kid. I've also been open to alcohol, cigarettes, uppers and downers, heroin, cocaine, but I mean, you know, . . . I dug all of them too. But what I dig and what's good for me are two different things.

What gave you that kind of control, do you think?
Wanting to live.

Anybody else influence you?
No. Only me, I just wanted to wake up in a way.

What's your wife's reaction to you? Have you always been this way?
Well, the thing about this is it's very dangerous because, what the hell, the Police Commission or somebody reads this copy and he said "Jeez, man, that Marvin Gaye, I didn't know that about him or nothing. I think we'll watch his mail or I think we'll snoop around a little bit, see if we can get a sensational bust." That's our society, how people get promotions. A guy like me has to be very careful, and it's a shame, because I'm not doing anything to anybody. Doing it to me. That's what's so amazing. I'm going to be punished for doing something to me. Who has that right other than God?

It seemed to me that there was a particular turning point that led to What's Going On.
I imagine I'm going to live a long time. I like to think I am, but I probably won't. And whatever hallucinogenic properties . . . whatever grass I've smoked or whatever booze I've consumed . . . in the back of my mind maybe I know that I won't live long. And maybe I also need those properties to see, because I cannot see if I'm like you. And if I'm not like you, you can't see me the way you see those who are like you. Consequently you're going to change how you are to try and see me. Probably during that course I'll be able to see you, and from seeing you I'll be able to know what I want to transmit into my music.

Maybe I get the vibration from that, whatever I'm trying to say, maybe when I sit down at the piano I'll get high again because maybe in my state, since that was my environment and that's how I lived for so long, maybe I cannot relate to that in a sober state, a state normal people are in when they just have a couple drinks when they go home. Maybe I cannot compose or I cannot create if I cannot recall. So in order for me to recall and create I have to be where I was when I dug it.

Who do you conceive to be the people you're communicating to? Your audience could be straight.
Who am I to say whether they are straight or not? I don't know that either. All I know is what I know and what I feel I know is truth to me, and that is how I live.

Where do you get your truth from?
I don't know, I have a computer in my mind, and I compute things. Like I've computed you already.

Do you think you're adapting your words to fit what you think I want from you? What this magazine might like? Are you that media-conscious?
Uh, yeah. Yeah.

And if I had said I was from . . .
Life? I'd be a different kind of guy.

Even from the morning on, from when you woke up?
Yes. Yes. From when I came out. I'd probably be dressed differently. I mean you wouldn't even know me.

Do you still think that you're being totally honest?
Yeah. Because I would have not conceived it that way. I'm not laying down saying, "Ok, tomorrow I've got Life Magazine coming and I'm going to get up and put a suit on," not like that . . . but I do know there would be a difference. If you left now and another guy came in from Soul Magazine I would probably be different, I'd probably talk to him differently because I would try to communicate to him the way I think I can communicate to him best . . . But when you say totally honest, I think that's a mark against my . . . I would hate for anything hypocritical to be inferred. I think I am probably the most non-hypocritical person I know; I'm a chameleon. There's a difference. I happen to be able to adapt. But I'm always honest in whatever adaption I take.

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