29
Mar 02

Marvin Gaye is dead

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Marvin Gaye is dead and I don’t feel well myself — strictly speaking, there’s much in this article I can’t fault and so I won’t. Admittedly, Gaye’s enshrinement in The Pantheon is almost as omnipresent as Dylan’s, and therefore almost as stultifying. But whereas I can’t stand Mr. Zimmerman, I happily own a slew of Gaye’s material, though as with much else it’s an enjoyment that doesn’t need regular stoking, while much of said material doesn’t really provoke love. For Moses it does, and I’m quite taken by his descriptions of a youth confronted with horrors tangible through a TV screen and how for him Gaye captured that deep-seated unease of a kind I didn’t have to deal with at a young age, a situation I desperately try not to take for granted. When Moses speaks of wandering his house blinded by grief after Gaye’s death, I recognize my own misery at other deaths, like Charles Schulz’s, but again Moses deals with much more, with a terrible, awful pain resulting from a terrible, awful way to die. This is the voice of the passionate fan, the one who is so taken by an artist as to regard him as a friend, sibling, even a lover, and why not?


But the article still falls apart for me — not obviously so, but in ways I sense particularly. Moses suggests art lasts due to motivations of love on its creators’ part rather than rage or hate, when I’m with Neil Tennant, who says that hate can be a key motivation — wanting to do something different, despising the obvious, searching beyond it. Moses talks about soul being ‘back’ when I can’t sense it ever having gone away, though the obvious subtext is that Moses favors soul without all those nasty machines providing the backing — thus the already-tiring referencing of Alicia Keys, when Moses could more accurately note that her success is less due to Gaye and more due to Clive Davis, now happily pushing an anti-Whitney Houston as if to make up for what he did in the mid-eighties.


Most off-putting of all is the quote from the organizer behind that damned ‘tribute’ remake of “What’s Going On” last year, which probably would have been seen as nothing more than the grotesque backslap it is if it hadn’t been for certain idiocies on a September morning shortly after recording. Says the organizer, one Leigh Blake, “‘N Sync — who thought they’d know anything? But Justin really got it. So did Britney, so did Alicia Keys. People did their parts and cried.” Please. Now maybe they did cry, and maybe it was real — but the way it reads is less ‘how touching!’ and more ‘how dare you *not* love this effort,’ pure publicity shill, like all the hype around “We Are the World” sixteen years later and all the more mawkish and forced. Somewhere Gaye is completely lost in all this, a convenient dead person with a famous song to use and abuse, being spoken for in his absence by equally conveniently self-appointed keepers of a flame.


Perhaps because of this Moses would label me as a product of the eighties that he despises, perhaps he would say I don’t care like I should. To quote a key point:

I think that was when the emotional color began to drain out of American life; when people started to regard the ideals and the struggles of the ’60s with scorn. Maybe it started with Reagan’s election in 1980 and John Lennon’s murder the same year. Either way, the vibe turned cynical. We pontificate and analyze and criticize, and every day the world ends a little more.

But this misses something which is glaring in its absence, something seemingly hard for Moses to understand but which still is the case — that one can be antisentimental, or, say, that one can like ‘colorless’ or ‘cynical’ music in particular, and yet still love those ideals. I don’t need to break down and cry while singing a song about trying to rise above the filth and hate of an American society that should instead be fulfilling its best promise to agree that the message is still a good one.


Meanwhile, if analysis and criticism are to be shunned or at least suspected as something being tools that kill the beating heart of idealism, then I, for one, give up. For they are the tools that can just as easily help win someone to a cause, help move beyond simplistic statements to concrete actions and reactions, to do more than just ask what, indeed, is going on, to in fact fight against that pontification Moses equates with these approaches. Far from slaying ideals, knowledge, discussion, critique and more can make them stronger, all the more stronger as time passes.


Those ideals didn’t start in the sixties and they didn’t die with them. Gaye didn’t invent them, he just captured them as he happened to see fit, in a way that others responded to. For that let us salute him, or at least acknowledge his impact. But it seems to me that yet another saint, secular or religious, with feet of gold or feet of clay, to unquestioningly bow our heads to means a little less opportunity for all kinds of responses to a world of pain.


What’s going on? So much more than what’s in a song.

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