In 1976, while recording his eleventh album for Motown, Marvin Gaye was bankrupt and at the end of a messy divorce with Anna Gordy Gaye, the sister of Motown founder Barry Gordy. Marvin met Anna back when he was merely a back-up drummer for Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, and there’s even some speculation that the marriage helped launch his solo career. Anna Gordy was seventeen years Gaye’s senior, but their romance was a passionate one. Marvin credited her as the inspiration behind some of his early hits, and Anna even had a hand in writing some of Gaye’s landmark album, What’s Going On. On the other hand, the couple was famously jealous of one another—Anna bristled at the attention Marvin received from women, and Marvin publicly suspected Anna of infidelity on songs like “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” Sure enough, by 1973 Marvin had taken up with (then seventeen year-old) Janis Hunter, whom he eventually married. Two years later, Anna filed for divorce. Notoriously horrible with money, Marvin had nothing to give Anna by way of settlement, so it was decided that she would receive all of the royalties from his next album. Though he initially intended to churn out a quick, shoddy record, once Marvin got into the studio, he discovered he could give the sessions no less than his best effort. Ultimately, he spent more than two years recording an ambitious double-album that incorporated doo-wop, funk, soul, jazz, and just about every emotional state known to man. Released in December 1978, the album featured a Monopoly-style board game called “Judgement” on the inside cover. The board was divided into a man’s side and a woman’s side. On the man’s side was a piano and some recording equipment. On the woman’s side was money, a car, a house, and a diamond ring. Across the title, a male hand was depicted handing a record off to a female hand, presumably representing Marvin fulfilling the terms of his divorce by handing the album over to Anna. The album was called Here, My Dear.
It’s nearly impossible to separate the music on Here, My Dear from the mythology surrounding the album. For one thing, it is one of the rawest albums in history, as Marvin changes moods like a manic depressive. On the opening title track, he berates Anna for not allowing him to see his son: “You don’t have the right to use the son of mine to keep me in line.” Later, he warns that “anger will destroy your soul” while some demonic heavy breathing goes on in the background. “Is That Enough” features Gaye complaining about paying attorney fees, while “You Can Leave But It’s Gonna Cost You” describes Anna testifying against Marvin on the witness stand. The whole album has a stream-of-consciousness narrative quality, as Gaye rarely uses choruses or verses—the songs are more like musical rants. And you can hear him fighting against his better instincts—never fully willing to make a great album; never committing to dive-bombing it. Of course, it’s somewhat romantic to imagine Marvin Gaye as an exposed nerve, shell-shocked by the brutal divorce, and that’s the way the retroactive critical appraisal has leaned since the initially derided album has been re-embraced by his fans. What’s fascinating is that if Gaye suffered through the erratic emotional turmoil depicted on Here, My Dear—and, remember, his marriage to Anna was over long before the divorce—he would have been dealing with it for a period of four years, between the time the divorce was filed and the time the album was released. Gaye’s escalating cocaine addiction probably exacerbated his shifting moods (how else do you explain the 8 minute monstrosity of a lead single, “A Funky Space Reincarnation”?) But, ultimately, more than a heart-rending depiction of the messiness of divorce, Here, My Dear is a stunning snapshot of emotional mental collapse.
-Martin Brown, 2009