‘Til Tomorrow – Marvin Gaye
Hey girl what you doin’? gettin up? You got to go ? …ah, don’t go just yet baby…Tu es encroyable…that’s French baby…it means you are incredible…mm? …why you got to go? baby don’t go, don’t go right now I can’t stand it please….
Now here’s a pop star who translates as he goes, unlike Grace Jones. Tu es Encroyable. And he has a decent accent too. This is because he’s been living in Belgium for a year, coming off cocaine and becoming fit, healthy and writing songs again. Marvin Gaye was in a terrible state in the early 80s, a cocaine/crack addict, owing the Revenue millions of dollars.
He was rescued by little-known Belgian entrepreneur Freddy Couseart who made a connection in London through boxing, one of Marvin’s soft spots, and offered him shelter and sanctuary in his pension in Ostend on the Belgian coast. Marvin, worn out with Motown (who had just released In Our Lifetime “before it was ready” which infuriated Marvin) and drained of energy, dread and desire, needed a rest, needed a break, needed a change of scenery. He found all three in this unlikely setting and started getting clean, getting physically fit, and writing songs. By the end of 1981 he had an albums-worth of material and a number of record labels flew over to Belgium to bid for the next MG product. CBS were wise and sent Harvey Fuqua who’d sung with Marvin in The Moonglows back in the 1950s before Motown and all that excitement, and CBS got the final LP Midnight Love (released in October 1982) and the lead single Sexual Healing. Marvin went back to the USA, scored a huge hit single, paid his tax, sang the National Anthem at the 1983 basketball final, (an astonishing performance), moved back to his parent’s house and got shot by his father on April 1st 1984.
I bought Midnight Love when it was released in 1982 and played it a lot. I was living in Finsbury Park at the time with Mumtaz. I’d started acting, in Moving Parts Theatre Company – (see My Pop Life #18), and then in pub theatres such as The Man In The Moon on the King’s Road doing an expressionist Clockwork Orange adapted by John Godber who I knew from Edinburgh days, also starring Paul Rider, Andy Winters, Pete Geeves. I was a hopeful monster. Some of my new feminist friends from Moving Parts came to see it and were horrified to find their pet man doing ultraviolence. But I scored an agent – David Preston – a shaven-headed queen ensconced in his purple velvet-lined office with brass candlesticks somewhere in deepest Soho – well I had to start somewhere…
This track ‘Til Tomorrow was the one that stood out for me (alongside the obvious charms of Sexual Healing) – the only ballad on a funky jazzy synth-heavy set, and with lyrics and instrumentation that are sparse to say the least, and a spoken Marvin-persona intro (which I include above) which is frankly hilarious, but somehow still sexy. That’s just how he was. I think my favourite Marvin Gaye LP(apart from WGO) is Live At The London Palladium from 1976, all the between-song chatter is fantastic, his voice is amazing, the band are great. Only the duets are a little weak.
Marvin Gaye in Ostend, Belgium, 1981
In 2013 I was cast in a Marvin Gaye biopic called Sexual Healing. Julien Temple was directing a script by Matthew Broughton about the last three years of Marvin’s life, (played by Jesse L. Martin) centred on the Ostend story with some flashbacks to Dad (Dwight Henry from Beasts Of The Southern Wild) and Mum (S. Epatha Merkers). Freddie Cousearts was Brendan Gleeson. I was Jeffrey Kruger Marvin’s tour manager in wig and large specs, the man who started London’s Flamingo Club a real music person, and a real person who now lives in Brighton. I never did look him up – it’s weird playing real people – you want to be true to them, but you don’t want to feel obliged, and in the end you have to play the script and what is written.
So there we were in Luxembourg in nice hotels, working with a lovely local crew (mainly) and immersed in the world of Marvin Gaye – I discovered (much like Columbus ‘discovered’ America) his 1981 LP In Our Lifetime which has some classic moments including opening song “Praise”, and I enjoyed working with Julien since we had a lot of mutual friends. I flew back to Brighton with one more day to complete – backstage at the Royal Albert Hall. We never shot it. The crew flew to Ostend and shot all of that stuff, but the London end of things was never completed, neither was the film, and nobody got paid. Another one of those stories. Julien hawked the rushes around for a couple of years, maybe still is doing so, but nothing doing. Essentially he’s trying to sell a huge debt with a possible money-spinning film behind it. Given that every film ever made is entirely a leap of faith, when one comes off the rails it is very very very hard to put it back, no matter who is involved or how sexy the project looks from the outside. Or the inside. Damn shame. A story that needs to be told as much as any I’ve ever done.
The Gaye family recently won a lawsuit against Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke for stealing Got To Give It Up, but I have no doubt that the decision will be reversed on appeal. The idea that you can copyright a groove is preposterous.
But Marvin’s legacy is still being fought over, Berry Gordy holds on tight to the Motown era songs, there has been a play based on Frankie Gaye‘s book Marvin Gaye My Brother, but somehow we had got the rights to the CBS LP Midnight Love so some of his tale could be told. Too many crooks as ever in this dirty business. Damn shame. Frankie Gaye died in 2001, and I would recommend the book. Frankie went to Vietnam and his experiences there in the late 1960s inspired Marvin to write and record What’s Goin’ On. Marvin’s son is also named Frankie.
So I miss Marvin Gaye. Miss him twice. ’til tomorrow… Thinking about him again, I have to say just this – his backing vocals are always completely amazing. Cluster chords, stretching what is vocally possible behind his soaring lead vocal. The guy was a master.
Oh but I didn’t mention our cat, our kitten Marvin. A Devon Rex with large ears and short fur, he would crawl up my body to sit on my shoulder whether I was wearing clothes or not. We bought him at 9 weeks old and he lived for another eight blessed weeks. Bled to death after cutting his mouth on a wicker basket, chewing it. Took him to the vet but he had genetic Factor 8 deficiency. Bless him the blood wouldn’t clot. He died lying on my chest in the middle of the night. Buried with full honours in the back garden. Wept buckets. So yeah, I miss Marvin three times.
Ralph Brown & Jesse L. Martin, Luxembourg, 2013