Wednesday, March 31, 2010

SONGS #99 & 100: Here My Dear; When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You?


Let's hear it for Song #100! 

Divorce and/or breakup has, at times, brought out the best in artists.  Surviving such an emotional and gutbusting experience can lead artists to extraordinary self-reflection:  Blood On The Tracks and Sea Change, for example.  And then sometimes people go a little nutty, and channel narcissistic depths and wild delusions as on this long, wild, weird album, best revealed by these two tracks.  Marvin Gaye was a brilliant man in many ways, but one of the poor choices in his life was marrying his boss' sister, Anna Gordy, when he was one of the most desirable bachelors in the United States.  Their marriage was tumultuous at best, and after a few years, it came apart, and the divorce settlement that followed included a truly inspired line item; Anna would receive all of the royalties from Gaye's next album.

Let's review-- a couple breaks up, with alarming public acrimony, and the lawyers come up with the idea that the wife gets the profits from her husband's next venture as part of the settlement.  Wouldn't you expect the husband in that scenario not to put his full heart and soul into the project?  If Tiger and Elin go this same route, he's gonna shoot a 226 in the first round of the Masters, playing with a set of plastic Fisher-Price clubs.  "Sorry, honey-- I tried."

That actually was Gaye's original intention-- to go in and make the worst album he could, sell four copies of it, and stick it to Anna one last time.  But once he started recording, the self-reflection that came with ending something so central to his identity shook him up.  So instead of phoning in a terrible album, Gaye dug deep into his psyche, and poured out every ounce of anger, regret, love, self-loathing and acceptance into a double album, easily one of the strangest releases in rock history.

When it came out, this album was flayed by critics.  People mocked and completely rejected it.  If you read my last post about another 1978 song, I think part of the reason critics slagged this record is that people didn't want to think that divorce would hurt that bad in 1978.  Divorce was just a part of growth, right?  People can move on, and everyone can stay friends and be polite and restrained with one another, right?  

Well, no.  At least, not Marvin Gaye.  

Take a look at the inner artwork:  think he's a little bitter?  Take your time-- it's like looking at a map of subconscious dysfunction.

At the same time, Gaye's also obviously trying to move on and move forward.  It's that tension between picking through the ruins and looking ahead that defines the whole record.

I recommend listening to the whole album at least once, because there are few listening experiences like it.  It's like intercepting someone's goodbye letter, and not some hastily scribbled, drunken kiss off, but one agonized over, meticulously crafted.

The album starts with the title track, with these lyrics, which I've tried to decode:

I guess I'd have to say this album is dedicated to you.
Although perhaps you may not be happy, this is what you want, so I conceded.
I hope it makes you happy.
There's a lot of truth in it, babe.

These are barely lyrics, don't you think?  He's essentially just talking to her, with a soul groove in the background.  Classic passive-aggression.  "Well, here's what you asked for.  I did my best."  There's such tension between the backing track and the vocal here.  The softness of his voice belies the rawness of his feelings.

I don't think I'll have many regrets, baby.
Things didn't have to be the way they was, baby.
You don't have the right to use the son of mine to keep me in line.
One thing I can't do without is the boy whom God gave to both of us.
I'm so happy, oh, for the son of mine.

Such anger here.  "No regrets, but I double-dog dare you to try to put our son between us."  You can feel some seething, unfinished business crawling to the surface here.

So here it is, babe.
I hope you enjoy, reminisce, be happy, think about the kisses and the joy.
But there were those other moments too, the times that were cloudy and grey.
But you taught me that was life.
May love ever protect you, may peace come into your life.
Always think of me the way I was.
Ha, I was your baby.

Regret.  "I wish you happiness, except when I hope that you get hit by a bus, which is less and less often."  My favorite part of the song is that single "Bad" in the middle of the verse.  It's wonderful understatement.  You know that "bad" doesn't even begin to cover it.  "Cloudy and grey" my foot.  I also love the way he lets go and holds on at the end of the verse-- good luck, but don't forget about me.

This is what you wanted.
Here, dear, here it is.
Here, my dear, here it is.

It's a mesmerizing start to the record.  I can't imagine what Gaye's ex-brother in law and boss Berry Gordy thought when he first heard it.  It's the 1978 equivalent of a TMZ-intercepted text message.  It must have killed Gordy to release this record, and must have made Thanksgiving with his sister unbelievably awkward.

"When Did You Stop Loving Me" is the third track on the album, but its lynchpin.  It's reprised twice later on the record.  It also starts with a spoken reverie, this time about commitment:

You know, when you say your marriage vows, they're supposed to be for real. I mean... if you think back about what you really said, you know, about, honor and loving and obeying till death do us part and all. But it shouldn't be that way, it should, it shouldn't be lies because it turns out to be lies. If you don't honor what you said, you lie to God. The words should be changed.

Ouch!  At that point, though, the true genius of Marvin Gaye, his singing, takes over, and the record moves from curio to something much deeper.  That "Oooooo!" that opens the first verse is when the whole album takes off to truly adventurous territory.  The groove is kept simple, not as cluttered by big strings like many 70s soul tracks.  Listen to the bass and drums lock in and establish the rhythm for Gaye and the band to work with.

Ooo now as I recall, we tried a million times
Again and again and again, and that isn't all
I gave my love to you each time to make amends
Suddenly I start to realize I can't make it
Pretty birds fly away, I had to leave you for my health's sake
What to do? Make him pay,
for leaving you, my fine, is to pay forever
So if a fresh new love comes in, I won't say those words again
Instead I'll say I'll try to love and protect you
With all my heart as long as you want me to baby
Ooo if I love again I'm gonna try a new way this time

This song has one of the most complicated vocal melodies I've ever heard in a pop song-- Gaye is pushing himself here.  And the lyric is an open book-- there are few songs more revealing or stripped of metaphor.  Because the song is so complicated, instead of humming along, I just find myself sucked in time and again, feeling almost voyeuristic.

Memories of the things we did; some we're proud of, some we hid
So when two people have to part, sometimes it makes them stronger
Do you remember all of the bullsh*t, baby?
You say you love me with all your heart
If you ever loved me will all of your heart
You'd never take a million dollars to part
I really tried, you know I tried, oh baby
Although we tried, all of those promises was nothin' but lies
I really tried, you know how I really tried, we really lied, didn't we baby?
And on top of that you have scandalized my name

It's such a great case study in how hard it is to let go; he's trying so hard to me magnanimous, but he's so mad about the money and the stories swirling about him.  The effect isn't pretty; given the chance to come off as regretful but resigned and respectful, he can't help but take pot shots when she has no chance to retort.

What I can't understand is if you love me
How could you turn me into the police?
Didn't I love you good and try to take care of you?
Best that I could
You were so divine
And your love was like mellow wine
Pains of love, miles of tears,
Enough to last me for my lifetime
Broken hearts last for years, soon break away to the noonday sunshine
One thing I can promise, friend: I'll never be back again
But I'm not really bitter babe
I wish you all the luck and all the love in the world,
good love in the world (good luck in the world)
But I know you'll never be satisfied
No, you still want me standin' by your side

That line about the police gives me the chills every time, especially in a verse that suggests that she'll spend her whole life wishing she'd never left him.  The arrogance here is punishing, and while I think this song is as honest as a song can be, it's clear that Gaye hasn't figured things out.  "But I'm not really bitter babe" is almost hilariously revealing of Gaye's intense bitterness.

Memories haunt you all the time, I will never leave your mind
Got judgement on your side; you've said bad things and you've lied
Still I remember some of the good things baby
Like love after dark and picnics in parks
Those are the days I'll not forget in my life
I'd rather remember, remember the joy we shared babe
I'd rather remember all the fun we had
All I ever really wanted was to love you and treat you right
All we did was fuss and fight
It don't matter baby, take a lesson from them all
I never thought I'd see the day when you'd put me through what you put me through
You tried your best, you say I gave you no rest

For some reason, the line about the picnics always gets to me.  I imagine Marvin Gaye, international pop star, millionaire, heading down to the park with a few sandwiches and a frisbee with Anna to just sit for a few hours.  It's a heartbreaking line about how much Gaye craves normalcy in his life even though he's been famous since he was a teenager.  It's also a great reminder that a relationship is made up of a million insignificant moments as much as 2-3 big ones.  Whatever was the last straw for this couple, they'll remember that moment forever, but Gaye's got a sense that what he'll most lose (if not miss) is their casual, daily initmacy.

When did you stop loving me? When did I stop loving you?

Anyone else think Gaye's genuinely asking here?  I don't think he has answers for these questions either.

What a wild song!  What a wild album!  Check it out.

Interestingly, the record is coming to be seen as a lost classic now.  I wonder if we've just become more conservative again, and Gaye's pain seems more real and natural to us now then it did at first.  Gaye's own horrible death at the hands of his father in 1986 also makes him a much more sympathetic voice in hindsight.  Whether you feel like Anna deserves such infamy (only the "Elizabeth" of the Counting Crows catalog has been more publically revealed) or not, this album stands as an example of what love can do to you.  Here, My Dear is rock n roll's equivalent of Van Gogh cutting off his ear.

LINK for Here My Dear:

LINK for When Did You...:


  1. I am a sucker for the genre of break up albums. Blood on the Tracks and Making Movies are two of my all time all times. That said, the combination of Marvin Gaye's horrible, horrible personal life, plus the eerily cheerful backing tracks, plus the surreality of the lyrics on these tracks creeps me out. I can barely listen to Gaye's most accessible stuff without reflecting on how things turned out for him,so for me this record is a bridge too far.

    BTW, there's a character in the book The Fortress of Solitude that must be at least partially based on Gaye. The book is excellent and super evocative, to the point that it actually made my Marvin-phobia worse, not better.

  2. what happened?