Words By Jesse H.
I’ve tried nearly every home remedy to cure bouts of insomnia; those periods of sleeplessness that keep you up wondering about the fate of humanity and asking “big” questions that have the mind running like a gerbil on a wheel. I’ve tried monotonous measures like counting sheep and extreme tactics like imbibing a few strong mixed drinks. After numerous tests, I’ve come to the conclusion there is no cure more effective and healthy for one’s mind, body and soul than the music of Marvin Gaye.
Marvin never relied heavily on complex lyricism to deliver his message, instead focusing on transcendent, universally applicable themes that he delivered in a free-spirited style of crooning. Simply looking at his lyrics on paper, they may come across as overly-idealistic and holier than thou. But it’s Marvin’s delivery that saves him from coming across as pious. He delivers his songs straight from his soul, as if there was never a paper or a pencil to consider in the first place. He often invoked the word “we” in his lyrics to great effect, a move that is simple in nature, but one that goes a long way in reinforcing his theme of unity.
His ability to inspire with his lyrics was matched by his extraordinary musical talents. He was a multi-instrumentalist who was often sought after for his musical talents as well as his creative input (he played drums on several Stevie Wonder recordings). Using his skills and his unmatched ability to tie sounds together into a cohesive composition, he developed a distinct, multi-layered sound packed with uplifting string movements, gentle touches of muted brass, whispered drums, twinkling bells, cooing background vocals, and hushed piano chords. He blended them all so seamlessly, and subsequently set the standard for what a Soul artist could be.
Choosing one single Marvin Gaye track to best define his legacy is an exercise in futility. Nonetheless, a track that exemplifies the vastness of his talent quite effectively is “Life’s Opera,” a touching, 8-minute opus from the man’s first posthumous album, Dream Of A Lifetime. The song is an aural translation of the discovery of hope, beauty and, most importantly, love in an environment that can be ever so trying. Mawkish? Never.
Marvin’s legacy is so enduring because he saturated his compositions with such a staunch belief in the eventual triumph of peace and understanding, that anyone who has ever sat up late at night, brains thundering with questions that torture the soul and tug at the heart, staring through a smudged glass window at a murky midnight sky and wondering just what’s going on with the mess we’ve tangled ourselves in, can’t help but feel at peace.
Tonight, I will sleep well.