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On Marvin Gaye’s “If I Should Die Tonight” And The Value Of Finding Peace In A Life Heralded By Madness

By J. Tinsley / 04.01.14
Soul Singer In A Football Uniform

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“Ooh, oh, how many eyes have seen their dream?
Oh, how many arms have felt their dream?
How many hearts, baby, have felt their world stand still?”

Oddly enough, the day Marvin Gaye died is one of the easier celebrity anniversaries to recall. Not because he was only 24 hours away from celebrating what would have been his 45th birthday on April 2. Rather because April Fools’ Day is my aunt’s birthday and without question she ranks as the primary reason Marvin’s music and influence holds such personal significance.

Setting My Krazy Life aside momentarily, Let’s Get It On became the soundtrack of choice. Marvin’s career is pieced together by chapters – the early Motown days, his all-too-short bond with Tammi Terrell, the Let’s era, his personal pitfalls that later inspired the Here, My Dear album, his self-imposed overseas sabbatical, the final years and other installments helping symbolize Marvin as the most tormented, talented and obscure Black artist until Tupac Shakur.

Perhaps the most impressive characteristic from the project was the fact Gaye was continuing to reinvent himself on what was his twelfth album. Get It On became the landmark compilation to paint the D.C. native as one in tune with his trademark sexual hunger – evident by music’s most recognizable love-making anthem, the project’s title track. Billboard later described the LP as “one of the most sexually charged albums ever recorded.”

“Let’s Get It On” won immediate and longterm adulation bringing about legions of fans spanning across decades. Conversely, “If I Should Die Tonight” tapped into the same sensual element from a different approach. Marvin’s life always bleed into his art. The legend around the record states Gaye nearly never went through with Ed Townsend-penned tune.

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“Ooh, I’m thankful that you’re loving me
My one desire
Is to love you ’till
I’m no longer here and never tired
Love has been so good to me, me now
I’m so thankful…”

Townsend allegedly found inspiration after falling for a woman while both were in committed relationships. In her words, the reality of “building happiness on the misery of others” was a barrier neither would find peace in breaching. Per the legend, Townsend’s last words to the young lady were real-player-like, “If I should die tonight, Lord, before my time, I won’t die blue ’cause I’ve known you.”

Gaye – hellbent on not recording anything not directly applying to his own life – changed his tune following a date with future wife Janis Hunter.

“If I” was an erotic discourse into the simplest of desires. A treasure chest into not only erotic fantasies, but more so the unbridled joy and euphoria resonating from finding “the one,” if you will. Marvin’s music consistently overlapped with whatever he found himself involved in outside the booth. Remarkably true the last 10-12 years of his life, Marvin’s private demons that became public banter fueled the desperation behind much of his music.

Hunter’s arrival was (temporarily) progressive from creative and personal viewpoints, despite Marvin’s ongoing legal separation from Berry Gordy’s sister and his first wife, Anna. Gaye’s scattered periods of happiness invoked images of the singer many convinced themselves he was at his most natural state. He was the creative, heavenly-talented Mozart of his day tapping into depths of a limitless bank of melodies to encapsulate life’s most indescribable and breathtaking moments. “Die Tonight” was irrefutable in that belief.

The truth is a reality Marvin never denied. He was an imperfect man, dealt imperfect cards forcing countless imperfect decisions. His music was, too, akin to the audience who intertwined their own lives in his lyrics. Love and pain are imperfect emotions every soul unavoidably purchases stock in the moment life begins. And personifying imperfect emotions was Marvin Gaye’s calling card. It always has been and always will be, even as the music inspires generations far beyond his physical time on Earth.

Music didn’t die 30 years ago today. But a piece of its soul damn sure did.

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Previously: Marvin Gaye’s 1981 Belgium Documentary With Captivating Rehabilitation Footage | The Marvin Gaye Biopic, ‘Sexual Healing,’ Looks Stunning, But Will It Ever Be Released? | Marvin Gaye & Rick James Deliver A Classic Moment In Grammy History | On Marvin Gaye, The Pressures Of Fame And Why Sex Is Better Than Love


TAGSEd TownsendEVERYTHING ELSELet's Get It OnMarvin Gaye

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