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"Marvin Gaye: What's Going On"

American Masters

At the recent Nashville Film Festival, I had the pleasure of meeting and spending time with songwriter and producer Dennis Lambert. Lambert was in town for the screening of "Of All the Things," a documentary directed by his son Jody, about Dennis's unlikely 2007 tour of the Philippines. Among his many contributions to popular music, Lambert co-wrote with the Commodores' Clyde Orange the band's 1984 hit "Nightshift."

Marvin Gaye, circa 1964.During an intimate showcase at the Bluebird after the screening, Lambert played "Nightshift" and briefly told the audience that the entire song started with Orange telling him that Marvin "was a friend of mine." That was all Lambert needed. The opening line of that song is etched in your brain the moment you hear it. I've always loved the lines that follow it, "And he could sing a song/his heart in every line." That, apparently, was Marvin: an open book. A very complex, confident, passionate, perplexing, amazing, over analyzed open book. Oh, and a musical genius.

For the uninitiated, American Masters' new presentation "Marvin Gaye: What's Going On" tries its best to pack everything into an hour. It's no easy task. Cultural critic Michael Eric Dyson sets the stage early. "If you are a person who's outraged by war, Marvin's music is for you," he says. "If you want to make love, Marvin's music is for you. If you want to talk about the conditions of spirituality when it's infused in the secular world, Marvin's music is for you." Marvin Gaye at home.

How do you explore the depth of what that means in an hour? Significant attention is paid, rightfully so, to Marvin's arrival at Motown and his rise through the ranks. It's fun. It's groovy. But it happens so quickly. Before you know it, Gaye goes from a stubborn and extremely confident musician at the label to a bona fide star with his first hit "Stubborn Kind Of Fellow." It's hard not to smile watching him perform the song with what certainly looks a validating smirk on his face. He's doing it his way and we love it. We soon learn that he couldn't dance, and we laugh. But here's one of the greatest artists of the 20th Century, and little attention is paid to him as a songwriter. I'm left wanting to know a little bit more about his process and his creative role at Motown, especially with the other artists. Here's the guy that co-wrote "Dancing in the Streets." We get plenty of highlights, like a focus on the "What's Going On" album, placed perfectly into the context of the civil rights movement and war in Vietnam, and a fascinating look at the circumstances surrounding the spectacularly confounding "Here, My Dear," which singer Bobby Taylor says "sold about six."

But to spend that much time on "Here, My Dear" and its existence as a reaction to Gaye's divorce from his wife Anna (Motown head Berry Gordy's sister) and not explain where all that anger came from is a disservice. As in "What's Going On," I need context. And what effect did the dissolution of his marriage have on his relationship with Gordy and Motown?

The film has wonderful interviews with Smokey Robinson, Mary Wilson, David Ritz and more, and thrilling archival performance clips (although footage from Gaye's last concerts in California approach heartbreaking), but like I mentioned earlier, how do you get everything that is Marvin Gaye into an hour? You can focus on the artist, the writer and the groundbreaking auteur in the studio. You can focus on Gaye's complex and ultimately fatal relationship with his father and the internal spiritual struggle he lived his whole life with as a result. You can look at the husband and father. Either approach could have filled an hour, and writer, producer and director Sam Pollard -- because he knows you can't understand Gaye without understanding all of this -- tries his best to cram it all in. The film isn't meant to be definitive, of course, but still feels only like a glance. I only wish, like the perfect American Masters' look at Pete Seeger, that it was a half hour longer.

Comments

I enjoyed the Marvin Gaye: What's Going
On documentary very much, however sad as
it was. He was and still is one of the
greats. Very tragic ending for a great
talent. Great work on the documentary.

Excellent, Excellent, Excellent.
The man was brilliant, and like some others of us, struggled with flesh and spirit. To me, he is the greatest singer and songwriter of this century!

very well done,once again learned a thing or two

I wanted so badly to watch this program.
Unfortunately, missed it.
Can you tell me if and when it will be aired again?

Very powerful, very moving program about a man who was a true gift to all of us. Why is a vast amount of psychic pain almost always a part of such a life? I sat and cried like a baby at the end - longing for a happy ending for this soul.

Hello,

I missed the American Masters (Marvin Gaye) broadcast. When will it air again?

Thank you

I watched the film and cried knowing what a tortured life the man who made so many happy through his vision and music. Smokey said the truth I seen that everyone loved Marvin...Marvin just did not love Marvin (paraphasing). I will always hold him dear.

I enjoyed the Marvin Gaye, bio. How do I get a copy of the bio.

Could not get in my area. Wlll be available on DVD anytime soon

I missed the program and I too would like to know when the bio on Marvin Gaye will air again. Any DVD information on the bio?

Most episodes of American Masters are available for sale at shoppbs.org. I assume this will as well in a few weeks.

When will the Marvin Gaye Doc. be aired in the Baltimore, MD area OR HOW CAN I PURCHASE IT ON DVD???

Enjoyed Marvin Gaye very much on American Masters. Would like to purchase a DVD. By Donna Turner 8:40 AM.

can you tell me when marvin gaye will air in albuquerque, nm. I read about it in entertainment magazine

I love Marvin, always will.I always wonder'd did how long did his father serve in prison, is he still alive, how about his mother

I would like to purchase a copy of the Marvin Gaye What's going on DVD. My grandfather's church was in the video. I was sooooo excited when I saw it.

What do I need to do?

Marvin was ahead of his time. He was brought here to serve a mission and when that mission was completed, he was called home by the ancestors. The album "What's Going On" is a masterpiece and should be part of everyone's collection. What he spoke about then is very much reality now. Look around you and you'll see all the evidence that he spoke about in his lyrics. His tragic death cut short the life of a master but he left a legacy as well as a message in his music.

are you going to air the story on Marvin Gaye again - if so - when - thanks....

I spoke with Marvin while I was a phone
operator at the Waldorf-astoria in NY city.He was highly paranoid about his
wife,and asked me to track down phone#,s
that he had found in her purse.I did this
and called him back He was staying in ajoining suites #1111and1112. And i told
Marvin the phone#s were those of furniture stores and gift shops. asI said
he was just paranoid this was 1982.I love
Mravin. we talked just about every day of his stay there.keep on singin Marvin
where ever you are.

I was blessed to happen upon the Marvin Gaye, bio on American masters this morning @2:00am. Please show it again. It was very informative and brought back so many fond memories of Marvin and his tormented soul. His music was and is still the best. I listen to his CD's and remember the good times. It is so unfortunate that his parents, family and friends did not seek to get him psychiatric help in his last days. His father did NOT have to pull that trigger more than once. It was NOT self defense! IT WAS MURDER>: May the 'good preacher' meet HIS punishment again after this life.

Very moving Bio on a one of a kind giant in the music world. Based on the story line, there was no other ending, as sad as that was. Marvin "What was going on" was you..RIP always.

ENLIGHTING!!!A VERY SPECIAL MAN & ARTIST!

As someone who often thought that Marvin's music was a reflection of his tortured soul,and after watching his Bio, I am even more convinced that music was also his reason for living, However,his inner demons prevailed.

When will the American Masters "Marvin Gaye" be aired again? My local PBS channel is WNIT. Really would love to see it!

He will truly be missed!!! RIP Marvin

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