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Mercy, Mercy Me : The Art, Loves, and Demons of Marvin Gaye
The best-selling Motown artist of all time, Marvin Gaye defined the hopes and shattered dreams of an entire generation. Twenty years after his tragic death-he was shot by his father-his relevance persists because of the indelible mark his outsized talent left on American culture. A transcendent performer whose career spanned the history of rhythm and blues, from doo-wop to the sultriest of soul music, Gaye's artistic scope and emotional range set the soundtrack for America's tumultuous coming of age in the 1970s. Michael Eric Dyson's searching narrative illuminates Marvin Gaye's stellar ascendance-from a black church in Washington, D.C., to the artistic peak of What's Going On?-and charts his sobering personal decline. Dyson draws from interviews with those closest to Gaye to paint an intimate portrait of the tensions and themes that shaped contemporary urban America: racism, drug abuse, economic adversity, and the long legacy of hardship. Gaye's stormy relationships with women, including duet partner Tammi Terrell and wives Anna Gordy and Janis Hunter, are examined in light of the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. Dyson also considers family violence in the larger context of the African-American life and how that heartbreaking legacy resulted in Gaye's murder. Mercy, Mercy, Me is an unforgettable portrait of a beloved black genius whose art is reflected in the dynamism of contemporary urban America.
Dyson, a leading figure in black studies who is as comfortable discussing Tupac as Malcolm and Martin, offers a "biocriticism" that reflects on the themes of Marvin Gaye's music and personal life. Too much of the analysis, however, relies on nitpicking earlier critics, often reduced to accusing 1970s record reviewers of not getting Gaye's genius. While his examination of the cultural significance of What's Going On and follow-up albums is somewhat stronger, if not exactly revelatory, Dyson's ruminations hit shaky ground when he declares Gaye's shooting death at the hands of his father a suicidal acting out of an "Afroedipal" family drama. This queasy mixture of psychoanalytic theory and celebrity gossip undermines his narrative. Breaking with previous biographies, Dyson takes dubious assertions by a second-string Motown vocalist (contradicted by just about every reliable source) as proof Gaye had a sexual relationship with singing partner Tammi Terrell. At times, the writing is simply sloppy, contradicting itself from chapter to chapter and stretching out interviews until they trickle into irrelevancies. Dyson's personal fascination with the turbulent blend of spirituality and sexuality in Gaye's life and music is obvious, but it can't sustain an entire book. Though the mashing together of pop culture with gender and race studies is sure to score some points with academics and public intellectuals, it adds little of substance to Gaye's legacy as a musician.
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Basic Civitas Books
January 17, 2005
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