Chapter Three: What's Going On, God-Style

Yesterday I bought a mint condition used CD (apologies if I offend any vinyl snobs out there) of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, Deluxe Edition. On the cover he’s looking up at something in the air, wearing a black slicker raincoat with the collar turned up. It appears to have been raining, because the coat is a little wet, and so is his hair, and his beard. Even his eyebrows have got raindrops on them. In the inner flap there’s a picture of Marvin in MWS standing in the rain, full raincoat with a light yellow shirt and tie, hands in his pockets, looking damn dismal, like he really doesn’t know what’s going on at all.

But anyone who has listened to this album knows he tried to make sense of what was going on, in a universal, timeless kind of way. But I’d never noticed the black slicker and rain before. Kind of puts it all in perspective. In the liner notes he attempted to write something complimenting his own music, but then he admits he’s incapable of doing such a thing, claiming, “…and anyway, if you like the artist well enough to buy his or her album, you don’t have to be told how groovy it is, or which tunes you should dig, or how great his or her majesty is. I mean the fact that people won’t let us think for ourselves really bugs me!”

Just thinking about and listening to Marvin Gaye’s music is making me wonder…who is today’s music conscience? Has the present corporate record company advertising climate put musicians in a straight jacket? If anyone’s wondering what’s going on, it’s either happening happily on the fringes (Steve Earle) or the question is so obscure, you need a magnifying glass and code interpreter in order to understand (Radiohead). The Vote for Change Tour had a conscience, but it dissolved as quickly as Michael Moore became a scapegoat for liberals looking for someone to blame.

What was it about the late ’60s and early ‘70s that produced such a rich texture of conscience, much of which applies today (this is actually a small part of a much larger article I’m working on)? Have we become so jaded and subverted by the forces of materialism that we can’t make an inkling of a difference? Or are we entering into a spiritual awakening, lead by the conservative faith-based initiative as a blueprint for how we should think and feel, as a direct result of the Muslim justification for the Al Queda for terror acts like 9/11? What about those of us who aren’t feeling spiritual, who just want to know what the fuck is going on?

Marvin Gaye was a God-loving man (liner notes are chock full of shout outs). Smokey Robinson claims in his special liner notes section that Marvin Gaye once told him, “God is writing this album. God is working through me.” If that’s the case, God answered his own question, “What’s going on?” by answering, “I’ll tell you what’s going on” within the same song. If I heard right in church school, God is all around us, in everything. Wow, maybe I am spiritual. Or maybe it’s just that God created one of my favorite albums. I won’t give you evolution, God, but if Marvin Gaye says it was you, I’d better pray or something before I go to sleep.



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