Cover image for Mercy, mercy me : the art, loves and demons of Marvin Gaye
Mercy, mercy me : the art, loves and demons of Marvin Gaye
Dyson, Michael Eric.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Basic Civitas Books, [2004]

Physical Description:
xiv, 290 pages ; 22 cm
"Ain't nothing like the real thing" : Marvin Gaye's meaning -- "What's going on" : Marvin, Motown, and me -- "Stubborn kind of fellow" : the search for a style -- "If this world were mine" : the politics of soul music -- "Somethin' like sanctified" : sexuality and spirituality -- "How sweet it is to be loved by you" : black love and secret romance -- "Come live with me, angel" : eroticism and exodus -- "Father, father, father we don't need to escalate" : Afroedipalism, corporal punishment, and the politics of self-destruction -- "Trouble man" : from the Prince of Motown to the Pied Piper of R&B.
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Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
ML420.G38 D97 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
ML420.G38 D97 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Biography

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Twenty years after his murder at the hands of his own father, Marvin Gaye continues to define the hopes and shattered dreams of the Motown generation. A performer whose career spanned the history of rhythm and blues, from doo-wop to the sultriest of soul music, Gaye's artistry magnified the contradictions that defined America's coming of age in the tumultuous 1970s. In his most searching and ambitious work to date, acclaimed critic Michael Eric Dyson illuminates both Marvin Gaye's stellar achievements and stunning personal decline--and offers an unparalleled assessment of the cultural and political legacy of R&B on American culture.Through interviews with those close to Gaye--from his musical beginnings in a black church in Washington, D.C., to his days as a "ladies' man" in Motown's stable of young singers, from the artistic heights of the landmark album What's Going On? to his struggles with addiction and domestic violence--Dyson draws an indelible portrait of the tensions that shaped contemporary urban America: economic adversity, the drug industry, racism, and the long legacy of hardship.Published to coincide with the twentieth anniversary of Gaye's death in 1984, and infused with the soulful prose that has become Michael Eric Dyson's trademark, Mercy, Mercy Me is at once a celebration of an American icon whose work continues to inspire, and a revelatory and incisive look at how a lost generation's moods, music, and moral vision continue to resonate today.

Author Notes

Michael Eric Dyson , named by Ebony as one of the hundred most influential black Americans, is the author of sixteen books, including Holler if You Hear Me , Is Bill Cosby Right? and I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King Jr. He is currently University Professor of Sociology at Georgetown University. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. (Apr. 1) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Dyson (humanities, Univ. of Pennsylvania) contends that his book is not biography but "instead a work of biocriticism." And true enough, he quotes heavily from other critics, as his 20 pages of endnotes demonstrate. This is ironic since he maintains that Gaye "produced his best work in collaboration with others." Gaye's collaboration was mainly with the women in his life--those he sang with and those he married. The other collaborative element Dyson focuses on is what he terms the "Afroedipal" relationship the singer had with his father and murderer. Dyson devotes nine pages to views of corporal punishment in today's society, and these provide some interesting theories concerning Gaye's life and music. Though no one can argue Gaye's impact on the musical and sociopolitical 1960s and 1970s or that his tragic death was a great loss, Dyson's argument that the "great themes of Marvin's art--social justice, sexuality, and spirituality--were always in conflict" reveals nothing new about Gaye and is applicable to almost any artist of the era. Dyson concludes by comparing Gaye and R. Kelly, "the pied piper of R&B"; keeping the focus on Gaye would have made more sense. Though the discography is relevant, the book is not. ^BSumming Up: Not recommended. T. Emery Austin Peay State University