The Life and Death of Marvin Gaye
Music & the Military
As a pre-teen, Marvin, Jr. began to take refuge from his father at a piano that sat in the family's living room. (Marvin, Sr. was a passable self-taught pianist.) The father encouraged Marvin to play, as long as he stuck with religious music.
Marvin, Jr. proved to be a natural musician. He would never learn to read music, but he could play any tune by ear, including the blues and popular ballads when his father was away.
At Cardozo High School, Marvin, Jr. fell in with a clique of musically talented teens, and they formed a combo, the D.C. Tones. Marvin played piano and drums; no one knew he could sing.
The boys would take a bus to the Howard Theater and buy cheap seats to see touring rhythm and blues artists like James Brown, Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke and Little Willie John.
Secretly, Marvin favored the style of white crooners like Dean Martin, Perry Como and Frank Sinatra. His pals learned he could sing one day when they caught him delivering a dead-on copy of Johnnie Ray's "Cry."
His growing interest in secular music led to new conflicts at home, and by age 18 the son had had enough. He dropped out of 11th grade and joined the Air Force. But he soon learned that joining the military to escape a harsh authority figure was no solution, especially when he found himself peeling potatoes, not flying jet airplanes as he had hoped.
As he put it, "I was completely unprepared and found it impossible to take orders from pompous assholes with nothing better to do than humiliate me."
He was in the Air Force just long enough to lose his virginity to a hooker. He feigned mental illness and got an honorable discharge, with this proviso: "Marvin Gaye cannot adjust to regimentation and authority."