The Lost Prince of Soul
Born April 2, 1939, 12 am, Washington DC. Died April 1, 1984
A few weeks before Marvin Gaye was shot dead by his father, friends had relieved him of a handgun that he was waving around. The soul superstar was threatening to take his own life, shouting he had had enough of the world. Indeed, it’s tempting to think that the murder of Marvin Gaye was both a bizarre suicide and an act of revenge against the father he had always fought. As a kid, Marvin Junior had taken many, many beatings from the ill-tempered Marvin Senior, a failed hell-fire preacher with a taste for parading around his neighbourhood in Washington DC dressed in women’s clothes.
Despite being sartorially in touch with his female side, at home Marvin Senior ruled like an Old Testament patriarch. Marvin and his brother Freddy were whipped at every excuse. Despite this Marvin remained a rebel. Sometimes, said Freddy later, it was if his brother was giving his father an excuse to beat him.
Marvin’s family troubles are clearly described in his birth chart, where his Sun (his self) sits next to Saturn, the planet of repression, the planet of the bad father – in Roman myth, Saturn was the god who ate his own children! As we shall see, there were other, equally problematic planets at work.
Like a startling number of soul singers, Marvin was born under the sign of the Ram. Fiery Aries is the first sign of the zodiac, when spring wakes the world, and Rams are energetic, competitive people, eager to lead from the front. Perhaps that is why Aries is the sign of the grand diva, the pioneering bluesman, and the sexy soul crooner. Take your pick from Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Whitney Houston, Joss Stone, Britney Spears, Muddy Waters, Al Green, Wilson Pickett and, of course, Marvin himself.
Marvin’s Aries qualities are writ large in his birth chart. As he was born at noon, his Sun is high in his personal sky, a star that can’t be ignored. (1)Aries’ totem planet, Mars the warrior, is tied into Marvin’s Sun, lending him an intense physical presence. Marvin nursed a desire to be a pro footballer and prided himself as a sexual athlete. In a beautiful touch of planetary symbolism, Mars and Venus are joined to Chiron, the little planet named after ‘the wounded healer’. Here’s a man who was born to write ‘Sexual Healing’.
Though Marvin was naturally macho (2), and died in a fist and gun fight with his father, he had a softer side, though one with complex emotional needs. Venus and The Moon, the two goddesses of the zodiac, give Marvin tenderness, but being joined by Neptune and Pluto, also bring compulsion to his emotional life. With these planets romance becomes a power struggle, even a place of martyrdom. (3)
The passage from tender young lover to bitter roué was played out both in life and on disc. The ‘new Sinatra’ of early hits like ‘How Sweet It Is’ and ‘I’ll Be Doggone’ would become the crucified husband of ‘Here My Dear’, an album so titled because it would pay alimonies to Gaye’s first wife, Anna Gory. Anna’s brother was Berry Gory, Emperor of Midtown, with whom Marvin re-enacted his relationship with Marvin Senior – the rebel son against the heartless patriarch. The two fought over Marvin’s output, with Gory at first refusing to issue Marvin’s masterpiece, ‘What’s Going On’, an album whose brilliance Gory never acknowledged.
Neither of Marvin’s two marriages delivered what he needed (though he loved his two kids). Nor did the endless list of sexual conquests. The true earthly love of Marvin’s life was Tami Terrell, the beautiful young Midtown star with whom he sang his greatest duets – ‘Ain’t No Mountain’, ‘You’re All I Need – and who collapsed in his arms on stage in summer 1967. It was the first sign of a brain tumour that would kill Terrell a few years later. Marvin was devastated by both events.
It was no accident that Marvin’s perfect partner was the one woman he never slept with. His relationship with Terrell remained as idealised as the innocent ballads he sang with her; she was a fantasy lover.
Marvin sought out Neptune’s escapist realm in mysticism (he was fascinated by Nostradamus and Castaneda) and via the drugs that, as with other Neptunian rockers (Cobain, Jones, Hendrix), eventually swept him away. Marvin’s last years were spent ravaged by coke abuse, wandering round Europe like an American prince in exile, before a last move to California and the bad, bad idea of living with dad. It’s hard to think that, one way or another, Marvin wasn’t ‘half in love with easeful death’, as Keats put it.
By that time Marvin had endured some testing transits of his birth horoscope. As always, it’s the distant, slow-moving planets that provide the turning points, in Marvin’s case Pluto. This is the god of the underworld, powerful but dangerous and the tiny planet symbolises transformation, death and renewal. When Pluto arrived on Marvin’s Moon in ‘66-‘67, his career hit new peaks of success, just as Tammi Terrell was snatched from him.
Simultaneously, at 29, Marvin reached his Saturn Return, a defining moment in any life, as the planet of maturity completes one circuit of the Sun. Saturn hovered over Marvin throughout 1968, as he had the hit for which he is still best known, ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’. The song had already been a hit for Motown’s Gladys Knight, but Gaye loaded his version with all the grief he was carrying from Terrell’s collapse.
Shortly afterwards, Marvin would register his adulthood in his art, breaking with ‘the Motown Sound’ to make What’s Going On, a prophetic portrait of contemporary America’s ills; ghetto life, ecological crisis and the scarring experience of the Vietnam war, as related to Marvin by his brother Freddie, who had recently returned. Here was Pluto’s positive side; a vision that reaches beneath the surface.
Mostly, though, Pluto’s demands defeated Gaye, first via the messy 1974 divorce (4), then with a coke habit that dragged him to Hades during the late Seventies and early Eighties (5). Marvin Gaye died on April 1st, in calendar terms a day before his 45th birthday. The more exact time on the cosmic clock showed the Sun had returned precisely to where it stood on the day of his birth (6). But Marvin Gaye was no longer interested in being reborn; it was time to leave.
(1) In 1982, Marvin gave his birth time as noon to English astrologer John Etherington. This gives an Ascendant of 24 degrees Cancer.
(2) Sun conjunct Saturn and Sun trine Mars.
(3) Moon conjunct Neptune in Virgo opposed by Jupiter. Venus sextile Mars and trine Chiron.
(4) Transit Pluto transit the root of his chart, the IC.
(5) Transit Pluto opposite Sun ’76-77 and opposite Saturn 1979/80.
(6) The time of Marvin’s slaying was around 8.30 AM Pacific Standard Time. The Sun was at 12 degree 2 minutes of Aries, just one minute from its place in Marvin’s birth chart. See also transit Saturn opposite Uranus.