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Mercy, Mercy Me: The Art, Loves, and Demons of Marvin Gaye Hardcover – March 30, 2004

3.5 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"A major American thinker and cultural critic." -- Philadelphia Inquirer

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Civitas Books; 2nd ptg edition (March 30, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 046501769X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465017690
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.7 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,266,540 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Reginald D. Garrard VINE VOICE on July 2, 2004
Format: Hardcover
"In his guttural cries, his hectic moans, his elliptical ejaculations, and his plaintive whispers, Marvin explores the healing and redemptive dimensions of black romantic love."
- From page 132 of "Mercy, Mercy Me"
Man, does Dyson have a way with words!
I guess that I am one of those "public intellectuals" that finds Dyson's analyses of both Gaye's life and the social ills plaguing the black community so intriguing. Dyson, a minister himself, contrasts Gaye's life as a popular secular singer with his strict Pentacostal upbringing at the hands of his stern minister-father. The struggle that the singer endured played an important part in his music and the book dissects four of the artist's most challenging and enigmatic works: the classic and legendary "What's Going On", "Let's Get It On", "I Want You" and the controversial "Here, My Dear".
The author cuts down each album, layer by layer, revealing Gaye as a man in constant turmoil with the battle between his religious teachings and his desires as a man. Dyson also introduces the reader to many lost versions of Gaye's work, now coming to light in "deluxe editions" available for purchase.
Unlike most "men of the cloth", Dyson's approach is destined to draw criticism from traditional Christians for he suggests a greater openness in sexual matters, as well as less dependency on corporal punishment as a means of child-rearing. He implies that stiff and unbending Church doctrine may have contributed to Marvin's death at the hands of his preacher father.
The final chapter of the book compares Gaye's music and approach to life with the contemporary singer R. Kelly, an admirer of Gaye himself. This provides some interesting food for thought, as the two singers seem to share a bond transcending death and decades.
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Format: Hardcover
Dyson has written a fascinating analysis of the life and career of the late Marvin Gaye, a book that will appeal even to readers who don't know Gaye's music all that well. That having been said, this is a weighty tome, which touches on the religious, cultural and social influences of the black community and how they shaped the singer.

For example, in examining the effect of childhood abuse on Gaye, Dyson traces the problem of domestic violence in the black family to slavery. While this is an interesting discussion, it sways quite a bit from the book's star. Some readers will find these diversions tedious.

Because Gaye's relationship with Motown founder Berry Gordy is discussed at length, anyone who has studied the studio and its music will find something of interest here. References to the black church and family will ensure this book's place in programs of African-American study. Finally, the last chapter is in large part about present-day soul star R. Kelly. Dyson's discussion of how both men merged concepts of spirituality and sexuality within their music is interesting. In short, this book is a real find for a musicologist or sociologist, but it's not a biography "for the rest of us."
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Format: Hardcover
Upon fist glance, one would think this was another of many biographies on the legend that is, Marvin Gaye. This is not a biography however, but an analytical look at the life of Mr. Gaye; what made him do what he did, sing what he sang, and feel the way he felt. In an essence, Mr. Dyson disects events in Marvin's life to show what it was that made Marvin tick; what made him fall in love with the women that he fell in love with, and what made him rebel.
This book has surprises- one in particular that we all wondered about for some time. There is also an interesting parallel made between Marvin and another modern day singer, R. Kelly, that will surprise some readers. There are references to other Marvin Gaye biographies (Divided Soul by David Ritz; My Brother, Marvin Gaye by Frankie Gaye; and Trouble Man by Steve Turner, just to name a few), which are good for the readers who haven't read many books on Marvin, or want to know more about him outside of his music.
Michael Eric Dyson did a good job on bringing forth the "inner" Marvin, and revealing sides to him that weren't often documented prior to the release of this book.
A wonderful read for the die hard Marvin fan- such as myself- and those who want to know more about the spirit behind the music.
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Format: Hardcover
Michael Eric Dyson is known for his critical analysis of such public African American figures as Martin Luther King and Tupac Shakur. He has also delighted his fans with an ode to black women in Why I Love Black Women. In this body of work, Mercy Mercy Me, he explores the arts loves and demons of Marvin Gaye, one of the greatest singers of all time. This however, is not a biography in the traditional sense of how biographies are usually constructed. While accounts of Gaye's life from birth to death are chronicled, this writing is more of an analysis of the life of a man who essentially plotted his own death. When Gaye's father pulled the trigger in April 1984, twenty years ago, ironically the gun was the one he gave his father for protection.

Marvin Gaye was a genius, born to a fanatically religious father who ruled his home and family as a dictator. He was cruel, issuing beatings for the smallest infraction to both his wife and children. While the others buckled under the heat, Marvin, the most talented, rebelled and received the lion's share of punishment. He both loved and reviled his father, who was sexually deviated, yet proclaimed to be holier than thou. Marvin was a victim of his total upbringing, a loving, beaten down-trodden mother who coddled him and a sadistic father, who withheld his love. We learn of the psychological and emotional background of his Pentecostal father, Rev. Marvin P. Gaye and of what really went on behind the scenes.

Marvin loved women; he married Berry Gordy's sister, Anna, but it was a troubled marriage complicated by their age differences and her inability to have children. Yet, a son was produced--- that was Marvin's child-- sanctioned by the Gordys who had their own code of conduct for living that did not adhere to society's acceptable rules.
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