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SIMMONS: Play about Marvin Gaye ratchets up family feud

- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 17, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION

Although many members of Marvin Gaye's family have a vested interest in coming to the District next month, their reasons are clearly varied.

The second-coming of the play "My Brother, Marvin," which ended a run Sunday in Detroit and opens here March 5 at the Warner Theatre, is an updated version of the original. But the book on which the play is based hardly shines a favorable light on the late soulful singer, his first wife, his second wife, their children or the grandchildren.

Call it family feud goes live.

On one side of the Gaye family, relatives said the play is disrespectful, disheartening and distasteful.

"They're dragging his name through the mud," actress and singer Nona Gaye, a D.C. native like her dad, told me in a telephone interview.

Nona, who appeared on stage with her father as a youngster, said she hasn't seen the play, a tragic drama.

Having read the book and interviewed its author, Marvin's little sister Zeola, last spring after her book signing in Southwest Washington, there's no doubt she casts herself as truth-teller of not only the Gaye family but the music industry as well. And she wants readers to trust that, despite foggy years of emotional distress and substance abuse, she can see clearly now.

In our wide-ranging discussion last April, Zeola said her "writing helps" to bring closure and heal emotional wounds of her family's troubled life, including problems by her own hands.

And while Gaye's second wife, Janis, Nona's mother, acknowledged the remarkable blessings and fortunes -- and violent and substance-abuse misfortunes -- of the Gaye family, she wondered aloud, "How many times do you close a door?"

Janis, who said Zeola "is telling boldface lies about me," and Nona are right. Ex-wives and mothers usually don't want their impressionable young family members to see their moms and grandmothers cast as demons -- yet that's precisely what Zeola does.

In her book, Zeola accused Janis and Marvin's first wife, Anna Gordy Gaye, of adultery and cast herself as a soother and mentor, of sorts, to the troubled man.

In fact, she painted Janis as an adulterer with Marvin's "friends," among them singers Rick James and Teddy Pendergrass (both of whom are now dead) and said that Janis did not know "how to handle herself as a wife and mother."

As for Anna, who is still alive, Zeola wrote that "at least Anna didn't cheat with his peers."

That's demeaning even with a sharp-edged blade of betrayal.

She also accused Janis of trying to "poison Marvin, brainwash[ing] Marvin's children against me," and she said "I just want Jan to get off my back."

Even regarding domestic violence, Zeola delivered an eyebrow-raiser: "Father wasn't a wife beater, but sometimes Mom may have wanted to get smacked around rather than listen to his knife-sharp tongue."

And, in our interview, Zeola said this about her memoirs and other Gaye projects that might come on the scene: "I'm not making any apologies. If it doesn't have my name or my sister's name [Jeanne] attached to it, it may not be accurate."

(I wonder if Zeola will shoot down the biopic starring singer Lenny Kravitz that's in the works.)

"We've all got our own our stories," said Janis, now 57, who became Marvin's muse four decades ago and said she underwent a double mastectomy last year.

Having a girls' night in -- "doing our hair and mani-pedis during our telephone interview on Friday evening" -- Janis and Nona said they want to relay the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth regarding the beloved Marvin.

Memoirs, perhaps?

"They're coming along nicely," Janis said. "The people Marvin loved and loved him and music, and especially his grandchildren deserve a true depiction."

Good for her.

Marvin's grandchildren, born after his death, might one day take in their Aunt Zeola's one-sided perspective, but they certainly deserve a more rounded and truthful public airing of their granddad.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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