The most intimate revelation of Marvin Gaye’s spiritual struggle as an artist, human being, and vessel, is searing in every lyrical and vocal fiber of the 1981 vinyl record, In Our Lifetime.
“I had to do something for money, but I also had an obligation – to the truth… Why did I have to regain my throne as the sex king? Who cared about competing with Michael Jackson and Prince? Look what was happening with the world. I had a message to spread. I had my theme.” – Marvin Gaye
According to David Aaron, BBC., the album is “a masterpiece of autobiographical songs that reveal an artist at the height of his creative talent and yet on the brink of insanity – and take the listener along his cathartic journey to exorcise his demons.“ This album was actually released by Motown Records without the consent of Marvin Gaye, after it was stolen by one of his traveling musicians. Gaye was furious because the label edited the album illustration by removing the “?” at the end of the title and remixed the tracks without him to rush the release. Gaye retorted that no one would force Picasso to sell an unfinished painting just to meet a deadline like, “Here, let me finish the rest of that painting for you.”
Nonetheless, this album shines through as a masterpiece worthy of study. The illustration requested by Gaye and designed by Neil Breeden is the soul mate to the record’s visionary track, “Love me now or Love me Later.”
“A song can prophesize a warning from the Master To make your soul listen, to make your learnin’ faster.” – Side A, Track 2. Life is For Learning.
Two angels that look like Marvin Gaye, the angel of Good and the angel of Evil are sitting head to head in front of a table with the fabric of a chess game. Chess is life and these two angels are in a duel. The earth is split in two, lending the impression that Earth is not only the object their fighting for, but it’s also the very power their fighting with because it’s right on the table. Instead of chess pieces their using the energy of the world.
“I had to give a warning. I had to write about it, sing it, prophesy. I saw it coming-I’d seen it coming for twenty years – but now it was staring me in the face.” – Marvin Gaye
Is the angel of Evil winning because it has a bigger piece of the world? We see natural disasters, pollution from factories, war tanks, and bombs hitting the city. Everything in this illustration is saying that the angel of Good is losing, except 2 important pieces. Look at both of their faces. They have equal expression. The angel of Good isn’t breaking a sweat any more than the angel of Evil. Why?
The dove postured above the angel of Good’s shoulder is holding an olive leaf. In the Old Testament, after 40 days and 40 nights of rain and flood, Noah’s dove brought a fresh olive branch, which signified that whether anyone on the boat could see land or not, land is coming. The promise of hope is delivered. In this instance, it’s a statement that Good has already won. The angel of Good is confident because of the promise while the angel of Evil is confident because from the exterior present circumstances, he is convinced that he’s winning by a landslide.
Do you see the people marching and holding protest signs? Despite the odds against them, these people are marching in endless numbers. They choose hope. They have faith and they still have love for each other. No matter how catastophic the circumstance, if faith exists, Evil is losing. Why isn’t Evil sweating it then? It’s the blindness of his arrogance. Evil is a position of jealousy and jealousy is a violent reaction to lacking wholeness, in other words lacking complete insight.
To the angel of Good, winning means people returning to divine completeness, wholeness, by choosing love with their freedom of reason. To the angel of Evil, winning means successfully distracting people from that return.
“The Evil Lord tempts a man with the things / Heart and the soul and the flesh / That you put on him and desire, to keep him from you: ‘I don’t think you shoulda did right, you give him too much power, I’ll make him destroy all we created – weak and foolish, baby’ / And the Good Lord said, ‘No, no, I know know know, Mankind can feel my love” – Side B, Track 2. Love Me Now or Love Me Later
Clearly, the two Angels are Marvin Gaye so many first speculate that this illustration is about the duality of Marvin Gaye – his inner struggle. Of course it is. In the heart of everyman are the weighed consequences of their free will. In many religious traditions, after death, the total weight of a person’s deeds during the span of their lifetime is judged by higher celestial powers. Have they been good? Is their heart pure or not? The inner struggle of man is the humanized physical manifestation of the bigger battle at hand. Every single action added up in lives and deeds empowers the karmic health of the evolving universe. According to the law of the universe (God), polarity must exist.
Polarity is the site where, through conscious choice, peace and love become real, living and breathing.
Progression is electrified by reciprocity – that’s interdependence. God (the universe) doesn’t ask for your love because of God’s loneliness or ego, but because we as human beings need to find God on our own accord in order to genuinely see. What would you be, what would the world be, if your spirit and imagination were so in tune with sound love that negativity couldn’t grip you from daring? Thus, as Gaye puts it,
“Good God said, ‘I really really want to Love ’em and give ’em all the things that they desire and bless ’em and love ’em so much, and I got to give ’em reason ’cause I want ’em to come back to me when the power of evil is all gone.”- Side B, Track 2. Love Me Now or Love Me Later
The truly amazing thing about Marvin Gaye’s record, In Our Lifetime, is what it really says about him. Despite his traumatic childhood with his abusive tyrant father, who was a Pastor of a strict church, his severe addiction to cocaine, and the looming internal demons over his spirit, he recognized that God wants love. While his demons tried everything to consume his flesh, his spirit released messages of peace and love. I think the “?” at the end title meant that he knew he wouldn’t live the day to see the final outcome, but he played a part, through his internal battle, through what he gave to the world with his music. Thank you forever.
“I don’t make records for pleasure. I did when I was a younger artist, but I don’t today. I record so that I can feed people what they need, what they feel. Hopefully, I record so that I can help someone overcome a bad time.” – Marvin Gaye