Having heard horror stories from England about Gaye’s cocaine use and erratic behaviour on tour (he’d frequently miss gigs and was even late for a show hosted by British Royalty), Courseart headed to London to see if he could make the lost, lonely, insecure addict hiding in a one bedroom flat become more in line with the genius he knew through the music.
“I almost didn’t recognise him. He was pale, nervous, skinny and broke,” said Couseart of the meeting. Marvin was living in near squalor, surrounded by prostitutes and drug addicts, trying desperately, but hopelessly, by most accounts, to look after his son Frankie. Returning to America was out of the question, where angry wives, parents and debtors were waiting. London, another big city full of vices and hangers-on was clearly doing him no good either.
As Caryl Phillips wrote in an essay about Marvin’s time in Belgium: “Here…Marvin is neither a star nor is he American. He has no viable role to play, not even the role of black American sex symbol which he considers so demeaning.”
Freddie Couseart reiterated this point to Marvin directly: “I told him very clearly, when you come to Ostend there will not be all this nightlife and drugs, it is only the natural kicks here.”
There is a telling scene that illustrates this in ‘Transit Ostende’, a beautiful, if rather opaque, film made by Richard Olivier documenting Marvin’s Flanders exile. One of the people who worked on that production, producer Monique Licht, describes Marvin as being “like an elegant zombie”, as they followed him wandering the promenade on his own. At one point he heads into a downtrodden pub to play darts with some locals, who think he is from Paraguay. They play darts together, Marvin is rubbish, they tease him playfully, and that is that. Not a sycophant in sight.