Narratives, Photo, Travel

Midnight Love: The Marvin Gaye Tour of Ostend, Belgium

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.

NEXT: Marvin Gaye – Midnight Love Part 5: True art, healthy food and the sweet science.

6 thoughts on “Midnight Love: The Marvin Gaye Tour of Ostend, Belgium

  1. This article is wonderfully written, with beautiful, powerful accompanying photographs. I appreciate how your initial intentions were to uncover the path of one ghost, and in fact you’ve uncovered a million others as a result of the brute that was Leopold II. Regarding your spitting at the vulgar misrepresentation of history, enshrined in false iconographic form, I felt similarly whilst travelling around Mexico, Colombia and Brazil. It came to a head in Cartagena, northern Colombia, a city central to the slave trade and the colonial raping of a thriving civilisation. I’d been told “you must go there”, “the old city is so beautiful”. Contrary to people’s valorisations, I felt a deep sense of unease, sadness and anger whilst surrounded by some of the most astoundingly beautiful architecture. Not only was it stained in the blood, sweat and tears of the slaves, but it was a staunch reminder that the systems of segregation, oppression and inequality born from that era were resolutely still in place. The poverty, squalor and economic deprivation that characterises Colombia are manifestly obvious in Cartagena. Those with wealth enjoy the old colonial centre, whilst former slaves provide them with tours in the ornate horse and carts from back in the day. I wrote about it after escaping this travesty, which helped me to process my anger to some extent. I wish I’d spat, but I went trekking for five days instead! Here’s the piece I wrote, for anyone interested:

  2. Wow! Really enjoyed this. A fascinating mix of history, reflection and the search for “soul” of a place , of a time, of a person and of an empire.
    Great stuff.

  3. Great read! Now I am intrigued to embark on this marvin Gaye digital tour, whilst listening to his album. Something tells me I’ll also “voluntarily” add my spite of King Leopod’s through the activation of my salivary glands;) hehe !

  4. Great read! Now I am intrigued to embark on this Marvin Gaye digital tour, whilst listening to his album. Something tells me I’ll also “voluntarily” add my spite of King Leopod through the activation of my salivary glands;) hehe !

  5. This is very well worded and useful, thankyou. I like the way you explain key concepts minus hyperbole. It’s useful information and I deem you worth sharing.

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