Narratives, Photo, Travel

Midnight Love: The Marvin Gaye Tour of Ostend, Belgium

For true art to appear, the artist has to disappear, detaching himself from ego and status, but also from the pressure to achieve anything other than a personal vision, and in Ostende it seems Marvin was allowed to be anonymous. Funded by Courseart, he was also given the freedom to create at his own pace, without the financial worries. Gaye was notorious for being a terrible businessman (his friend once said to him “Marvin, you must have earned four or five million by now.” Apparently Marvin looked at him, smiled and said: “Brother, I have probably made four or five million three times over!”), but Couseart had both money and financial acumen, setting him up with his own flat, feeding him healthy food and encouraging a daily fitness regime.

The tour led me away from the beach and towards a pretty building on a quiet street that used to be the Couseart’s family-run ‘Hotel Mercury’, where Marvin would spend his afternoons hanging out in the kitchen eating chicken, bantering with the staff and relaxing with the Cousearts. Lillian, Freddie’s wife, had the same kind of straight talking, down to earth manner her husband had, and remembered how Marvin was surprised to have people caring for him in such a way. It was modest food, served in a modest setting, and yet he was touched. “He was surprised that people cared for him. And he said that my cooking was soul food,” said Mrs Couseart.

At the end of the street was a rotting statue of Leopold I, and just around the corner, on Warschaustrasse, a set of drab 1970s apartments, which Marvin called home in his first few months.

Marvin's first apartment in Ostend.
Marvin’s first apartment in Ostend.

Five minutes later I arrived at a series of strange, ornate dark wooden buildings, originally commissioned by King Leopold II to be royal stables. They were designed by a Norwegian architect in a Scandinavian Art Nouveau Style, and like everything else in the city connected with the king, they took on an evil appearance in my eyes, looking like something straight out of Mordor in ‘Lord of The Rings’. Despite getting listed status in the 1980s, they were downtrodden, and being used as a lowly sports centre, with ageing basketballs courts, a large indoor sports hall and a boxing club. It was here that Marvin Gaye boxed with Freddie Couseart’s brother and began his long road back to health. The club hadn’t changed for thirty years, so it looked exactly the same as it did in the accompanying clip on the app, which shows Marvin’s proficient boxing skills and a clip of him saying, out of breath: “My next fight is gonna be my wife… fifteen round elimination bout for all the property.”

Marvin's old boxing gym at King Leopold II's Royal Stables
Marvin’s old boxing gym at King Leopold II’s Royal Stables

NEXT: Marvin Gaye – Midnight Love Part 6: King Leopold’s ghost, truthful forms, and phlegm.

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *