Narratives, Photo, Travel

Midnight Love: The Marvin Gaye Tour of Ostend, Belgium

Further along the colonnade was Cafe De Floride, an old haunt of Marvin’s where, according to one of the barmen he would always bring cool customers in, “and always with a couple of beautiful blondes” – it was evidence that even in Ostend, Marvin still managed to find a bit of trouble. In fact, you get the sense that over time, Marvin was trying to escape Freddie Courseart’s well-meaning hold, and bring a bit of LA to Ostend – in the end, Courseart wasn’t even credited on the Midnight Love album – it became all about the African-American musicians he was working with. Cafe De Floride was unremarkable, and had only a small sign in acknowledgement of its connection to Marvin Gaye. Whenever I’d ask questions to people working at any of the stops on the tour, the general mood was one of bemusement. “Yes, I hear that Marvin Gaye once came here” said the barman, as if to say ‘big deal’.


That’s what I liked about the tour, I think. It was odd, a bit underwhelming, slightly depressing, unremarkable on the face of it. But what is special about it is that you constantly feel you are walking with ghosts. Beneath the surface there is a tension in Ostend; a sadness, and the fact that these downtrodden bars, fading relics, beige buildings and grey shorelines hold the weight of dark, lonely stories, makes it crawl to life. The stories aren’t happy ones, but they are interesting, and because the structures that hold them are rather bland, you feel as though the buildings are telling you, and only you, their secrets.

Residence Jane, the birth place of 'Sexual Healing'
Residence Jane, the birth place of ‘Sexual Healing’

That was certainly the case when I arrived at ‘Residence Jane’, a set of ‘60s brutalist flats looking out at sea. “Here, on the fourth floor, Marvin Gaye wrote his biggest hit: Sexual Healing”, said my audio guide. It is probably the corny title, silly music video (which was filmed just down the sea front, at Ostend’s Kursaal Casino), and the tinny ‘80s beat that somehow makes ‘Sexual Healing’ feel like a bit of a fun, novelty hit, at least for the man who wrote ‘Mercy Mercy Me’ and ‘What’s Going On?’. But looking up at the flat where it was written, then turning around to see the sombre, monochrome view Marvin would have looked out on, suddenly you see that the song is serious, and sad: “Whenever blue teardrops are falling, and my emotional stability is leaving me, there is something I can do, I can get on the telephone and call you up baby…” “I got sick this morning, a sea was storming inside of me…”. The sexual healing was more about his mental health than any physical act.

NEXT: Marvin Gaye – Midnight Love: The finale.

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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