The 'Blurred Lines' of Marvin Gaye's 'Here, My Dear': Music as a Tortious Act, Divorce Narrative and First Amendment Totem
62 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2018
Date Written: March 21, 2018
In 1977, singer Marvin Gaye did an audacious thing: Anna Gordy-Gaye was divorcing him, and asking for $1 million dollars. Despite having a wildly successful career up to that point, Marvin was near financial ruin. His attorney, Curtis Shaw, hit upon an idea: Motown, Marvin’s record label, had given him $305,000 as an advance for his upcoming-but-undeveloped album. Marvin would give Anna the $305,000, and pledge the first $295,000 of the royalties yielded from that recording. Instead of $1 million, Anna agreed to the $600,000, as did Motown’s CEO Berry Gordy, Anna’s brother. The judge wrote up an Order to that effect. Composed, written (with a few exceptions), and vocalized by Marvin alone, he first thought to do “nothing heavy, nothing even good.” Then he changed his mind. The album that resulted? A brilliantly unsettling poison pen to and about Anna, sardonically titled Here, My Dear.
Released in December 1978, Here, My Dear laid bare to the world a marriage gone terribly, terribly wrong. From the double album’s jacket illustrations and lyrics, down to the vocal colors and tones Marvin deploys — Anna is portrayed as greedy, vengeful and manipulative. The work was so upsetting to her that Anna publicly threatened to sue Marvin.
This Article explores that threat. Here, My Dear is a rich legal document from which to mine the myriad torts Marvin commits against Anna over the course of its seventy three minutes and 10 seconds length. Moreover, given Marvin’s persona as one of the most preeminent celebrity male sex symbols from the 1960s until his death in 1984, Here, My Dear can also be read as a beguiling take on the ways in which masculine perspectives on divorce are constructed and articulated.
Here, My Dear is a fascinating artifact also because its analysis impels application of some of the Supreme Court’s seminal constitutional jurisprudence such as New York Times v. Sullivan, Gertz v. Welch and Time v. Firestone. Each, in some form or to some extent, is relevant to the Gaye divorce saga as it raises issues of free speech and artistic expression, who can be considered “media” or a “public figure,” and rights of privacy versus newsworthiness of divorce. Consequently, Here, My Dear serves to illustrate foundational communication and distress torts principles as shaped by First Amendment doctrine.
An artistic creation that meditates on love and its vagaries from a personal perspective is not unusual in music. Before 1978 and since, there have been scores of works — autobiographical by varying degrees — about separation and divorce. Bob Dylan’s Blood on The Tracks; Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years; Richard and Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out the Lights; George Jones’ The Battle, Robin Thicke’s Paula, and John Lennon’s Lost Weekend are just a handful of examples. What sets Here, My Dear apart from other works is its explicit reference to its subject, and the circumstances under which it was born, viz., the expressly bargained-for bounty of a divorce settlement. In blurring the lines between speech, art and infliction of injury, Here, My Dear represents a cautionary tale on the potential pitfalls of self-expression.
Keywords: Music, First Amendment, Defamation, Libel, Privacy, Emotional Distress, Divorce, Media Law, Entertainment Law
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