Why do you beat me so? I’m your son and love listening to your inspired sermons and beautiful singing and know someday you’ll be more than a lay preacher. Most of all I enjoy being with you and hoping someday you’ll be proud of me. I know you will. You’ll hug me, and I’ll forgive you. I already have. I forgive every time you lash me for wetting the bed, and never complain you often wear dresses and makeup and women’s wigs around the house, and sometimes outside, and people laugh at me. They laugh at the whole family. Image how Mother feels. She has to work so hard because you won’t work at all.
Really, I have to get away now. I’m joining the air force. I must be crazy. I feel that way quite a bit. In the air force, I ignore ridiculous orders and let them know I may not be very stable. They figure out I’m not going to get better and let me leave. I’m not going to hang around you and the family in Washington, D.C. I’ll go to Detroit and prove you were jealous of my singing in churches when people stood and clapped and afterward talked about Marvin, Jr.’s sweet voice.
My voice is still good, Father, and getting better and I’m becoming handsomer and am no longer afraid of girls. That is, I’m no longer nearly as shy but fear hordes of them might charge and tear my clothes off after nightclub performances. Sometimes I think they may even do so while I’m singing. Motown and Berry Gordy have signed me and think I can be a star. I know I’ve got the voice and the looks but feel down a lot and sometimes think about death and don’t really want to get back into the studio despite my songs selling well. I’d rather kick back with friends and play basketball and football and then smoke pot and get high and feel very powerful on cocaine before I crash and feel much worse than before. I’ve got contacts for the best stuff. It’s expensive but I love it and don’t care what you think.
Berry’s sister Anna is seventeen years older and loves me and is anxious to use her influence to help my career, and often tells me I must be disciplined and make more albums. We marry when I’m twenty-four, and I work a lot more than many realize. I love singing and playing the piano and doing some songwriting, too. Besides, who do people think is singing those 1960s hits like “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “Some Kind of Wonderful” and “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby” and “That’s the Way Love Is.”
You still don’t offer praise, Father, but are happy to be photographed with me in public, standing as the presumably proud leader of his family. You’re a strange and lazy man and have no idea what is required to make my album, What’s Going On, a landmark effort about a psychologically broken Vietnam vet returning home. Droves of fans purchase it and critics call it great and seminal, and it seems everyone loves the title song as well as “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” and “Right On.” Everyone praises me for writing or co-writing all the songs, and I follow with “Let’s Get It On” and feel I’m the king of soul and perhaps all singers.
I’m rich, Father. I’ve been making good money since my early twenties but everything’s on a new level now. I can’t avoid all the women who want me. I can’t reject friends, or at least friendly acquaintances, who bring me great coke. I spend a lot on that stuff. I can afford much as I want and moving to Los Angeles and leaving Anna to love Janis, who’s only seventeen and beautiful and soon gives me a daughter and a son, and buying a beautiful estate in Hidden Hills. Anna eventually wants a divorce and too much of my money and after long, painful fighting with her and the IRS and many other claimants to my talent she agrees to accept as payment my next album Here, My Dear.
You don’t care about any of this, Father, except I’m able to buy Mother a big house in Los Angeles, and you, regrettably, come to live with her. She should divorce you but you share six children and a bond too strong. I can’t maintain a marriage like that or any other. I’m too damn down or high on coke then real low again, and Janis leaves me and creditors seize my Hollywood recording studio and Hidden Hills home and probably will steal my pants, too, if I don’t take my son, Frankie, and go to Belgium and run on the beach and get clean, not completely but I certainly cut back and feel better, and write “Sexual Healing,” which brings me out of financial distress until my coke bills and support for Janis and our daughter, Nona, and Frankie, who’s back with Janis, force me to agree to a national tour.
I’ve always loathed touring and live performing. They terrify me and increase my chronic anxiety, and on and off stage in 1983 I’m falling apart but pretend to be cool and sexy and often end concerts by stripping to my underwear as I sing “Sexual Healing.” That’s what my fans demand, isn’t it? Some real friends say, no, Marvin, that’s not what they want at all; they want you and your singing.
I’m glad the tour’s over and I’m back in L.A. Where’s all my money? I think you know, Father, and you’re gloating and dressing like a woman and getting drunk in a bedroom of the big house I gave Mother, the only person who always understands me, and I’m receiving friends, okay, dealers, day and night in my bedroom and I’m frankly not at all well because people are plotting to kill me, and I ask your help and even entrust you with a gun I should use on you. Instead, I tolerate you until you enter my bedroom and scream at Mother for misplacing some financial papers. I tell you to shut the hell up but, like a scrawny fool, you keep browbeating her so I do what you did to me as a child. I knock your ass down and kick you a few times. You know you deserve it, Father, from anyone in our family this would be just. I think it’s sad you return to my bedroom, aiming at my heart the gun I gave you, and almost as unfortunate many who love me say you might have been giving me what I really wanted.