The New European: Countdown to a tragedy

Marvin Gaye’s spell in Ostend is one of the most surreal episodes in musical history, but it is also one of the most sombre, says Sophia L. Deboick

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the release of Sexual Healing – Marvin Gaye’s last hit, appearing just 18 months before his death. The song was the lead single of the Midnight Love album that appeared a month later, relaunching Gaye’s career after years of personal and professional strife. But this song, often named as one of the sexiest of all time, was forged in the unlikely crucible of the sleepy Belgian fishing town and seaside resort of Ostend.

Gaye went to Ostend in early 1981, fleeing an IRS bill of $4 million, an increasingly acrimonious relationship with Motown Records and his own cocaine psychosis. He had been invited to the town by Freddy Cousaert, a promoter, club owner and hotelier who had been flying the flag for black American music in Belgium since the sixties. A decade on from the magisterial What’s Going On, Gaye was seriously floundering.

He had drifted from LA to Hawaii then London, with his young son Bubby and Dutch model girlfriend in tow, and it was an emaciated, paranoid Gaye that Cousaert met in late 1980. Cousaert offered to manage him and arrange a European tour. Seeing his obvious state of distress, he also offered him a place to stay in his own Ostend. At his lowest ebb, Gaye agreed to go – his brother Frankie later said that Marvin admitted he didn’t even know where Belgium was…

The New European, 5 May 2017, pp. 29-30.

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