John Sieger
Sieger On Songs

Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues”

The subtitle of this timeless song, “Make Me Wanna Holler,” evokes the Orlando tragedy.

By - Jun 16th, 2016 04:48 pm
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Marvin Gaye. Photo from Facebook.

Marvin Gaye. Photo from Facebook.

What would we be listening to today it weren’t for angry men (and women) with guns? John Lennon, Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke were all shot and killed. Cook was shot by a frightened woman at the front desk of the hotel he was staying at after an argument with a prostitute. We all know the Lennon story, it’s a common one, a crazy person with a gun. Gaye, sadly, was shot by his own father, who feared for his own life. They all died with who knows how much music left in them. Music and songs that might have lifted someone out of a sad place or inspired something grand in others.

After the slaughter in Orlando, an act that somehow is the very definition of both hate crime and terrorism, the usual blather from the Second Amendment crowd is more stupefying than ever. Is there any reason to believe they’ll do something about these weapons of mass destruction that were used against young gay, hispanic men when Congress sat eerily silent after Sandy Hook? These are the most fearful and unimaginative people on the planet, supported by the NRA and the gun manufacturers, who market semi-automatics like candy for kids, making a fortune off the endless tragedy they enable.

Last night, at a packed house for an event called “Precious Lives” at the Pabst Theater, stories from families victimized by gun violence added weight to the already heavy mood that hangs over our country. Milwaukee’s murder rate is up and most of it takes place in the middle of town where poverty is common and seemingly intractable. Their stories are not headlines, but they should be. The endless violence by young black men who have given up is killing a whole community, one tragedy at a time.

All I can do is cue up Marvin Gaye at moments like this, because he got it right long ago and nothing has really changed since then. “Inner City Blues” is a spectacular and tragic song from his album What’s Going On?. It could have been written yesterday. It’s not often you get more than a casual montage of low-rez images on Youtube, so enjoy this stunning video. It’s so good you could watch it with the sound off and still get the message. When you add one of the most chilling songs ever heard at the top of the charts, it makes a devastating statement. It wouldn’t hurt to watch this every day.

It turns out, the video was directed by the Hughes Brothers when the album was re-released in 1994. They were, as anyone would be, nervous about taking on a classic, but they do it justice with this wonderful atmospheric piece. Shot in black and white, it’s shows an exhausted community from every imaginable angle. They came upon the scene of a fire by chance and were able to convince the chief that they were making a documentary about the NYC Fire Department. It fits perfectly. The aerial shots, especially the short clip of kids bouncing on mattresses in a trash-strewn homemade playground, have a god’s eye quality. The singer in the song, though, is right in it, on the ground with zero perspective.

Rockets, moon shots
Spend it on the have nots
Money, we make it
Fore we see it you take it

Oh, make you wanna holler
The way they do my life
Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life

This ain’t livin’, this ain’t livin’
No, no baby, this ain’t livin’
No, no, no

Inflation no chance
To increase finance
Bills pile up sky high
Send that boy off to die

Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life
Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life

Dah, dah, dah
Dah, dah, dah

Hang ups, let downs
Bad breaks, set backs
Natural fact is
I can’t pay my taxes

Oh, make me wanna holler
And throw up both my hands
Yea, it makes me wanna holler
And throw up both my hands

Crime is increasing
Trigger happy policing
Panic is spreading
God know where we’re heading

Oh, make me wanna holler
They don’t understand

Dah, dah, dah
Mother, mother
Everybody thinks we’re wrong
Who are they to judge us
Simply cause we wear our hair long

© Marvin Gaye James Nyx Jr.

The last track on his most searing album, it exits with a quiet reprise of the title song. It’s fitting that the album title, “What’s Going On?” ends with a question mark. I sometimes think there should be one at the end of United States Of America. Can’t we do better than this?

Beauty and violence rub shoulders every day in black communities across our country. Subtract what they have given this country and we all would know what poverty means. Eight years ago, staring at a poster of an African/American president emblazoned with the word “Hope” gave me hope. But the problem is bigger than one man, even if he is the most powerful in the world. One of the performers at Precious Lives got a lot of applause when she summed up the situation, saying, “It’s easier to get a gun than it is a job.” Trevor Noah of “The Daily Show” pointed out that the guy in Orlando, without his gun, would merely have been a blog.

Personally, I don’t want to hear the words “greatest country on earth” until this gorgeous song and the bleak video that accompanies it seem like a distant memory.

2 thoughts on “Sieger On Songs: Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues””

  1. Donald George MacDonald says:

    “Little child
    runnin’ wild.
    Watch a while.
    You see he never smiles

    Broken home.
    Father gone.
    Mama tired
    so he’s all alone

    Kind of sad.
    Kind of mad.
    Ghetto child
    thinkin’ he’s been had.

    In the back of his mind he’s sayin’
    ‘Didn’t have to be here.
    You didn’t have to love for me.
    While I was just a nothin’ child
    why couldn’t they just let me be?
    Let me be, let me be, let me be.’

    One room shack
    on the alley-back.
    Control, I’m told
    from across the track.

    Where is the mayor
    who’ll make all things fair?
    He lives outside
    our polluted air.

    And I didn’t have to be here.
    You didn’t have to love for me.
    While I was just a nothin’ child
    why couldn’t they just let me be?
    Let me be, let me be, let me be.

    I got a Jones.
    runnin’ through ma’ bones.
    I’m sorry son.
    All your money’s gone.

    Painful rip
    in my upper hip.
    I guess it’s time
    to take another trip.

    Don’t care what nobody say.
    I got to take the pain away.
    It’s getting worser day by day
    and all my life has been this way.

    Can’t reason with the pusher man.
    Finance is all that he understands.
    You junkie, mama cries, you know.
    Would rip her, but I love her so.
    Love her so, now.”

    Curtis Mayfield – Little Child Runnin’ Wild

  2. Christina Zawadiwsky says:

    Yes, truly a classic song, and unfortunately we are in the same atmosphere now that presided then!

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