Who's Willing to Try?
What’s Going On
Cracks forming in the Vietnam War began spreading across the oceans and to the cities back home in the late 1960s. The national government, what was supposed to be the unquestioned authority looking out for the best interest of its citizens, was being challenged at every turn by the masses for secrecy and reckless decisions. Mere children were being plucked out of homes to fight a hopeless battle based on illusions and pride. Suddenly the enemy felt a lot closer to home.
Fear, disillusionment, and doubt towards the worsening situation oversees was exacerbated by the Civil Rights Movement, 15 years strong by name but hundreds in the making, who preached of the oppression caused by systematic oppressive forces at work in the boardrooms, courts, and the Oval Office. A government was not acting for the people – democracy was not acting as the voice of the people, so to make their voices heard, people took to the streets.
Protests engulfed major cities across the United States, pitting officers of the law against those they were sworn to protect. Many of these episodes became violent – see Neil Young’s “Ohio” exploring the appalling Kent State Massacre and the hypocrisy of American citizens taking the lives of their own. The US was fighting on two fronts – fighting to maintain its presence fighting a purposeless war oversees and fighting to maintain peace amongst its own people on home soil.
Witnessing frequent protests took a toll on many, as the government turning on its people left many disillusioned about what the United States stood for. This was the case with Obie Benson, a member of the Motown quartet Four Tops, who witnessed an especially jarring period of police brutality while touring in Berkeley in 1969, on a day later known as ‘Bloody Thursday’.
Benson picked up his pen and wrote the initial version to “What’s Going On” during that trip – the tale of a naively righteous tale of a man awed by the state of a world he thought he knew. To Benson, it was incomprehensible how such simple tenets of peace and unity could be forgotten in favour of destruction.
The song found very little interest from Benson’s Four Tops, and was shunned by nearly the
entire Motown roster, who had been specifically trained to avoid touching on politics in their music. To Motown founder Berry Gordy, the label was supposed to put out universal hits that people could dance to and the charts would love, not turn audiences off by commenting on the growing madness going on in the country. However, one of Motown’s brightest stars could not resist the song, especially after hearing his brother’s stories of the war that would bring him to tears – the embattled crooner Marvin Gaye.
Gaye took the premise of the song and made it his own, rewriting many of the lyrics and enlisting more diverse musicians (and Detroit Lions players) for a bigger and more robust sound. Once the song was completed Gaye could not stop – the newfound spiritual bent in his music manifested itself in song after song, as the words of his community silenced for too long found their voice.
Instead of the singular hits that Motown had made its name on, each song gracefully weaves together as a singular musical statement, with soulful vocals and influences drawing on gospel, jazz, and classical arrangements. In it, Gaye shares an elegiac sentiment towards our world, seeing darkness creeping into everything from our government to our community, even to our environment – one of the first artists to touch on this topic. While mournful, Gaye’s spirit of redemption provides hope that by focusing on togetherness and healing, the challenges of today can still be overcome.
Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” was released on May 21, 1971, and became the spiritual poetry of a generation. 50 years later, the words on the album still ring true, with our own children facing violence, racism, and injustice. In a world still struggling to heal, Gaye’s preaching and vision of a better world provide both hope and a blueprint to a world built on love and unity.
Sautéed Lamb and Pomegranate Baba Ghanoush
Tender and umami, lamb is a flavourful and often under appreciated meat in North American cuisine. There is a gentle sweetness and tenderness to each bite, acting as a refreshing alternative to heavier red meats.
Beyond its delicious taste, lamb is a sanctified meal in Christianity, Judaism and Islam, symbolic for sacrifice, unity and purity. This symbolism began tens of thousands of years ago, as sheep were plentiful across Europe, the Mediterranean and Asia, and used for meat, milk, and clothing. The Greek’s especially held lamb in high regard, ensuring that the first piece of meat they cooked were dedicated to the Gods, who enjoyed the smell of cooked meat. It was the golden lamb fleece that sent Jason and the Argonauts on their quest across Greece, as claiming the holy hide would allow him to claim his spot as King of Thessaly. In Judaism, the Book of Exodus details the tradition of slaughtering one male lamb to begin the Passover festival. Lambs are very present in Christianity too, with Jesus being referred to as the “Lamb of God”, a name given to Him as He eventually became a sacrifice for our sins and our path towards righteousness.
The preparation of the lamb is very straightforward – cube and salt the meat from a leg of lamb, the juiciest type of lamb for frying or sautéing. Parsley goes particularly well, with the freshness and lightness elevating the lightly charred meat.
The flavour of the lamb is awakened with savoury baba ghanoush. The eggplant-based dip is smoky, smooth, nutty and earthy, and topped with pomegranate to provide some pop to the creamy dip. Pomegranate, similar to lamb, symbolizes fertility, beauty, and life. In the Bible, pomegranate represents eternal life; in the Qur’an, pomegranates grow in the gardens of paradise, providing a reminder about the beauty that God provides.
The process is simple: roast the eggplant for an hour at 400 until it becomes soft and mashes easily. Peel the skin, and blend in a food processor with salt, tahini, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil
The finishing touch on the meal is one of the most stunning cocktails coming out of les années folles, or the golden era of 1920s Paris – the Rose. The Rose needs no introduction, glistening, captivating. The first sip is as cool as dew. The next few felt delicate, sweet, aware, and gone too quickly.
To me, this experience speaks to where we stand as a society in 2021. We have come a long way in the last 50 years, but to hear Marvin’s words so potently and understand that many of the same blemishes today, it is hard not to feel sorrow. It is hard not to feel that the message of Marvin Gaye, or any of the brave voices fighting for simple asks of freedom and equality, have mostly fallen on deaf ears.
There are few orators who can simplify the complexity of the issue like Marvin could while carrying so much passion behind each line – his message seems almost too simple, seemingly mystifying that love and compassion have not been universally adopted. Years later, the roadmap to Eutopia remains the same. This is comforting as we still know what we have to do, and it can be a lot easier than we think.
That message is love, it is unity, it is empathy, and it is the miracle cure to everything ailing us. It is our best hope at healing as people and as a world, as it can be applied in every action we take and decision we make. Marvin is one of a long list of prophets relaying this message to us, and with each reminder we should all remember to let it guide us a little more.
But who really cares?
Who's willing to try
Yes, to save our world
Yeah, save our sweet world