What's Going On? Artist Fellow Kevin Epps Gets Down with Marvin Gaye

What’s Going On: The Life and Death of Marvin Gaye, the second installment in Kevin Epps's curated Filmmakers Lounge series, examines the life and legacy of this astounding musical artist. Serving once again as a guest blogger, Epps talks about his life-long connection to the music of Marvin Gaye.

What's Going On poster

Growing up as a kid, my household consisted of my moms and my two younger sisters. It was as normal as can be expected, and sometimes a fun and adventure-filled childhood. Growing up during that time in the populated Bayview-Hunters Point housing project meant lots of kids, bikes, parks, dogs and bay views.

Young Kevin Epps

A young Kevin Epps

Since I can remember, my moms always had good music playing in the background–all kinds of music. Whether she was laughing or crying, cooking or cleaning, partying or relaxing, it was always music that she loved, and inevitably my sisters and I became music lovers too.

A lot of the music that filled the air in my house came from the renowned "Motown Sound," and Marvin Gaye was our artist of choice. He was the soundtrack in the background. I learned later on that Marvin’s music was also the soundtrack to what was going on in society. His music was soulful, funky, smooth and moving. It sounded good even when I was a little kid and I didn't fully understand the lyrical content. When eventually I did, I loved Marvin Gaye’s music even more. I have some fond and vivid memories of moms cooking in the kitchen—the aromatic smell of frying fish in the air—preparing for my auntie, cousin and friends, who were all coming to visit, eat and party.

Kevin Epps and friends

Epps with his two sisters, his cousin and a friend

All the while we’d be listening to Marvin Gaye's funky, groovy party anthem, Got to Give it Up :

I used to go out to parties and stand around
'Cause I was too nervous to really get down
But my body yearned to be free
I got up on the floor, boy
So somebody could choose me.

No more standin' there beside the walls
I have got myself together, baby
I'm havin' a ball

Other times, it was What's Going On :

Mother, mother
There's too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There's far too many of you dying
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today

Father, father
We don't need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today

What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye’s timeless masterpiece, was inspired by his brother’s experience in the Vietnam War. The lyrics express Marvin’s disgust with police brutality after seeing anti-war protesters attacked in San Francisco. He broke down barriers by singing about the body and the soul, social consciousness and sexual politics. Marvin Gaye's music was expressive, deeply romantic and revolutionary. His voice spoke for a generation and continues to touch people today. As a filmmaker, after seeing this film on his life, in his words, I was moved and inspired to share the work of this incredible, complex and misunderstood musical genius.

Join Kevin Epps this Sunday, February 19 at 2:00 p.m. in the Koret Auditorium for a special screening of What’s Going On: The Life and Death of Marvin Gaye (2006, 100 min.). A Q&A session with music historian Rickey Vincent will immediately follow.