What’s Going On: Gulf Oil Spill and Global Warning?

June 29, 2010

In 1971, Marvin Gaye articulated what was on the minds of most people in America with his landmark single and album “What’s Going On.” The content of What’s Going On was that of a politically charged and deeply personal Motown album, and was notable for including elements of jazz and classical music instrumentation and arrangements. What’s Going On was among the first soul albums to place heavy emphasis on political and social concerns such as environmentalism, political corruption, drug abuse, life in the black ghettos.

Now, thirty-nine years, after its release, we revisit this album and its social commentary on America and the world as a lens to measure what America’s and the world looks like now.  To be sure, Marvin Gaye was interested in radically improving the human condition. The environment is one of key factors to improving the human condition.

Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)

Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” laments what is happening to the ecology, the deliberate destroying of the eco-system by humans. Anticipating environmentalist and global warming advocates Marvin ask: “Where did all the blue skies go? / Poison is the wind that blows from the north and south and east.” Whether the issue is strip mining, the cutting of trees in the forest of the storing or nuclear waste, the results are the same: “Radiation underground and in the sky/animals and birds who live near by are dying.”

Poignantly, Mercy Mercy Me highlights the dangers of oil drilling the ocean, a warning that has come to fruition with the Gulf Oil disaster: “Oil wasted on the ocean and upon/our seas fish full of mercury.”

Marvin Gaye ends this song with a haunting question that merits consideration today: “How much more abuse from man can she stand?”

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