The Hate U Give & Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.”

I thought I would kick off our semester of “follow the cool” exercises (Blog assignment #2) by sharing my choice of song for The Hate U Give: Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” We are covering seven books this semester; you will complete this exercise for THREE of them. I’ll try to write about all seven books myself.  

The Hate U Give is an extremely musical book–and the movie also has a very strong soundtrack.  A number of you will likely write on some of the music mentioned in the text: from Tupac to the Jonas Brothers to Taylor Swift to Jodeci to the theme song from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to Rock Master Scott & the Dynamic Three (“The Roof is on Fire”).  There are so many possibilities!

With that said, remember that for this exercise you don’t have to write about a song or style of music referenced in the book.  You can write about a song you associate with the book, even if it does not appear in the book.  However, I wanted to talk about a specific musical allusion in The Hate U Give.

 I was quite taken with the appearance of Marvin Gaye’s incredible song “What’s Going On” (1971) in Chapter 3, when Starr is in the car with her Father: “Marvin Gaye asks what’s going on….Daddy hums to Marvin, but he couldn’t carry a tune if it came in a box” (37).

The Hate U Give has a number of scenes where Maverick shares his understanding of the Black Panther movement with his children: calling back to the activism of the 1960s and 1970s to reflect on continued struggle today.

Here is a recording of the song on YouTube:

https://youtu.be/H-kA3UtBj4M

“What’s Going On” is linked to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as anti-Vietnam Protest.  Here is a summary of the genesis and concerns of the song, from the “song meanings and facts” website:

The lyrics of the song are inspired by violence and police brutality in America. One of the song’s writers, singer and songwriter Renaldo “Obie” Benson of the Four Tops was inspired to come up with this song when he witnessed violence and police brutality while in Berkeley, California. On May 15, 1969, Benson had just arrived with the tour bus of the Four Tops in Berkeley and saw a group of anti-war activists protesting against the Vietnam War. Benson was shocked to his core to witness the sheer amount of violence and police brutality marring the protest. That unfortunate incident was later known as “Bloody Thursday“.
Read more at: https://www.songmeaningsandfacts.com/meaning-of-whats-going-on-by-marvin-gaye/

 “What’s Going On” is a track on the concept album of the same name; Gaye described his motivation for releasing it in an interview with Rolling Stone:

In 1969 or 1970, I began to re-evaluate my whole concept of what I wanted my music to say … I was very much affected by letters my brother was sending me from Vietnam, as well as the social situation here at home. I realized that I had to put my own fantasies behind me if I wanted to write songs that would reach the souls of people. I wanted them to take a look at what was happening in the world.

I think we can all find the lyric to the song still relevant even today, in its criticism of the war, but also the lines “Picket lines and picket signs/ Don’t punish me with brutality.”

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, yeah

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

Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
Talk to me
So you can see
Oh, what’s going on (What’s going on)
What’s going on (What’s going on)
What’s going on (What’s going on)
What’s going on (What’s going on)

Right on, baby
Right on, baby
Right on

Mother, mother
Everybody thinks we’re wrong
Oh, but who are they to judge us
Simply ’cause our hair is long
Oh, you know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some understanding here today

Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
Come on talk to me
So you can see
What’s going on (What’s going on)
Yeah, what’s going on (What’s going on)
Tell me what’s going on (What’s going on)
I’ll tell you, what’s going on (What’s going on)

Right on, baby, right on
Right on, baby
Right on, baby, right on

Here is a good NPR article about the song: https://www.npr.org/2000/08/07/1080444/npr-100-whats-going-on