Do you believe in a higher power?  If you are unsure, I encourage you to watch Marvin Gaye sing the Anthem.  Nothing further is needed to establish proof of God’s Grace.

While many entertainers have done the Anthem well, only two “transcendent” versions really matter.  The Hendrix version at Woodstock exposed the horror of Vietnam way more effectively than any hippie protest.  And then there was Marvin’s version…

I was not quite 2 years old and 3,000 miles away when Jimi played Woodstock.  However, I was blessed to have a near-courtside seat for Marvin…behind the basket, 4 rows up from the floor, right near the player entrance tunnel.  The NBA in 1983 had already begun its renaissance yet even in Magic’s house, you didn’t need to be a celebrity (or even a season ticket holder) to get a prime seat to the All Star game.

Two things strike me as I watch the video.  First, I watch it in vain trying to find my father and myself in the crowd.  Second, I can say with certainty that the video doesn’t really illustrate how Marvin’s Anthem really went down.

I can remember watching Marvin walk by me out of the entrance tunnel onto the court.  Being 15, I certainly was aware that he was a famous singer and I had heard “Sexual Healing” (not thinking much of the song).  At the time, I didn’t and couldn’t appreciate his musical mastery.

After he walked on the court and as he prepared to sing, all of a sudden, time got really really slow.  And now, so many years after the fact, I can describe in precise detail what actually transpired.

Surrealism is a movement stating that the liberation of our mind…can be achieved by exercising the imaginative faculties of the ´unconscious mind´ to the attainment of a dream-like state different from, or ultimately ‘truer’ than, everyday reality.Wikipedia

As Marvin stood at center court, a syncopated beat machine was turned on.  For several minutes, all I could hear was that funky beat. 

Suddenly, loud shrieks began to emanate from the rafters.  Marvin typically got this type of response when he walked onstage.  Now however, the noise sounded like primal screams of the doomed as they descended into hell.  I laughed uncontrollably out of sheer nervousness.  What was going on (pun intended) I wondered? 

He still hadn’t started the song.

Then he started to sing… and he sang very slowly, drawing out every syllable of every word.  Marvin took a full minute to sing the first line of the Anthem. 

As Marvin was delivering that very first line, I felt like I was struck by lightning.  I knew with certainty that I was witnessing something very special—a watershed cultural event that would be talked about many decades into the future.

Between the second and third lines of the Anthem, our entire section arose en masse and began clapping to the beat which we continued to do for the rest of the song.  For what seemed like hours, we weren’t in the Fabulous Forum…we were in the pews of Marvin’s church…a church none of us white suburbanites would likely ever visit in person.  Through the most unlikely of musical vehicles, Marvin gave us the essence of Soul, personal and collective.

As I remember this event, I think of the emotion expressed by one of Ralph Ellison’s characters:

He watched the wheel whirling past the numbers and experienced a burst of exaltation: This is God! This is the really truly God! He said it aloud, “This is God!”  He said it with such absolute conviction that he feared he would fall fainting into the footlights.”-- King of the Bingo Game

Did others see what I saw and feel what I felt?  I knew others dug the Anthem and were groovin’ to it.  But did they participate in the groove or just passively partake?  Were they tripping like me?  Did they trip at all?  I didn’t know, couldn’t know.

Finally, Marvin delivered us safely back to our seats…just in time for the game to begin.  The applause shook the building.

The rest of the game was a mere afterthought.  I remember Kareem blocking Larry Bird and Dr J. on (not quite) consecutive trips down the court and I also recall a terrific gymnastics halftime show.  I also distinctly remember not having the vocabulary or maturity to communicate my experience to anyone until now. 

The anthem may have ended in less than 3 minutes, but the trip I embarked upon that day has lasted well over 20 years, and will last for the rest of my life.

Postscript: The Nike Basketball Marvin Gaye National Anthem Commercial is absolute masterpiece. Watch the commercial below.

Todd Mintz knows PPC...knows Social Media...knows SEO...knows Blogging...knows Domaining...and knows them all real well. He is on the Board of Directors at SEMpdx. Email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn