By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
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By Michael Roberts
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By Patricia Calhoun
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His mother remarried, but her new husband, a building contractor that Marvin has dubbed "Pol Pot," did not become his dream dad. "My stepfather spent every waking hour telling me how stupid I was," he says. "Anything creative I'd do was wrong." His relationship with his siblings--two step-sisters and a half-sister, all of whom he speaks about unflatteringly--was nearly as tortured, he says, and his undiagnosed mental condition ensured that reconciliation was not an option. "I never became especially violent," he recalls. "I'd become moody, or I'd become manic."
By the time he was a sophomore in high school, Marvin was heavily into self-medication. "You name the drug and I did it," he says. "I even snorted heroin. And I drank. I'd do things like going to the dinner table on acid, because I couldn't handle my family. In short, I was just very hostile and didn't fit in--and I hated my household. My mission in life was to get out of there."
Radio salved these wounds. He fell in love with the medium as a kid; he waxes rhapsodic about listening to the late Bob Crane, who was a disc jockey for KNX-AM in L.A. before he starred in Hogan's Heroes. His perspective broadened during his early teens, when he was given a shortwave radio strong enough to pick up Radio Havana. "I fell in love with Cuba and Marxism," he says. "I was probably the only thirteen-year-old in Orange County who could raise his hand in class and tell you who the finance minister of Cuba was."
In 1973 Marvin made a demo tape that landed him a gig playing country music at a station in Del Rio, Texas. But the job was only a pit stop; he skipped from one lousy job to another throughout the decade. During the same period, he married a woman as dedicated to substance abuse as he was, and although the relationship produced a daughter, Rachel, who's now twenty years old and living in Texas, Marvin remained desperately unhappy. Divorce helped, but not enough.
Things improved on the personal front when he met his second wife, Mary, in the late Seventies; they wed two years later. Thanks to her insistence, he gave up drugs and sought medical treatment. While living in Salt Lake City, where he'd moved in 1986, he says he was finally diagnosed as bipolar at what he calls a "Dickensian" facility run by the State of Utah. But his troubles weren't over. "They never got the doses right. Some days my eyes would be like headlights, and other days I'd be drooling. Going through that taught me what a fucking crime health care in this country is. People like Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole and Trent Lott and all these shitheads run around telling us we don't need nationalized health care, but they don't exempt themselves. They only exempt people like me--and back then, I was hanging on for dear life."
When Marvin moved to Florida in 1988, two significant changes occured: He found a doctor who hit upon a prescription cocktail that didn't completely erase his individuality, and he got his first job in talk radio. Before then, he says, he had tried to hide his erratic behavior from listeners and employers. But because tiny WKTN-AM in Saint Petersburg-Tampa had so few callers, Marvin was forced to do hours-long monologues to fill time--and what came out, he believes, was the real Jay. "I could either come in and be a creative character and be a phony, or I could just be myself," he says. "That was my choice--to be a manufactured item or a real human being. And I had no interest in being a manufactured item. I didn't want to be something I wasn't."
In the beginning, Marvin was primarily an ideologue, pummeling Ronald Reagan's America from a leftist perspective. But by the time he'd moved to WFLA-AM, another Saint Petersburg-Tampa station, he says, he'd begun to leaven the politics with humor and anecdotes about his life that dealt with, among other things, his mental condition. Sudden oscillations in his disposition were also part of this package, as they still are, but Marvin feels that they have more to do with his personality than with either his disorder or the drugs he takes for it. He may seem to be out of control at times, but he says he's not. In his opinion, the only time he's lost it on the air occurred in Chicago after he'd sworn off his medication; the next day, he divulges, he tried to kill himself by driving his car into a tree. Since then, he's generally followed his doctor's orders. "I take one Zoloft, two Klonopin, pills for high blood pressure and a diuretic," he says. "It's a pain in the ass taking all that stuff, but I always make sure I do it."
Well, almost always. There are days when Marvin resents his regimen and leaves the capsules and tablets in their containers. On those occasions, Mary, who works as a literary agent (she represents the prose and poetry of Marvin and singer-songwriter Tom Russell, among others), serves as a safety net. If he sounds down and depressed on the air, odds are good that Mary will call and ask if he skipped his medication. And Marvin, who generally brims with bravado, will sheepishly confess that he didn't and promise to do better tomorrow.