Think about this one. Don’t argue or spend your time trying to think of why I might be or even are wrong. What I want you to think about is rock and roll, the music, the genre. Think of that one artist who defines that entire genre. Can you do it? You might think of the Beatles, but is that all that rock and roll is and is that the universal answer. What about the Rolling Stones? There might be a few of you who define it as Pink Floyd or Queen maybe a few weird people who think the answer is The Who. There might even be one or two disillusioned souls who somehow someway think its Frank Zappa. Yea probably not.
What about country music? That has to be much easier. Hank Williams am I right am I right? What about Haggard? Or Willie Nelson? What about the Statler Brothers? Yes made you laugh or maybe chuckle. I am sure there is some moron who thinks its Blake Shelton. And you wonder why modern country music makes me nauseous.
You can do this for any genre. Blues? Well Eric Clapton thinks he’s god so why not? Well to start with he is white and an Englishman and overrated to boot. I have given you my thoughts on this I have three number 1’s and I have probably listened to more real blues music than most of you. Why should I be right anyway? Who put me in charge.?
The truth is you cannot do this for any genre of music including Classical music. You say you love Mozart? I give you Beethoven’s nine great symphonies.
You also have to consider what’s included in that statement. Take rock and roll music since most of you, at least the two people who read my blog, love rock and roll. There are more than a few sub-genres within rock and roll so how do you pick one artist who can define and symbolize all that. You see, I say you can’t. Then there is the genre of Reggae
See I know who you think about when I mention the genre Reggae music. For most of you Bob Marley is the only reggae artist you know. Some of you might know two, a very few might know three. At least four of you who read my blog on this artist are squirming in their seats and doing a Horschak imitation, “Ooh, ooh ooh.” I see you and your Burning Spear answers. Even if you love reggae, and because of that know many artists like I do you would say that Reggae begins and ends with Robert Nesta Marley. Bob Marley is the face of Reggae, considered a prophet by many Rastafarians, and a symbol of Jamaica, a national treasure.
Bob Marley was born in the mountains, in a small town. His father was a white man, an overseer on a plantation. The myths of Bob Marley, of which there are a few, say that as a young child he could read the future from the palm of your hand. For many reasons but mostly opportunity Bob’s mother moved to Kingston which meant as a black mother, a common worker at that they lived in one of the many shantytowns in Jamaica, in fact the most notorious of them all where the burning embers of revolution, equality, freedom and Rastafari were born. They moved to Trench Town. There both small of frame and stature Bob learned to fight, to defend himself with the knife common to Trench Town, a steppin’ razor. Later Peter Tosh wrote a song of that name and could have been describing Bob for he was a steppin’ razor, dangerous. Fighting wasn’t all Bob learned, music was another way out and there were many places to gather and learn. The music of the day and of Jamaica was ska and Bob learned it well. Bob’s best friend was Nathaniel Livingston. Livingston’s father had married Bob’s mother and they had a child together which only brought Nathaniel and Bob closer. Together they shared and explored their love of music and one day came across a tall gangly young man named Peter Tosh. Together they formed the Wailers and began writing and playing songs together. Livingston would change his name to Bunny Wailer. They began playing and recording songs around Kingston.
Bob actually left Jamaica for a while and moved to the United States where he worked in a factory. He continued to write songs. When he returned to Jamaica he quickly hooked back up with Bunny and Peter to share the songs he had been writing. Music though had changed to what became the Reggae beat and Bob struggled at first to adapt, but adapt he did. Bob also discovered the growing Rastafari faith and was soon converted and began growing his dreadlocks as did Tosh and Bunny. Reggae music had always been affiliated with Rastafari and the themes of Reggae are Rastafari themes. The Wailers not only caught up but they began forging the ground of Rastafari. Songs like Get Up Stand Up, People Get Ready and albums like Soul Rebel, Catch a Fire, Burnin’ and Natty Dread. Peter Tosh left in 1973 to pursue what would be a tremendous solo career of his own. Tosh and Marley disagreed on a peaceful movement to equality and they were often pitted as antagonists. I can tell you they loved each other but they did have different beliefs. Bob advocated peace and Tosh wanted even demanded equality immediately. The three had always been equal members in the Wailers but more and more Bob had come center stage. Many, Tosh included believed it was due to Bob’s lighter skin. Bunny Wailer left in 1976. Both Tosh with Legalize It, and Bunny with Black Heart Man had debut albums that are among the greatest Reggae albums of all time. Sadly Bunny is the only surviving member of the Wailers.
Bob reformed the Wailers with new personnel and continued to play. There was a failed attempt on his life and Bob left Jamaica for a while due to safety concerns. He released the album Exodus in 1977 a masterpiece, Kaya in 1978, Survival in 1979 and Uprising in 1980. For most of you, if you have any album at all, it’s likely Legend which was released after his death and is essentially a greatest hits album. It’s a great album and I think everyone should have it. For me though it’s difficult to see people who post on facebook how much they love Bob Marley without owning any album other than Legend or no album at all. It’s easy to love any artist if you only listen to their hits. If you want to really learn about the man you have to dive deeper and buy one of his studio albums. You hear how deeply religious he was, you hear his thoughts his emotions and you get a tremendous sense of the man. Regardless, saying you love Reggae because you love Bob Marley is ridiculous.
Bob was an avid football (soccer) fan. It’s the one thing that in poor nations that is easy to play, you just need a ball. Bob almost always played barefooted. One day Bob injured himself. It was a cut and like most of us he didn’t think anything of it. Things like that had happened before. Bob went about his business playing his very busy concert tour, writing and taking care of his enormous responsibilities. When he went out to play again he found he couldn’t. The pain that it brought in his foot was severe so Bob like most of us went to have it checked out. Why wasn’t it healing, why was it worse? Bob was diagnosed with Melanoma; however it was still localized to his big toe on his foot. The treatment plan was amputation. Bob refused, and he refused because of religious reasons. Rastafari faith believes that you have to leave the world with what you came into it, meaning complete. Amputation violated this belief. Bob was advised it would get worse and it would spread. Bob sought other opinions and received the same treatment plan. Bob kept touring until he collapsed on stage some time later, the cancer having spread just as he was told. He tried alternative treatment, traveled to other countries and was willing to try anything all the while growing more ill. Eventually he agreed to have the toe amputated but the cancer had spread. He underwent chemotherapy and his beloved dreadlocks, such a powerful symbol to Rastafarians and Jamaica fell out. He grew frail, until there were not any more options and he returned home. One of the last things Bob said to family was that money can’t buy you life. Robert Nesta Marley died on May 11, 1981 In Miami, Florida.
You might guess based on me writing this blog how I feel about Bob Marley. Your thoughts probably barely scratch the surface. There are artists I grieve over, feeling the loss like I would a dear friend or family member. Music lifts me up and is my companion in good times and bad times. Many of these blog posts I cry over. They take a lot out of me as this one has. Like most of you the only way I could know Bob Marley was through his hit songs through the album Legend. When I wanted to dive into Reggae I didn’t start with Bob Marley. That was too easy. I still feel that way. Reggae is a rich very textured genre. It’s like most women I know very hard to get to know. It has a language unique to itself a beat unique to itself. When I got around to Bob Marley I started with Soul Rebel which came out in 1970. It was not his first album but it was pretty early. This was the Bob who was alive. He recorded that album as a living breathing soul. Knowing Bob Marley isn’t the easy thing you think. It really is like picking up a book on Abraham Lincoln and trying to discern who he was, what he loved. You can get glimpses but you will never get the full picture. Listening to an album is like hearing the beating heartbeat of a soul. The album Legend is clinical, it’s posthumous even though all those songs except for Buffalo Soldier were released when Bob was alive. It’s still a carefully put together clinical look at an artist. Listen to Natty Dread, or. Burnin’ and you get something different. Bob is the only artist who I believe should never be covered unless your last name is Marley. I love him that much. It’s very difficult to see and hear David Marley sing (Ziggy) because he sounds and looks so much like Bob.
There are many images of Bob all available all easy to find. With the exceptions of him frail and dying I love them all. My favorites though are of two types. The first is Bob sitting, smiling. He never appears as if he is posing. It’s like taking a candid shot of someone and capturing them perfectly. The other is later in his career when he had the really long dreadlocks and the pictures are all live performance shot. Bob playing or singing those dreadlocks flying around his head like some strange Medusa, so free and so joyful.