Authors: Hank Bordowitz
Noise of the World: Non-Western Artists in Their Own Words
Turning Points of Rock and Roll
The Bruce Springsteen Scrapbook
The U2 Reader :
A Quarter Century of Commentary,
Criticism and Reviews (Editor)
Bad Moon Rising:
The Unofficial History of Creedence Clearwater Revival
Copyright © 2004 by Hank Bordowitz
Foreword © 2000 by Roger Steffens, originally published in
, May 2000
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher. Printed in the United States of America.
A list of credits for individual articles appears on page 299
Cataloging-in-Publication data for this book is available from the Library of Congress
First Da Capo Press edition 2004
ebook ISBN: 9780786728398
Published by Da Capo Press
A Member of the Perseus Books Group
Da Capo Press books are available at special discounts for bulk purchases in the U.S. by corporations, institutions, and other organizations. For more information, please contact the Special Markets Department at the Perseus Books Group, 11 Cambridge Center, Cambridge, MA 02142, or call (800) 255–1514 or (617) 252–5298, or e-mail
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Ben Schafer, my editor at Da Capo and one of the most erudite people dealing with words on music that I know.
James Fitzgerald, as always—the entertainment writer’s agent par excellence. I’m lucky to have him in my corner.
The cast and crew at the Suffern Free Public Library who went above and beyond on this project. Excelsior!
Nancy Jeffries and Tori Johnson at Bob Marley Music.
The minions of the Lincoln Center Library for Music and the Performing Arts, home of the most astounding collection of information about music that there is.
The good folks at the Schomburg Center, the heart of the modern Harlem renaissance.
Melissa Barlow, the document-sharing supervisor at the Perry Cas-tañeda Library at the University of Texas in Austin.
Larry Stephan and Jon Moorehead for some ideas on how to make the book “more commercial.”
Stephen Davis, Roger Stephens, Molly Kleinman, Barbara Grieninger, Eric Rubenstein, CC Smith, Martin Paul, Jerome Rank-ine, Jim DeRogatis, Greg Kot, Mike Mullis, Jonathan Daniel, Ted Cowan, Daniel Nelson, Barney Hoskyns, Zoe Gemelli, “Ras” Roger Steffens, Barbara Slavin, Linda Verigan, Charlie Koones, Klaus Ludes, Robert Matheu, Debra Weydert, Patti Conte, Paula Balzer, Dave Marsh, Sasha Carr, Patrick Carr, Jennifer Snow, Jim Mullin, Danielle Robinson, Ginny Lohle, Gwen Mitchell, Steve Bloom, Roberto Rionda, Julian Anderson, and Katherine Cluverious for help in the arduous rights process.
Throughout Africa, the Caribbean, London, America, and among people of all races, the image of Bob Marley has become fraught with deeper meanings than just that of a musician who put his spiritual and political beliefs into hypnotic, rhythmic, direct, hard-hitting songs. He has turned into a touchstone of the possibilities inherent in the “third world,” the developing nations of the world.
Part of what made him an icon was the high-profile nature of his career. He moved anyone who enjoyed good, soulful music, often in spite of the message rather than because of it. He became a one-man marketing force for a genre of music once heard only in the ghettos of Trenchtown, Brixton, Brooklyn Heights, in Jamaica, and where Jamaican expatriates gathered.
Another factor of his status could have to do with his tragic death from cancer at thirty-six years old, at the pinnacle of his career. He is a musical and cultural martyr who suffered for the sins of his audience, a Jesus (or Selassie) figure for the twenty-first century.
Part of the appeal may well have centered in the ever-present spliff. It is not coincidental that the pinnacle of Marley’s career came at the height of marijuana’s worldwide popularity as a cultural aperitif. For Marley, it was a sacrament. For many of his fans, it was fun.
Marley’s steadfast faith also plays a part in this. While he always considered himself simply a follower and messenger of Rastafarianism, to many he became the religion’s high priest, the person that fellow Rastas looked to for insight, information, and inspiration. Even to non-Rastafarians, his faith and his resolute following of it served as a route back to the spiritual. Say what you will about Rastafarianism, the followers of the religion are among the most devout and highly spiritual people you will ever meet.
But mostly, through the power of his personality and his music, Bob Marley took an isolated, indigenous music and turned it into an international phenomenon. He took reggae, with its “one-drop” off beat, and brought it to the attention of the world through his own recordings and concerts, as well through hit cover versions by artists ranging from Texas middle-of-the-road crooner Johnny Nash (the first to bring Marley’s music to a wider audience) to guitar god Eric Clapton.
Reggae as proselytized and promoted by Marley fueled entire movements in music and helped spawn English groups like Steel Pulse (one of Marley’s favorites) and UB40, not to mention informing the music of groups like The Police, the whole 2-Tone ska movement in England that featured groups like the Specials and Madness, and the American ska movement that continues to this day with groups like No Doubt and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. As much as contemporary folk singers call themselves “Woody’s Children,” these artists are Marley’s Children.
That over twenty years after his death his music survives intact and is covered by artists ranging from Public Enemy to Aerosmith speaks to his enduring influence.
He is also one of the most written-about artists, especially in the years after his death. The fascination with his career, with the inherent spirituality of his music and his message, with his aggressively political stance even as he denied interest in “politricks”—“Me no sing politics, me sing freedom”—all speak to fans from the ’70s through next week and beyond. It has led writers ranging from
The Color Purple
author Alice Walker to academics to nearly every music journalist to take their shot at figuring out what makes Marley a nearly sacred name in popular culture.
I hope this book manages to synthesize some of these viewpoints into a cohesive reading experience. My goal is to inform, entertain, and allow the reader to form an image of this remarkable man.
As such, the book takes a fragmented approach. It will deal with Marley as a political force, a spiritual force, a musical force, and most of all as a human force. By shining a light through the many facets of what Marley accomplished in his short life, his even shorter career, and even briefer time in the limelight, I hope to make the energy and puissance of his music and his accomplishments that much easier to grasp.
Music raises the soul of man even higher than the so-called external form
of religion.… That is why in ancient times the greatest prophets were
HAZRAT INAYAT KHAN,
THE MYSTICISM OF SOUND AND MUSIC
Without doubt, Bob Marley can now be recognized as the most important figure in twentieth-century music.
It’s not just my opinion, but also, judging by all the mainstream accolades hurled Bob’s way lately, the feeling of a great many others too. Prediction is the murky province of fools. But in the two decades that Bob Marley has been gone, it is clear that he is without question one of the most transcendent figures of the past hundred years. The ripples of his unparalleled achievements radiate outward through the river of his music into an ocean of politics, ethics, fashion, philosophy, and religion. His story is a timeless myth made manifest in this
, right before our disbelieving eyes.
“There will come a day when music and its philosophy will become the religion
of humanity.… If there remains any magic it is music.”
Unlike mere pop stars, Bob was a moral and religious figure as well as a major record seller internationally. To whom does one compare him? In a Sunday
New York Times
Arts and Leisure lead story, Stanley Crouch makes a compelling case for Louis Armstrong as the century’s “unequaled performer,” excelling not just in his instrumental inventiveness but in his vocal style as well, transforming the way music was made and listened to, and influencing performers of all stripes right down to this very day. But you don’t see thousands of Maori and Tongans and Fijians gathering annually to pay honor to Louis Armstrong; you don’t witness phalanxes of youth wandering the world sporting Louis Armstrong t-shirts. In fact, big as the Beatles were, you hardly see any Beatles shirts around anymore, except for those few featuring John Lennon’s sorrow-inducing visage. Can you imagine an image of Elvis sewn onto the sleeve of an armed guerilla? When was the last time you saw a Michael Jackson flag or a Bob Dylan sarong or Madonna rolling papers? All of these exist in Marleyite forms, his iconography well nigh a new universal language, the symbol, as Jack Healey of Amnesty International continues to tell people, of freedom throughout the world.
“That music alone can be called real which comes from the harmony of the
soul, its true source, and when it comes from there it must appeal to all
souls … Music alone can be the means by which the souls of races, nations
and families, which are today so apart, may one day be united … The more
the musician is conscious of his mission in life, the greater service he can
render to humanity.”
Most of the pop stars thrown up over the past hundred years had entertainment as their first and foremost goal. Not so Marley. He was conscious of his role as the bringer of the message of Rastafari to the consciousness of the outside world. He cared nothing for earthly trappings, and loved nothing better than lying on Jah’s cool earth at night watching the heavens revolve above him, rock stone as his pillow. He was here to call people to God.
So we can’t compare Marley to other well-known musical figures. As for politics, he eschewed them, although his actions caused him to be perceived (and sometimes feared) as a profoundly radical political leader too. But his were the anti-politics of salvation through love and love alone, an unshakeable knowledge of the oneness of all humankind.
“Music is behind the working of the whole universe. Music is not only life’s
greatest object, but music is life itself.… Music being the most exalted of
the arts, the work of the composer is no less than the work of a saint.”
As for innovation, Marley was a multi-talented synthesizer of new ideas and rhythms, beginning with his precocious “Judge Not” solo debut at the dawn of the ska era, right up through his ongoing experiments with gospel, r&b, rock, folk, jazz, Latin, punk, scat, disco, and even (in unpublished form) bossa nova. Bob understood that reggae had the magnificent capriciousness to absorb all other influences and anchor them solidly to the drum and bass underpinning that is its essential element, the sweet seductive secret of its success.
Actually the real secret is that Marley’s music is about something. It has value. Bob’s art is life-transforming, answering our highest needs. It answers in a positive way the question that Carlos Santana says we must always ask before we begin any activity in life: How is this going to make the world a better place? Although Bob became a commercial artist, he was not making commercial art. His art transcended pop fluffery. Many are there who swear that his music literally saved their lives.
“The use of music for spiritual attainment and healing of the soul, which
was prevalent in ancient times, is not found to the same extent now. Music
has been made a pastime, the means of forgetting God instead of realizing
God. It is the use one makes of things which constitutes their fault or their
It is in the vast amount of adherents that Bob’s work continues to lure, that we begin to sense his obvious immortality, even from this early point of focus. Elvis Presley may have been the biggest single rock icon of all time, but are his songs (none, incidentally, penned by him) really saying anything beyond mere pop cliche? Bob Dylan may be the most respected poet of his generation, but his often deliberately obfuscatory lyrics stand in the way of clear translation, and limit his appeal to the non–English speaking audience. Marley, on the other hand, refined his lyric art to a steely perfection, using the language of the streets to attain the stars. His words were so perfectly simple that they achieved eloquence. Today, his elemental stories can be related to and understood by people anywhere who suffer and love and long for salvation. In other words, just about every one of us.
Marley’s ready embrace of herb, and the flaunting of his startling mane of locks that grew more ferocious as the ’70s wound down, contributed to his image as a rebel for all reasons, treated like a deity among defiant youth and seasoned revolutionaries alike, who recognized him as one of their own, embracing him in Harare during Zimbabwe’s independence, and sending him messages of solidarity from Peruvian jungles and Himalayan hideaways.
So it appears, at least to this writer, that Bob Marley has the clearest shot at being recognized as the Artist of the Twentieth Century, at least as far as music is concerned, and probably a lot more. I hereby predict with reckless confidence that hundreds of years into the future, Marley’s melodies will be as prevalent as those of any songwriter who has ever lived.
“No Woman No Cry” will still wipe away the tears from a widow’s face;
“Exodus” will still arouse the warrior; “Redemption Song” will still be a rallying cry for emancipation from all tyrannies, physical and spiritual;
“Waiting in Vain” will still seduce;
and “One Love” will be the international anthem of a coffee-colored humanity living in unity, in a world beyond borders, beyond beliefs, where everyone has learned at last to get together and feel all right.
“(Man) loves music more than anything else. Music is his nature; it has
come from vibrations, and he himself is vibration … There is nothing in
this world that can help one spiritually more than music.”
In his true heart of hearts, Bob Marley heard the harmony of the heavens, and shared that celestial sound with the god-seeker in each of us. Thus it is not surprising that the
New York Times
, seeking one video to epitomize the past century, preserved in a time capsule to be opened a thousand years hence, chose
Bob Marley Live at the
Rainbow, London, 1977
. Or that the same “newspaper of record” called Marley “the most influential artist of the second half of the twentieth century.”
We are all ennobled by our proximity to Marley and his art, his eternal songs of freedom.
is the founding editor of
magazine, and edits its annual Bob Marley edition. He lectures internationally on the life of Bob Marley at venues such as the Smithsonian, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, universities, and clubs. Chairman of the Reg- gae Grammy Committee since its inception in 1985, he is the co-author of
Bob Marley: Spirit Dancer, Bob Marley and the Wailers: the Definitive
One Love: Life with Bob Marley and the Wailers
, and is author of
The World of Reggae Featuring Bob Marley: Treasures
from Roger Steffens’ Reggae Archives
, the catalog for his eight-month-long exhibit at the Queen Mary in 2001. As co-host of the award-winning
show on NPR’s L.A. outlet, his first guest was Bob Marley in 1979. He has served as music consultant for several major Marley documentary films for PBS, VH1, and Britain’s Channel Four, and co-produced the 12-disc JAD series
The Complete Bob Mar-ley
and the Wailers, 1967–1972.