Last weekend, I met some friends at the Guild Theater to see the new documentary, Marley, by Kevin Macdonald. When I got home afterward, I loaded up the CD player with Exodus, Babylon by Bus, Catch a Fire (both discs), and Confrontation. That left five more CDs for round two. Yeah, I’m a Bob Marley fan. I’ve read Catch a Fire, the Life of Bob Marley, by Timothy White a couple of times and have watched Time Will Tell, the documentary on the DVD, Legend, multiple times, too.
It’s kind of hard to see through the curtain of smoke produced by all the ganja Robert Nesta Marley smoked to what might have been his core personality, and I’m not generally in favor of typing public figures, but I’m going to take a stab at it in this case. I think Marley was a straight-up 8—no wing.
In addition to growing up in extreme poverty and violence in Trenchtown (next to Kingston, the capital of Jamaica), he was viewed as an outcast because his mother was black and his father—who he was named after, but who didn’t stick around—was white. As a youth, he was a bit of a brawler. One of his nicknames was Tuff Gong, which became the name of his record label. From Catch a Fire:
“Nesta, why yuh keep company wit dem bad bwai, wit dem rude people?” his mother would ask him. … “People judge yuh by company ya keep.”
“Me tell dem wha’ ta do. None a dem tell me,” he would calmly reply.
Marley intended to get out of Trenchtown, and music was his escape route. In the late ‘60s, when he began investigating the Rasta religion, he decided he wanted to write new kinds of songs—and that he did. As he learned how to play and write—and negotiate the sometimes-dangerous Kingston music scene—he and the Wailers helped birth a form of music that still rocks the world. Marley said reggae was Spanish for “the king’s music.”
He became a committed Rastaman, devoted to regular exercise and good physical health. To that end, he ran on the beach daily when he could and organized numerous soccer games. He was extremely competitive—even with his children, who say he cut them no slack because of their young age. By then, his music was more than escape or entertainment to him. He was—as The Blues Brothers repeatedly remarked in their movie—on a mission from God (which I’ve always thought was the quintessential Type 8 attitude, no matter what the actual agenda).
He was by all accounts tireless in pursuing his dream, doing whatever it took to reach larger and larger audiences—often going without sleep to rehearse, for example, and expecting everyone else to do the same. “Sleep is an escape for fools,” he’s supposed to have said. Better to burn out than to fade away? He had eleven children with seven different women. He was charismatic and exceedingly generous with the material wealth generated by his music, handing out money to all those who lined up outside his front door. Onstage, he was incandescent, a whirling dervish in constant motion, dreads flailing around his head. He predicted he would die young, and he did, at 36 years.
Marley had a vision of peace, of freedom, of bringing people together: One Love. No one fully realizes that vision, do they? But he tried mightily.
Emancipate yourself from mental slavery.
None but ourselves can free our mind.