Had he not died waaaayyyy too young in 1981, Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley would be 67 years old today. Now, I can’t say anything about Bob Marley and the Wailer’s music that hasn’t already been said by much better wordsmiths than I. Anyone who knows music knows that dreadlocks, reggae, and Rastafarianism would be pretty much unknown outside of Ethiopia and Jamaica if Bob Marley hadn’t started recording.
I don’t know about other college campuses, but when I was at Clemson University in the early 90’s, you couldn’t open a frat boy’s dorm room and not find a well-worn copy of Legend, the 1984 compilation of Marley’s greatest hits, lying around amidst a lighter or two, some Job 1.5 papers, and an empty plastic baggie or twelve.
In the decades since its release, Legend has been Certified Platinum TEN times. In America, that has earned it Diamond certification. Just to put that into perspective, only 106 albums in the history of the RIAA have been Diamond Certified.
It’s easy to try to pass Marley off as “just a good reggae” singer, but that is damning him with very faint praise. Bob Marley was a good man and the fact that he probably consumed his weight several times over in some of Jamaica’s finest export does not tarnish that fact. He was bright, articulate, and most of all, one of the most peaceful men to ever walk the earth.
I firmly believe that if we really want to achieve lasting peace in the Middle East between the numerous warring factions, we need to stop investing in diplomacy and high tech weaponry. All that’s doing is getting people killed in droves. What we need to invest in are some HUGE SPEAKERS. We need some gigawatts of power to some major league woofers and tweeters and once we’ve got everything in place, put on “Three Little Birds” and — to quote the boys from Spinal Tap — crank it up to eleven. Peace would break out spontaneously as the gentle strains of that ultimately peaceful anthem started to roll across the battlefields and deserts.
If, and this might be taking it too far, the little birds didn’t sufficiently pacify the masses, then we would have to break out the nuclear peace bomb and drop nothing less than “One Love, One Life” on everyone. It is an undisputed fact people CANNOT act violently when Bob Marley music is playing. Even his version of the oft covered standard “I Shot the Sheriff” isn’t at its core a glorification of violence. Sure, Sheriff John Brown ended up getting shot down, but not that blasted deputy!
I think one of the most telling aspects of Bob Marley’s character is the fact that he was father to 13 children. Notice I didn’t say he “fathered” 13 children. The difference is extremely important. At least two of the children he acknowledged as his own and whom he supported and his estate still supports today were the products of adulterous relationships by his wife. Now regardless of the fact that several other of his progeny were born to other ladies outside the bounds of wedlock, a man who would claim another man’s child as his own instead of killing said man AND cheating wife is a man of peace.
Bob Marley left us too soon. Stolen by melanoma that spread throughout his body. Even as the cancer consumed his life, it could not touch his gentle soul. Though he was a mulitmillionaire at his death, he never forgot his humble beginnings in a ramshackle record shop on a dirt street in the ghetto village of St Anne Parish in Jamaica. His final words were to his son, Ziggy: “Rememba’ Son, money can’t buy life.” Bob Marley made money. Money didn’t make him.
I think a glimpse of his gentleness is best seen from his own perspective. In an interview during the racially charged times of the Sixties and Seventies, Marley was asked about racial superiority and who he supported and what he thought of the prejudices so common then. With the wisdom of a Rastfarian sage he replied:
I don’t have prejudice against meself. My father was a white and my mother was black. Them call me half-caste or whatever. Me don’t dip on nobody’s side. Me don’t dip on the black man’s side nor the white man’s side. Me dip on God’s side, the one who create me and cause me to come from black and white.
Irie, Irie, Mr. Marley. Irie, Irie Rastaman!