This is the best article about Bob Marley I’ve read in a long time. As the sub-title says, he’s been hijacked by stoned suburban teenagers.
“Say you’re a middle-class American white kid. It’s spring term freshman year, and you’ve just discovered pot, Bob Marley, and ultimate frisbee. You really want to drop that organic chemistry course, but you know your parents will be pissed. In such a scenario, Bob Marley’s songs, with lines like ‘Emancipate yourself from mental slavery’ and ‘No chains are on my feet/ but I am not free,’ seem to be talking to you in a way that’s deeply profound.”
The article is a great brief primer on everything you need to know about one of the most important musical artists of the 20th century:
1) It’s the early music that shines. Popular trifles like “One Love” and “Three Little Birds” are not representative of his work.
2) Bob Marley sang about resistance and revolution–topics light years to the left of even the most politically aware rocker and rapper in middle class America.
3) Bob Marley was seriously religious and his lyrics are drenched in imagery and language from the Old Testament.
For the full credit course, you must read Catch a Fire : The Life of Bob Marley by Timothy White. The biography details Bob Marley’s life and is a brilliant description of his music. However, the book goes much further than standard pop star biography. White dissects the history of reggae from its earliest forebears, discusses the racial, social and political complexities of Jamaica and gives a high level tutorial on the religious beliefs that underpin all of Bob Marley’s work.
I’ve got to go now, I’ve got Bob Marley Live! cued up on my iPod.