A long, long, long, long time ago, I went to a Bob Marley concert in downtown Chicago. I have a confused recollection of a mob of strobe-lit musicians up on the darkened stage, and of the colorfully dressed and turbaned women backup singers. I’d never been a big fan of reggae, finding the beat rather plodding, and the concert, though fun, didn’t really change my opinion. This was a bit before Marley went on to become a megawatt star.
Now that I’ve watched Marley, the story of Jamaican music superstar Bob Marley, I wish that I’d paid more attention. Marley was born poor in the Jamaican countryside, fathered by a white British government worker. He was rejected both by whites and blacks as a bi-racial child, and early on knew that his guitar was his ticket out of poverty and strife. With friends, he absorbed not only the local Jamaican music known as “ska,” but the American music he heard on the radio. It’s fun to listen to some of his old recordings of songs like Dion’s “Teenager in Love.” He became a follower of the Rastafari movement, which believes that the Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie I, was Jesus incarnate, and that cannabis should be used for spiritual purposes. They call Western society “Babylon,” and male members are forbidden to cut their hair, which knots into dreadlocks.
His rise to stardom was steady and he became a superstar, almost a cult figure, among young people worldwide. Why was he so popular? I learned why from Marley. His charisma comes pouring through the screen. He was incredibly good-looking, and danced with the abandon of a child before his audiences. He was also a talented songwriter–music poured out of him. He died at the age of 36 in 1981, when cancer from a neglected malignant melanoma spread. It was a great loss.
Marley is colorful, well-crafted, and full of music and energy. Don’t miss the interview with Marley’s aunt. Do I like reggae more after seeing Marley? Yes, because there’s a lot more to it than “I Shot the Sheriff.” Marley wrote some beautiful songs, as well as inspirational ones, and among music-lovers, he is still missed.