What was it about Bob Marley that made him so popular in a world dominated by rock 'n' roll? How is it that he not only has remained the single most successful reggae artist ever, but also has become a shining beacon of radicalism and peace to generation after generation of fans?
The man who introduced reggae to a worldwide audience, Marley was a hero figure in the classic, mythological sense. From immensely humble beginnings, with talent and religious belief his only weapons, the Jamaican recording artist applied himself with unstinting perseverance to spreading his prophetic musical message across the globe. In 1980, on tour, Bob Marley and the Wailers played to the largest audiences a musical act had ever experienced in Europe. Less than a year later, Marley would die, only thirty-six years old. Sales of Marley's albums before his death were spectacular; in the years since he died, they have been phenomenal.
Chris Salewicz, the bestselling author of Redemption Song, the classic biography of Joe Strummer, interviewed Bob Marley in Jamaica in 1979. Now, for the first time, in this thorough, detailed account of Marley's life and the world in which he grew up and which he came to dominate, Salewicz brings to life not only the Rastafari religion and the musical scene in Jamaica, but also the spirit of the man himself. Interviews with dozens of people who knew Marley and have never spoken before are woven through the narrative as Salewicz seeks to explain why Marley has become such an enigmatic and heroic figure, loved by millions all over the world.
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CHRIS SALEWICZ's writing on music and popular culture has appeared in publications around the globe. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer (Faber, 2007).Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
ME ONLY HAVE ONE AMBITION, Y’KNOW. I ONLY HAVE ONE THING I REALLY LIKE TO SEE HAPPEN. I LIKE TO SEE MANKIND LIVE TOGETHER—BLACK, WHITE, CHINESE, EVERYONE—THAT’S ALL.
In early 1978 I spent two months in Jamaica, researching its music and interviewing many key figures, having arrived there on the same reggae-fanatics’ pilgrimage as John ‘Johnny Rotten’ Lydon and Don Letts, the Rastafarian film-maker. My first visit to the island was a life-changing experience, and I plunged into the land of magic realism that is Jamaica, an island that can be simultaneously heaven and hell. Almost exactly a year later, in February 1979, I flew to Kingston on my second visit to ‘the fairest land that eyes have beheld’, according to its discoverer, Christopher Columbus, who first sighted the ‘isle of springs’ in 1494. Arriving late in the evening, I took a taxi to Knutsford Boulevard in New Kingston and checked into the Sheraton Hotel.
Jet lag meant that I woke early the next morning. Seizing the time, I found myself in a taxi at around quarter to eight, chugging through the rush-hour traffic, rounding the corner by the stately Devon House, the former residence of the British governor, and into and up Hope Road. ‘Bob Marley gets up early,’ I had been advised.
Arriving at his headquarters of 56 Hope Road, trundling through the gates and disgorging myself from my Morris Oxford cab in front of the house, there was little sign of activity. On the wooden verandah to the right of the building was a group of what looked like tough ghetto youth, to whom I nodded greetings, searching in vain for any faces I recognised. In front of the Tuff Gong record shop to the right of the house was a woman who wore her dreadlocks tucked into a tam; she was sweeping the shop’s steps with a besom broom that scurried around the floor-length hem of her skirt. A sno-cone spliff dangled from her mouth. Wandering over to her, I introduced myself, mentioning that I had been in Jamaica the previous year writing about reggae, showing her a copy of the main article I had written in the NME. She was extremely articulate, and I discovered that her name was Diane Jobson and that she was the inhouse lawyer for the Tuff Gong operation (over the years I was to get to know her well; and her brother Dickie, who directed the film Countryman, became a close pal).
Then a 5 Series BMW purred into the yard. Driven by a beautiful girl, it had—like many Jamaican cars—black-tinted windows and an Ethiopian flag fluttering in the breeze from an aerial on its left front wing. Out of it stepped Bob Marley. He greeted the ghetto youth, walked towards them, and began speaking with them. On his way over, he registered my presence. After a couple of minutes, I walked towards him. I introduced myself, and he shook hands with me with a smile, paying attention, I noticed, to the Animal Rights badge that by chance I was wearing on my red Fred Perry shirt; again, I explained I had been to Jamaica for the first time the previous year, and showed him the article. He seemed genuinely interested and began to read it. As he did so, like Bob Marley should have done, he handed me a spliff he had just finished rolling. Nervously, I took it and pulled away.
After a minute or two Diane came over. Gathering together the youth, she led them in the direction of a mini-bus parked in the shade that I had not previously noticed. Bob made his excuses—‘We have to go somewhere’—and walked over to the vehicle. Then, as he stepped into it, he turned. ‘Come on, come with us.’ He waved with a grin, climbing down out of the vehicle and holding the door open for me.
I hurried over. Ushering me into the mini-bus, Bob squeezed up next to me on one of its narrow two-person bench-seats, his leg resting against my own. I tried to disguise my feelings—a sense of great honour as well as slight apprehension that the herb I had smoked was beginning to kick in, suddenly seeming a million times stronger than anything I had ever smoked in London. I was starting to feel rather distanced from everything, which was possibly just as well. Bumping through the potholed backstreets of what I knew to be the affluent uptown suburb of Beverly Hills, I ventured to ask Bob, who was himself hitting on a spliff, where we were going. ‘Gun Court,’ he uttered, matter-of-factly.
I blinked, and tried quickly to recover myself. The Gun Court had a reputation that was fearsome. To all intents and purposes, the place was a concentration camp—certainly it had been built to look like one: gun towers, barbed-wire perimeters, visibly armed guards, a harsh, militaristic feel immediately apparent to all who drove past its location on South Camp Road. The Gun Court was a product of Michael Manley’s Emergency Powers Act of 1975. Into it was dumped, for indefinite detention or execution after a summary trial, anyone in Jamaica found with any part of a gun. (In more recent times, it is said, the security forces adopt a more cost-effective and immediate solution: anyone in Jamaica found with any part of a gun, runs the myth, is executed on the spot—hence the almost daily newspaper reports of gunmen ‘dying on the way to hospital’ . . .) The previous year, when I had been in Kingston with Lydon, Letts, and co., the dreadlocked Rastafarian film-maker had been held at gunpoint by a Jamaica Defence Force soldier whilst filming the exterior of the Gun Court. At first the squaddie refused to believe Letts was British; only after being shown his UK passport did he let him walk away. What would have happened had he been Jamaican?
‘Why are we going there?’ I demanded of Bob, as casually as I could.
‘To see about a youth them lock up—Michael Bernard,’ he quietly replied.
Michael Bernard, I learned later, was a cause célèbre.
Having descended from the heights of Beverly Hills, a detour that had been taken to avoid morning traffic (like most of the rest of the world, and especially in Jamaica at that time, when cars and car parts were at a considerable premium, this was nothing compared to the almost permanent gridlock that Kingston was to become by the end of the century), we were soon pulling up outside the Gun Court’s sinister compound.
At nine in the morning, beneath an already scorching tropical sun, the vision of the Gun Court was like a surreal dubbed-up inversion of one of the ugly, incongruous industrial-trading-estate-type buildings that litter much of Kingston’s often quite cute sprawl.
At the sight of Bob emerging from the mini-bus, a door within the main gates opened for his party. We stepped through into the prison. After we stood for some time in the heat of the forecourt yard, an officer appeared. In hushed tones he spoke to Bob; I was unable to hear what passed between them, which was probably just as well—it being almost a year since I had last enjoyed a regular daily diet of patois, I was beginning to register I could comprehend only about half of what was being said around me.
Then we were led into the piss-stinking prison building itself. And through a number of locked, barred doors, and into the governor’s broad office, like the study of a boarding-school headmaster, which was also the demeanour of the governor himself, a greying, late-middle-aged man who sat behind a sturdy desk by the window. We were seated on hard wooden chairs in a semicircle in front of him. I found myself directly to the right of Bob, who in turn was seated nearest to the governor. Through a door in the opposite wall arrived a slight man who appeared to be in his early twenties. He was shown to a chair. This was Michael Bernard, who had been sentenced for an alleged politically motivated shooting, one for which no one I met in Kingston believed him to be responsible.
Discussions now began, the essence of which concerned questions by Bob as to the possibilities of a retrial or of Bernard’s release from prison. Bernard said virtually nothing, and almost all speech was confined to Bob and the governor. I asked a couple of questions, but when I interrupted a third time Bob wisely hushed me—I was starting to get into a slightly right-on stride here. Most of the dialogue, I noted, was conducted in timorous, highly reverent tones by all parties present, almost with a measure of deference, or perhaps simply hesitant nervousness. (Over the years I was to decide that it was the latter, noting that often Jamaicans called upon to speak publicly—whether rankin’ politicians at barnstorming rallies, Rasta elders at revered Nyabinghi reasonings, Commissioner of Police Joe Williams in an interview I conducted with him, or crucial defence witnesses in the rarified, bewigged atmosphere of English courts—would present themselves with all the stumbling hesitancy and lack of rigorous logic of a very reluctant school-speechday orator. Yet in more lateral philosophical musings and reasonings, there are few individuals as fascinatingly, confidently loquacious as Jamaicans when it comes to conversational elliptical twists, stream-of-consciousness free-associations, and Barthes-like word de- and re-constructions.)
After twenty or so minutes, all talk seemed to grind to a halt. Afterwards I was left a little unclear as to what conclusions had been arrived at, if any. At first I worried that this was because initially I had been struggling with the effects of the herb, which seemed like a succession of psychic tidal-waves. Then later I realised that the purpose of this mission to the Gun Court was simply to show that Michael Bernard had not been forgotten.
Bidding farewell to the prisoner, wishing him luck, and thanking the governor for his time, we left his office, clanking out through the jail doors and into the biting sunlight. Soon we were back at 56 Hope Road, which by then had become a medina of all m...
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Book Description HarperCollins, London, U.K, 2009. Cloth. Book Condition: New. Dust Jacket Condition: New. First Edition/First Printing. Size: 8vo - over 7¾" - 9¾" tall. Hardback Biography. Bookseller Inventory # 016173