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Arts and Culture

Deconstructing Marley

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Posted on Jun 16, 2010
AP / Island Records

Bob Marley built his legendary legacy on messages of unity and social justice, but, although some more ardent devotees might disagree, a new biography argues that he had his flaws and complications. Human, in other words. But does Chris Salewicz’s “Bob Marley: The Untold Story” have anything new to say, ultimately? Reviewer Robert Christgau investigates.  —KA

The Barnes & Noble Review via Salon:

Unsurprisingly, Marley’s choices and circumstances embroiled him in contradictions. I hesitate to say his insatiable womanizing is the least of them, especially since some of his kids had it so much better than others—his son Ky-Mani’s “Dear Dad” is a much better book about growing up in a drug-dealing culture than about music or his dear dad. But at least it’s a familiar pattern. Less so the man of peace who delivered the occasional beatdown and hired ropey-haired toughs who promoted his records by delivering many more. And what are we to make of the Marley who Salewicz reports watched the private executions of three men who’d tried to assassinate him shortly before his 1976 Smile Jamaica concert—a comeuppance that came down a week or so after his 1978 One Love Peace Concert, which Salewicz unconvincingly judges “one of the key civilizing moments of the twentieth century” because Marley got two warring politicians to grasp hands onstage for an awkward spell? But I was in fact more shocked by the famously generous philanthropist dropping 35 grand on a Miami dinner with a daughter of the Libyan oil minister, 1953 Chateau Lafite Rothschild included—and more saddened by Salewicz’s account of Marley’s embattled 1980 visit to a newly independent Zimbabwe, where Robert Mugabe’s cohort was already proving more autocratic than Ras Tafari’s.

To repeat, it was righteous of Salewicz to tell these tales. But that’s only because they don’t turn his book into a debunk. If it’s foolish to deify Bob Marley, it’s far more foolish to dismiss him, in effect blaming him for not living up to the magnitude of his achievement. Praise Peter and Bunny all you want—they deserve it. But credit Marley’s reservations: “Is like them don’t want understand mi can’t just play music fe Jamaica alone. Can’t learn that way. Mi get the most of mi learning when mi travel and talk to other people.” And recognize in that one-world bromide the seriousness of his cultural-spiritual-political ambitions. Salewicz reports that the assassins just mentioned were armed by the CIA, while others blame the right-wing Jamaican Labour Party. Probably not much difference, and either way you can trust his enemies to know his power. Most of the 14 million Americans who’ve bought the calculatedly anodyne “Legend” are in it for the herb. But Marley is very different for people of color such as the Tanzanian street vendors of Dar es Salaam’s Maskani district, one of many third-world subcultures to integrate his songs and image into a counterculture of resistance.

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By reader, June 22, 2010 at 1:43 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Anybody else think it’s kinda funny to see that there’s actually a legitimate conversation about the merits of Bob Marley trying to happen here, outside of a college sophomore dormitory common area? Makes you think, “I wonder whatever happened to those stoners I used to drink with..” Not much I guess wink

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By Joe, June 21, 2010 at 12:59 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’m not so sure that Bob’s message really was an MLK-like non-violence one.  Bob was a more of a revolutionary.  I seem to recall him putting out an album called “Burnin’ & Looting” at one point.  I don’t think even 90’s rap acts here in America such as Public Enemy ever released something so provacative

Even his first big hit single, Mr Chatterbox is a song about beating up a guy who talks too much.  Great song.

As far as the Rastafari movement.  Its always sad to see political struggles being co-opted or mixed in with religion and superstition.  It wastes a lot of energy on trivial things instead of tackling the core problems in Jamaica. Zion is where you live here and now, there is no promised land that you should be waiting for.  I feel the Rastafari movement was extremely disorganized politically, and while being on the side of poor, does not really work productively towards economic reform that would serve them.  Jaimaca has suffered for it.

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By Dave24, June 21, 2010 at 9:59 am Link to this comment

BM is a treasure in humanity’s history.

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By rollzone, June 20, 2010 at 3:19 pm Link to this comment

hello. i agree with Mr. Knopfler about his epic contribution sharing the reggae vibe, and Bogi666 about actually grooving to the lyrics, and although the industry is in many ways interconnected to illegal drugs: the music and the musician stand apart. appreciate him for what he gave, and don’t worry, happy.

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Samson's avatar

By Samson, June 19, 2010 at 12:51 pm Link to this comment

Wow, so now the psuedo-lefties are going after Bob Marley.

Anyone who listens to his music knows what he was trying to say.  The interesting question is to ask about the authors and the websites that want now to attack this message.

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By tazdelaney, June 19, 2010 at 12:09 pm Link to this comment

almost never seen is the correct use of the world ‘deconstruction.’ simple analysis or ‘taking something or someone apart’ is not what deconstruction was/is about. it is a rather complex system of cutting away all the dross and similarities so that what is really different can be seen. fellow named derrida developed it. he had used its techniques to keep from being discovered for decades as having been a nazi war criminal in belgium, think it was.

take republicans and democrats… both human, eat, drink, sleep, have cars, houses, belief systems. real differences are slight. in fact, very, very slight.

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Peter Knopfler's avatar

By Peter Knopfler, June 17, 2010 at 5:44 pm Link to this comment

I guess, Bob rest his soul,
about my age over sixty.
Some have said Ond Man can`t do it alone,
you can`t fight the gov`t etc.
Yet with all Bob`s faults, nowhere in the world can you go where Reggie music is not.
Even the remote islands like Fiji Bob is well known. I know a Rabbi famous for Reggie muscian.
KCCN Radio plays Hawaiian Reggie Music. From Israel to Fiji One Man stands out, Saint Marley musical angel not just a genius. Bob said through song to me, “IF your not happy, travel wide” and so I did, Bob was there through music.
“Life without music is a mistake”, so I have heard. Rest in peace Bob.

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By bogi666, June 17, 2010 at 3:50 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Having lived in Kingston,Jamaica, gone through Trench Town I admire much of Marley’s music, His “Redemption Song” is one of the best songs ever written. The Jamaican’s of my age admire Marley because he gave them a voice in a corrupt political system. “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but yourself can free your mind”, a refrain from the song which has been song by numerous artists. With his songs he uses good english but when appearing before the Jamaican upper class he would only address them in Patrois, the Jamaican spoken language. Marley would cuss the elites, bumble cloth, blood cloth and ras cloth with the h being silent throught most of the formerly British West Indies.The above song has worldwide application, not just Jamaican relevence. The politicians of the world would all cringe if we would “emancipate ourselves from mental slavery” of the lies, propaganda, put forth by the USG, recited by the MSM and the institution of MINDLESSNESS, the inability to discern thought from fact which has been purposely institutionized by government, businesses, churches. This insitutionization of mindlessness gives it legitimacy.

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