Bob Marley’s Weird Legacy

Bob Marley's Weird Legacy

A while back, the Petraeus scandal – the replacement of Jersey Shore with Buckwild, both got me thinking about Bob Marley. Is popular culture becoming more accepting of people’s personal foibles, or less so?

Marley inspires generation after generation with music promoting freedom and love. His abilities in melody, singing, rhythm, and songwriting were strong. His political message was unusually consistent, too.

Bob Marley and the Wailers – I’m Still Waiting

But his personal life, numerous children born days apart to different women (er, obviously), including Rita, his wife of ten years, and the way he acted like a bit of a religious cult leader, makes one wonder how the culture at large should interpret the man.

His music was introduced to me by its natural promoters; very privileged kids in a wealthy lakeside community.

Later I heard Bob Marley in the apartment where I bought marijuana in high school.

But sophisticated music fans I’ve known rarely had Bob on their radar, and if they did, he was the butt of jokes. This was summed up nicely in Ghost World, when the sullen protagonist, who has a crush on a middle aged collector of 78s, rolls her eyes at a young guy who says to his friends, “You guys up for some reggae tonight?” To many, Bob Marley is considered an indicator of people with no taste.

Ghost World – You guys up for some reggae tonight?

Is it just his popularity? Do people find his message trite? Is it considered gauche to listen to a womanizer who sings a song called One Love?

My father said, “Sinatra was an asshole, but he was a damn good singer, and those two things are unrelated. I don’t listen to him for his personal life”. But even if this is true, can it hold true when their persona is so tied up with a message of justice and truth?

Take Bono. Sure his helping the less fortunate, and status as some kind of global statesman, smell like white guilt and a hero complex. But people take Bono more seriously than Bob. He’s not a joke in the same way. Is it just cause he’s a lot more sober than Bob?

Enjoying a Marley’s Mellow Mood iced tea, which is laced with soporifics and is amazing, got me wondering about the state of Bob’s estate. Who’s getting paid out for this red, yellow and green bottle of buzz? Will this answer my many, many questions?

As it turns out, Bob left no will, because followers of his religion are physical immortalists. You heard me. The Rastafari aren’t supposed to create an acknowledgement of their mortality like a will because that would show a lack of faith. Faith in the idea that they are, um, physically immortal. Even though he had cancer and knew his days were numbered for the last year of his life, and had some ‘significant’ assets, you might say, Bob didn’t make a will.

The deeper I went into Rastafari culture and his particular story, the weirder it got. The development of reggae and Rasta culture in Jamaica has a ground zero moment, the visit of Haile Selassie to Jamaica in 1966. Bob’s wife claims she witnessed stigmata on the hand of the Ethiopian Emperor, considered the Rasta messiah, during this visit.

One of the fundamental documents of the religion is the Royal Parchment Scroll of Black Supremacy, a rambling psychedelic dog’s breakfast with charming chapters like 36, “Eve, the Mother of Evil”. Rastas advocate the repatriation of all descendants of African slaves to “Zion,” which in this case is Ethiopia.

Rastas use cannabis as part of their spiritual practice, which is presumably why they don’t consider theirs an organized religion. But the weirdest element by far is the Orwellian changing of words which don’t have a ‘positive wordsound’. So a word like “dedication” is considered bad because it has the sound of the word “dead” in it.  Perhaps that explains all those kids.

Maybe what makes Bob give some people indigestion is the Rasta strain of weirdness running through his music. The lack of a will led widowed Rita and all those children (he adopted them all, all the ones born while he was alive, at least) to lawsuits with his half-brother over the use of Bob’s name, likeness and image for spas and hotels, restaurants, music festivals, fish cakes… all because her attorneys convinced Rita to forge and backdate a bunch of Bob’s legal documents, passing everything to her, got caught and confessed.

Like my Dad says, it doesn’t make the music, or politics, any less groovy. But by Jah this guy was so high.


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