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ROGER STEFFENS ON BOB MARLEY - 2000
Prediction is the murky province of fools. But in the two decades since Bob Marley has gone, it is clear that he is without question one of the most transcendant figures of the past hundred years. The ripples of his unparalleled achievements radiate outward through the river of his music into an ocean of politics, ethics, fashion, philosophy and religion. His story is a timeless myth made manifest in this iwah, right before our disbelieving eyes. There will come a day when music and its philosophy will become the religion of humanity... If there remains any magic it is music. [Khan, ibid.]
Unlike mere pop stars, Bob was a moral and religious
figure as well as a major record seller internationally. To whom does
one compare him? In a recent Sunday New York Times Arts and Leisure
lead story, Stanley Crouch makes a compelling case for LouisArmstrong
as the century's "unequaled performer," excelling not just in his instrumental
inventiveness but in his vocal style as well, transforming the way music
was made andlistened to, and influencing performers of all stripes right
down to this very day. But youdon't see thousands of Maori and Tongans
and Fijians gathering annually to pay honor to Louis Armstrong; you
don't witness phalanxes of youth wandering the world sporting Louis
Armstrong t-shirts. In fact, big as the Beatles were, you hardly see
any Beatle shirts around anymore, except for those few featuring John
Lennon's sorrow-inducing visage.
That music alone can be called real which comes from the harmony of the soul, its true source, and when it comes from there it must appeal to all souls...Music alone can be the means by which the souls of races, nations and families, which are today so apart, may one day be united.. .The more the musician is conscious of his mission in life, the greater service he can render to humanity. [Khan, ibid.]
Most of the pop stars thrown up over the past hundred
years had entertainment as their first and foremost goal.
As for innovation, Marley was a multi-talented synthesizer of new ideas and rhythms, beginning with his precocious "Judge Not" solo debut at the dawn of the ska era, right up through his ongoing experiments with gospel, r&b, rock, folk, jazz, Latin, punk, scat, disco, and even (in unpublished form) bossa nova.
Bob understood that reggae had the magnificent capaciousness
to absorb all other influences and anchor them solidly to the drum and
bass underpining that is its essential element, the sweet seductive
secret of its success. Actually the real secret is that Marley's music
is about something. It has value.
It is in the vast amount of adherents that Bob's work continues to lure, that we begin to sense his obvious immortality, even from this early point of focus. Elvis Presley may have been the biggest single rock icon of all time, but are his songs (none, incidentally, penned by him) really saying anything beyond mere pop cliche? Bob Dylan may be the most respected poet of his generation, but his often deliberately obfuscatory lyrics stand in the way of clear translation, and limit his appeal to the non-English speaking audience. Marley, on the other hand, refined his lyric art to a steely perfection, using the language of the streets to attain the stars. His words were so perfectly simple that they achieved eloquence.
Today, his elemental stories can be related to and understood by people anywhere who suffer and love and long for salvation. In other words, just about every one of us. Marley's ready embrace of herb, and the flaunting of his startling mane of locks that grew more ferocious as the '70s wound down, contributed to his image as a rebel for all seasons, treated like a deity among defiant youth and seasoned revolutionaries alike, who recognized him as one of their own, embracing him in Harare during Zimbabwe's independence, and sending him messages of solidarity from Peruvian jungles to Himalayan hideaways.
So it appears, at least to this writer, that Bob Marley has the clearest shot at being recognized as the Artist of the 20th Century, at least as far as music is concerned, and probably a lot more.
I hereby predict with reckless confidence that hundreds
of years into the future, Marley's melodies will be as prevalent as
those of any songwriter who has ever lived.
Man loves music more than anything else. Music is his
nature; it has come from vibrations, and he himself is vibration...There
is nothing in this world that can help one spiritually more than music.
[Khan, ibid.] In his true heart of hearts, Bob Marley heard the harmony
of the heavens, and shared that celestial sound with the god-seeker
in each of us. Some others who feel the same have answered our call
to share their memories and observations in the following pages. Not
all agree in detail, but the respect each of them feels for this once
in a lifetime artist is apparent in every word.