Today would have been Bob Marley’s 70th birthday. I adore him, and I can’t help but throw my two cents up onto the interwebs. I offer a one-question Marley quiz for you. When you hear the name Bob Marley, what word first comes to mind?
- A) Jamaica
- B) Marijuana
- C) Dreadlocks
- D) That overplayed commercial for a certain cruise line
- E) None of the above
If you answered A through D…
Please consider digging below the surface. Get to know Bob Marley. I think you’ll be happy you did.
Parts of his story are far from pretty. Born into extreme poverty, half black and half white, he endured the pain of rejection by neighbors and family. Music provided a sense of belonging; and turned into opportunity and expansion, but the more popular he became, the riskier his path. He had powerful enemies, and even survived an assassination attempt.
He loved women, many of them. His first love was a dirt-poor Sunday school teacher, Rita who became his wife and back up singer. Another was Cindy Breakspeare who was later crowned Miss World. They were both at his bedside when he died of cancer at 36 in May 1981. In those final days, he had been in Germany receiving experimental cancer treatment. They attempted to take him home to his beloved Jamaica. Sadly, he made it all the way to Miami, but died there.
A Rastafarian, Marley held strict and controversial religious beliefs. For him, smoking marijuana was a spiritual undertaking, not a slacker’s escape. A fierce rebel in many ways, he was also said to exude the sensitively of a shy child. He was also quite the soccer player, good enough to play professionally. Of course, there is another little thing–his music. His pure, comforting, brilliant voice. As a songwriter, he pulled no political or emotional punches. Soulful is the word that first comes to mind, but that’s not quite right. What word could I find to do Marley’s lyrics justice? Transcendent, perhaps.
NOTE: Back to that quiz, there really is no wrong answer, though the word I think of first is: love. I am listening to “Legend” as I write this. While writing Please, Pretty Lights, I listened to Bob Marley’s Legend album EVERY SINGLE time I worked on a love scene between characters Matt (a quirky bass player) and main character Via. See below for a “Stir It Up” excerpt. Of course, no Marley lyrics were ever used without permission.
I’m going to Seattle’s Nectar Lounge tonight for the Bob Marley 70th Birthday Celebration. If you can’t get out and listen to live music tonight, consider this: I highly, highly encourage watching the documentary “Marley” which came out in 2012. It’s received excellent ratings and with good reason. It’s not glossy. It shows his humanity, which isn’t always smooth or melodic. It provides perspective into the man, his world, and his place in history as a political and social catalyst
Please, Pretty Lights, pg. 73 (Booktrope Editions, July 2014)
“If you hear me practicing, you probably won’t even recognize the songs,” Matt said as he came over to the desk. Via stood up so he could sit down. But he just leaned over the desk and opened the laptop. Standing next to him, she felt pretty shrimpy. The side of her face met his shoulder. His shirt smelled like fabric softener. “But, when you come hear us, the whole band, then you’ll hear me. The baselines will pop.”
He felt so familiar. “You should be a teacher,” she told him.
“I teach at Seattle Kidz Rock, but, just on Tuesdays,” he said. “I want you to hear a song.”
In one fluid move, he sat down in the desk chair, reached over, hooked his right arm around her waist, and brought her down onto his lap. It was sweet yet confident.
“A lot of people don’t give the bass a second thought, but in reggae the bassist and guitar player switch roles,” he continued. “The bass is more prominent. A good example is ‘Stir it Up.’ Listen.”
God, he felt good, and she was content to just sit there while he found his song. He nuzzled into her side, and she felt little kisses just behind her earlobe. Something shifted within her. Like he had correctly entered some secret code she didn’t even know she had. She heard the sound of the Wailers start in, and then Bob Marley’s distinctive voice.
She relaxed into him. He was her sexy beanbag chair. “Do you hear it?” he asked.
“Hear what?” she wanted to say. How was she supposed to concentrate while his lips worked down the side of her neck? Their warmth made her want to turn her face to meet them.
“Do you hear it?”
Of course, it surrounded them. Rich and real. Warm and fuzzy. “I love it,” she finally said. Reggae would never be the same.