Bob Marley

By: Jerrold Freitag
February 6, 2015

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By stretching pitch and fever into mellow cushions more distant from each downbeat, Jamaican musician BOB MARLEY (1945–81) was influential in moving rocksteady away from ska, toward peace and hope. He urged us to take a similar journey in our lives: “In everything you’re going to do, there is a right way and a wrong way.” He brought idealized time and nature with him from the countryside. Marley’s flipped-around Jamaican patois lyrically stands miserable social systems on their heads, making dreamy choruses of the absurdities of greed and hate. He didn’t invent the idioms concrete jungle (the title of a track from Catch a Fire, 1973) or rat race (a track from Rastaman Vibration, 1976), but he popularized them for rebels without a cause. “Babylon system is the vampire”: Proclamations like this made intuitive sense to my generation of high school stoners. The music is beautiful, yes. But Marley walked a walk of passionate disappointment absent of anger. “In the abundance of water, the fool is thirsty,” he sang; I read this line as a sorrowful commentary on the scarcity economics that pushes groups into unkindness toward one another. Marley was a revolutionary thinker for whom ganja made more sense than guns — too bad the former is so much harder to get than the latter.

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On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Paul C. Bragg, François Truffaut, Mary Leakey.

READ MORE about members of the Blank Generation (1944-53).

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HiLo Heroes, Music

What do you think?

  1. You’re forgetting his hits, gold-selling ones, and what that means: The circuit of cultural production running from the colonies, not only to the fourth diasporic world, but to the first, is a rare indeed kind of short-circuiting.

  2. The entry on Bob Marley shows that Freitag did not only listen a lot to Marley’s extraordinary music but also thought long about the singer and songwriter. The result is an impressive characterization of a great musician.

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