BBC chooses Marley as Icon of the Millenium: Sunday Herald

The following is an article from the Sunday Herald discussing the BBC choosing a Marley tune as song of the millenium. The article was unnecessarily harsh, and sometimes plain wrong in some areas, but I thought it might engender interesting discussion: Roots, Shok. Article is followed by a few responses.

Simply Dread
[The Sunday Herald via ProQuest · Rcvd: Dec 13, 02:58 AM EST ]
Publication Date: 1999 12 12

A habitual marijuana smoker with a background in street crime and a string of illegitimate children by God knows how many women may not be the obvious choice as the icon of the millennium, but Bob Marley's character flaws obviously bypassed the BBC.

Yet when the Beeb opted for the Wailers' One Love anthem as its millennium tune, that wasn't the Bob Marley they had in mind. In the 19 years since his death from cancer, the Jamaican musician has come to be regarded as more of a saint than an artist who presented his audience with a whole package of distinctly difficult challenges.

The fact One Love will be played repeatedly throughout the BBC's welcome to 2000 - please don't allow the phrase "dreadlock holiday" to even pass through your mind - will further blur the reality in favour of the sanitised image.

The trouble with viewing Marley as a sort of natural mystic, preaching peace, love and a general feel-good ethos, is that it undermines the relevance and impact of one of only a handful of artists working within popular music with the ability to transcend the medium and have an important impact on the bigger world beyond.

Marley was many things, but a saint was not one of them. A halo isn't high on the list of requirements for survival in the Trenchtown ghetto area of Kingston - so called because it was built over a ditch that drained the city's sewage - where Marley spent much of his youth.

You don't earn the nickname Tuff Gong without a certain expertise in taking care of yourself. The young Marley had a reputation for being more than capable of sticking up for himself. Although the songs he would later write were steeped in ghetto life, Marley wasn't born in the city. His mother, Cedella Booker, gave birth in her father's house in the rural parish of St Ann, in the north of Jamaica, on February 6, 1945, when she was 18. The previous year she had married Captain Norval Marley, a 50-year-old white quartermaster attached to the British West Indian regiment. But his family was not overjoyed at the match, and the marriage failed soon after Robert Nesta Marley was born.

Captain Marley moved to Kingston, and although he continued to provide some level of financial support, he rarely saw his son. An attempted affiliation when the boy was five saw Marley move to the Jamaican capital to live with his father, but this was short-lived and he was soon back with his mother. The Marley mythology stretches back even to his childhood days in St Ann. In Catch A Fire, the best biography of the singer, Timothy White quotes members of Marley's family claiming the boy had almost supernatural, visionary powers. Mixed with the magic of Jamaican folklore, the image of a young Marley foretelling the future as he watched lightning bolts rent the sky is undeniably potent - if unlikely.

The boy moved to Trenchtown with his mother when he was barely a teenager, attracted by the promise of work and dreams of a new life. They were soon disabused of that notion. By coincidence, Trenchtown was bubbling with extraordinary music. Jamaicans adapted the American soul and R&B they heard on the radio, added their own rhythms, and invented ska. Marley hooked up with Neville Livingston, the son of Cedella's latest lover, and local singer Peter McIntosh. The Wailers - or the Wailing Wailers as they were initially called - were thus born.

So far, so ordinary. Another Jamaican vocal group, a few duff records, a few minor local hits, nothing to bother the world about. If the Wailers were ever to make an impression outside their tiny island, some magical ingredient had to be found. Salvation, in more ways than one, came in the form of Haile Selassie, the despotic emperor of Ethiopia and self-styled Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, otherwise known as Ras Tafari. Ironically, given his later espousal of the Rastafari religion, Marley himself was out of the country working in America when Selassie flew into Kingston airport for a state visit to Jamaica in 1966.

His arrival was eagerly awaited. Decades earlier, Marcus Garvey, the black nationalist preacher, had prophesied the coronation of a black king who would create a new black state in Africa, free of the evil influence of the white race. Garvey even formed his own steamship company, the Black Star Line, to take the descendents of slaves from Jamaica back "home" to Ethiopia, reborn as Zion for added appeal.

THE steamship company was a disaster, but Garvey's ideas took root among Jamaica's poor and dispossessed. They believed Selassie to be the god king foretold by Garvey and took to teasing their hair into ropey dreadlocks and smoking unfeasibly large amounts of dope (something to do with the Bible, but it doesn't do to look for too much logic here).

When Selassie's jet touched down in Jamaica, he looked out the window to see an airport packed by stoned, unkempt Rastafarians, banging drums, smoking large joints and chanting hymns to Jah Rastafari. He refused to get off the plane.

Among the crowds was Trenchtown singer Rita Anderson, a friend of Marley's who wrote to him preaching the Garvey gospel. It wasn't long before the couple were married and Marley's locks were sprouting. His songs began quoting the Bible and dealing with themes of social injustice and simmering revolution. Rastafari gave the Wailers added purpose and spiritual sustenance but, more importantly, it made them easier to sell to the white rock audience, which was where the real money lay. The drug link was the most obviously important. The Wailers became the essential soundtrack to endless, tedious student debates over the relative strengths of Thai sticks and Red Leb. Marley's Rastaman Vibration LP sleeve even boasted that it provided the perfect surface on which to roll spliffs.

Marley's photogenic looks, impressive dreadlocks and rebel image were hardly hindrances either. He signed to Island Records, the premier progressive rock label with a roster that included King Crimson, Jethro Tull and Traffic. Island boss Chris Blackwell promoted the Wailers, by this time a fully-fledged reggae band, as a rock act.

Livingston and McIntosh quit after being freaked out by the sight of snow on their first British tour. Marley became the undisputed frontman, and two rapturously received concerts at London's Lyceum Theatre in 1975 alerted the world to the arrival of a superstar.

But if his Rastafarian beliefs made Marley an easily packaged rock rebel, they also presented difficulties. For a start, a religion steeped in black nationalism seeking an escape from white man's capitalism is a little tricky to fully sell to teenagers in Ohio - no matter how stoned they are. Worse, the Rastafarian enthusiasm for repatriation to Ethiopia won unlikely, not to say unwelcome, support from Britain's National Front. And, even before the dawn of political correctness, the Rasta attitude to women - at best that the female's role was to serve men, at worst that women were evil temptresses who had to be ostracised during menstruation - made the doctrine increasingly unattractive.

Marley himself was hardly a new man. Although married to Rita - whether legally or just in name isn't entirely clear - fidelity hardly figured in their arrangement. He sired at least 11 children, only three of them by Rita, and his enthusiasm for procreation made a nightmare of the legal settlement of his estate after his death. For all of Marley's songs of peace, suggestions of violence emerged throughout his career. In the early days he and close friend Alan "Skill" Cole were reputed to have threatened local DJs who had not played Wailers records on air. And there were strong rumours that Marley administered a severe beating to his manager Don Taylor when he believed he was cheating the band.

SO he wasn't a saint - but he was a remarkable man. Marley's music united races in a way few have managed, and provided spiritual support and inspiration for freedom fighters all over the world, a fact acknowledged by Robert Mugabe when he invited Marley to play at a concert to mark Zimbabwe's independence. His finest moment in Jamaica was during the One Love Peace Concert in 1978, when he dragged on stage sworn enemies Prime Minister Michael Manley and opposition leader Edward Seaga, both of whose parties included armed gangs that thought nothing of gunning down each other's supporters. Marley clasped the hands of both leaders together in a symbolic show of unity that seemed to signal an end to political violence and a new way ahead for a country sick of endless killings. It wasn't his fault it didn't last.

Marley himself had been the victim of violence two years earlier when gunmen burst into his home and shot him. He survived, but left Jamaica for 18 months.

The shooting may have been political. The next day, Marley was due to play a controversial concert that had been hijacked by the government to boost its election campaign. However, it could just as easily have been ordered by drug dealers with a grudge.

Since Marley's death, former Wailer Peter McIntosh has been murdered during a robbery, and Wailers drummer Carlton Barrett was shot dead by a mystery gunman. Someone didn't like this group.

It is almost impossible to imagine any pop star of 1999 being politically important enough to be an assassin's target - although there are more than a few acts that make you think that's unfortunate. Marley's importance and standing have hardly diminished since his death.

Even the tacky tributes - the tackiest in Jamaica itself - have hardly tarnished the image or the superb body of work he left behind. He's back in the singles charts too, with a hip hop- influenced remix of Three Little Birds featuring rap diva Lauren Hill, the mother of two of his grandchildren.

The real pity is that that song doesn't rank anywhere near Marley's best - a criticism that could also be applied to the Beeb's millennium anthem One Love, a simple and even simplistic message advising us simply to get together and feel alright. Bob Marley deserves to be remembered as an innovative, difficult and radical artist who posed important questions about race, poverty, sexual politics and the armed struggle against oppression. Simply putting One Love on a tape loop as we enter the new millennium isn't how to do it.

Sent via Before you buy.

From: Rastapoodle
Topic: Re: BBC chooses Marley as Icon of the Millenium
Message:   2 of 3 (In response to shokkolat)
Sent: Tue, 14 Dec 1999 16:15:30 GMTOn Tue, 14 Dec 1999 15:43:33 GMT, wrote:

Hello all,
the following is an article from the Sunday Herald discussing the BBC choosing a Marley tune as song of the millenium. The article was unnecessarily harsh, and sometimes plain wrong in some areas, but I thought it might engender interesting discussion: Roots,

I'm not familiar with the Sunday Herald, but the obvious 'ax to grind' mentality of the 'journalist' who penned the article, and the passive aggressive tone of it are rubbish. Obviously, he/she knew enough of Marley's history to get a lot right in building the story, but the sophmoric snipping show he/she needs a lot of maturity.
They could have picked a more balanced view, or, perhaps, that is the tone of the newspaper overall. One magazine named 'passive-aggressiveness' as the newest, most widespread mental disorder, and this article is a prime example.

What ever happened to good, old-fashioned reporting?
Still, it is good that "One Love" was chosen as the song of the millennium, and that Bob got the recognition.

* *
Anya {{{*_*}}}

Reply to this message
Topic: Re: BBC chooses Marley as Icon of the Millenium
Message:   3 of 3 (In response to shokkolat)
Sent: 14 Dec 1999 19:19:29 GMTHello all,
the following is an article from the Sunday Herald discussing the BBC choosing a Marley tune as song of the millenium. The article was unnecessarily harsh, and sometimes plain wrong in some areas, but I thought it might engender interesting discussion: Roots,

It seems that whoever wrote this article is well bitter that Marley's 'One Love' was chosen as the song of the millenium rather than 'Come Together' by the Beatles or some other politically correct pop icon's music. It would also be nice if reporters did what their job states, REPORT, and not spew personal opinions and misinformation as fact, ( that's what I thought editorials were for.)


Posted: Mon - February 3, 2003 at 08:57 PM