Dear Mr. Marcus:
Over the past couple of months my English class has been using your book, Mystery Train, to assist us in the understanding of how music can be used in different ways as a metaphor. The title of our course is “Music as Metaphor” and the main focus of our studies is America and the music that has come from within it, as well as the outside influences that have impacted American music. For my final project I have chosen to prove to you why Bob Marley should be placed in your book, or in a future sequel. When I first chose this topic my main concern was that Marley is not an American musician therefore he wouldn’t fit into the “Images of America in Rock ’n’ Roll” in which your book is based upon.
While researching this topic I came across a website that talked about Marley in the following manner; “You don’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 America 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. When was the last time you saw a Michael Jackson flag or a Bob Dylan sarong or Madonna rolling papers? All of these exist in Marleyite forms, his iconography well nigh a new universal language, the symbol, as Jack Healey of Amnesty International continues to tell people, of freedom throughout the world” (PBS.org). I found this information in a PBS article that truly convinced me as to why Bob Marley should be included into your book. Along with this, I did a lot of thinking and I came across many reasons in my research that prove why Bob Marley is a big enough part of American music history; starting with the fact that he was from Jamaica but also an American in more ways then just his musical popularity.
Robert Nesta Marley, born in a small town outside of Kingston, Jamaica, was brought up in a very poor family with no father to support him during his years of childhood. While growing up he was faced with the first of many instances of racial prejudice due to his mixed racial background. This was just the beginning of many life long racial struggles that Marley endured. He once reflected, “I don’t have prejudice against meself. My father was a white and my mother was black. Them call me half-caste or whatever. Me don’t dip on nobody’s side. Me don’t dip on the black man’s side nor the white man’s side. Me dip on God’s side, the one who create me and cause me to come from black and white” (Wikipedia.org). This shows how he stood up for himself and let his music and way of life do the talking. His musical career started at the age of fourteen when he was introduced to Rastafari by a close friend and reggae singer Joe Higgs. He played with the “Wailers” in his early years and throughout his career performed to audiences worldwide. His first appearance in the United States was at the Amandla Festival in Boston in July, 1979. Before his debut in America there his music had already reached the top 40 charts (BobMarley.com).
To Bob Marley, music was more than just a cool sound or some clever lyrics, it was a way of spreading his religion and the knowledge of peace and unity to each and every nation, one at a time. In your book there are contradictions found within each of the artists and groups you write about. In Bob Marley’s case there was a constant struggle between his music and fellow African Americans that listened to him. The fact that he was born to a black mother and white father stirred up mixed emotions from his listeners and peers. In one of Marley’s most popular songs, “Buffalo Soldier” he discusses the buffalo soldiers stolen from their homeland and brought to America to serve in the army.
To me it makes a lot of sense:
How the dreadlock Rasta was the buffalo soldier,
And he was taken from Africa, brought to America,
Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival (lyrics.com)
This African American struggle in which he sings about contradicts the fact that he is only half black or as some critics say, “Dipping on both sides.” Marley took this criticism lightly without letting it affect his obvious success. It is written in your book that “Only the man who says No is free,” (Marcus, 123) this quote depicts the lifestyle and musical ambitions in which Bob Marley was going through his life. He took chances with his music and was satisfied with the things he was doing while not caring what others thought about him and his lyrical teachings. He was speaking his mind to the nation. Marley took this criticism and turned it into encouragement, which is very hard to do. He overcame what he had been told all his life and he pursued what his heart was telling him to do. This mentality of taking risks and defying the odds is something that has been with Americans from our immigrant forefathers and mothers who followed their instincts and came to this country to start a new life. Jacob Needleman explains in his book the vision of our immigrant ancestors when he say, “the idea of America has expressed enough of that wisdom to touch the hearts of men and women throughout the world who yearned not only for wealth or for safety or comfort, but also for meaning and transcendence” (The American Soul, 13) Marley was not an American citizen yet his ways of making decisions and living his life reflect those of our ancestors who founded this country and the spirit that drives our existence.
Marley’s musical talent was immediately noticed when his track “I Shot the Sheriff,” from the Burnin’ album, was covered a year later by Eric Clapton. This began the everlasting super stardom that Bob Marley reached. In an early interview of Marley that I located, the reporters kept asking how he could be such a simple and mellow man when he was one of the world’s most renowned superstars. His laid back responses to these questions reminded me of this quote from Mystery Train; “Men are not free when they are doing just what they like. The moment you can do just what you like, there is nothing you care about doing” (p.163). To me, Marley was similar in many ways to Elvis Presley and his musical lifestyle and mindset. Elvis represented both the best and worst of American culture by dancing on live television in a never before seen way and being a disgrace to millions of American adults; while on the other side of the spectrum, his music was from the heart and brought joy to the majority of America as a new style of rock ’n’ roll was invented. Marley was looked at by Americans as both a negative and positive influence, just as Elvis was. He brought a new style of music known as reggae to America, which was a split nation at the time, between the Vietnam War, racial segregation and the peace and love which was said to have been lost. This new wave of music and peaceful way of life that Marley brought to America inspired millions, which led to the spread of new genres to this country such as; ska, roots reggae, dub, calypso, dancehall and reggaeton. Bob Marley’s affect on American music is of unbelievable proportions and it is still going strong and steady to this day. I strongly believe it will continue for many years to come.
In David Markowitz biography on Marley he discusses Bob as a worldly figure by stating, “Time magazine made Bob Marley’s impact strikingly clear when it named Exodus the most important album of the 20th century” (The Words and Music of Bob Marley, 1). America’s Time magazine, being as well known as it is, does not need much backup when they put out a statement like this about such a peaceful and loving man. Marley was very involved with his religion, Rastafari, and was at times referred to as a chosen one, “I & I Robert Nesta Marley travelled the FOUR corners relentlessly to spread the Jah message to us Downpressed” (youtube.com). The study of Rastafari began at a young age for Marley and with this he was on a mission to bring peace and unity to all nations, mainly America. In the book, American Soul, Jacob Needleman writes “One of the most central of these elements is the idea of man as a being who exist between two worlds-an inner world of great spiritual vision and power, and an outer world of material realities and constraint” (8). Needleman’s idea perfectly portrays the life of Robert Marley; the religious practices, the musical spirituality, the everyday struggle written in his songs and the outer world in which he dislikes, yet influences with his peaceful ways.
Rita Marley was Bob’s wife and backup singer until the time of his death. Since then she has moved to America and wrote a book, My Life With Bob Marley, in which she discusses her life with and without Marley. In the prologue of the book she writes about the time she spent with Bob while on his death bed, and how he promised her “That he’d be here forever.” To help prove how big of an influence Marley has been on American music I chose this quote from Rita Marley, “So if I hear his voice now, it’s only confirming that he’s always around, everywhere. Because you do really hear his voice wherever you go. All over the world.”
Robert Nesta Marley, half man, half god, has proved to be one of the all time greatest world musical superstars. A man who can lie on his death bed and tell his wife that no matter what happens he will always be around in the musical world for her to hear. Marley did as said and is still here today in the headphones and in the hearts of Americans of every age, shape and color still to this day, which is why I feel Bob Marley would be an interesting addition to your knowledgeable book.