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Marley (2012)

October 9, 2012

9/10 Redemption Songs

But seriously, what is so funny about peace, love, and understanding?

Marley is a documentary about one Nesta Robert Marley: the son of a white father and a black mother who grew up in the destitute streets of Jamaica. Though teased and ridiculed for his bi-racial roots, “Bob” embraced his heritage and worked his way out of the slums by starting a reggae outfit with two of his friends. They called themselves The Wailers, and in short time, they were the biggest thing in Jamaica. Then they conquered England, then they conquered America, and just as they were about to conquer the whole darn world, Bob’s life was tragically cut short. Three decades have passed since his death, but the impression he made has only grown stronger.

I could be totally wrong about this, and I hope I am, but when it comes to Bob Marley, I feel like there are two kinds of people. Those who see the exterior: a dreadlocked pothead whose songs all sound the same, and the primary reason their son came home a burnout by the second semester of college. They do not “get” Bob, they do not “get” reggae, and for all intents and purposes, that’s alright with them. Please forgive me if that came off as a blanket statement, but not being of that mindset, I like to think those people are the minority. And being a part of the so-called majority, I see something different. I see the guy I grew up with.

On the few occasions I’ve been asked what my favorite album of all-time is, I’ve always felt a bit weird responding with a Greatest Hits album. The music snob in me insists that those don’t count. But when I think about the albums that got me into music – Weezer’s “Blue Album,” Foo Fighters, The Beatles’ “Red Album,” Nevermind – there’s always one that comes to mind over the others: Legend. A big part of that answer is due to the music itself, music that’s made such an impact on me that I almost got it tattooed on me (and probably still will). But more than anything, it’s the memories associated. I must have been in third or fourth grade when my dad bought that cassette I’d never seen by that guy I’d never heard of, popped it into the dash, and turned up the volume as the opening guitars from “Is This Love?” echoed through the car speakers. Like a lot of people, it was my first introduction to reggae, and it wasn’t long before I’d memorized all the words. To this day, some of my favorite memories are that of driving along to Bob, and when I finally have kids of my own, you can bet I’ll continue the cycle.

Some music you just grow out of over the years, but that’s never been the case with Legend.

But what’s funny (or unfortunate, really) is that, up until now, Legend was all I knew about Bob. Even more embarrassing is that it’s still the only album of his that I’ve actually listened to. Rest assured, that will be changing, but that’s been the sad state of my affairs. And as for the man behind the music…folks, I have never felt like such a poser as I do now. I didn’t know a damn hing about Bob’s life, and the only thing I knew about his death came from my friend who told me he died of “toe cancer.” Well wouldn’t ya’ know, there’s way to more the story, and as someone who calls himself a Bob fan, I feel shame at having written this paragraph.

No idea why I never so much as looked up his Wikipedia page to alleviate that situation, but by the same token, it strikes me as a tad ridiculous that it took this long for someone to make this movie. Bob Marley died over 31 years ago, and it’s not like his fanbase has dwindled since then. And for that matter, Bob’s not even an exception. I mean, can anyone tell me why no one’s made a Jimi Hendrix biopic yet? What about Jerry Garcia? Miles Davis? James Brown? I could go on, and such is the one silver lining to my regrettable situation: the hope that I’m not the only “fan” out there who didn’t know about Bob.

And as a reintroduction of sorts, it was utterly fascinating.

His story is told through the testimonials of the friends, family, and associates who knew him best, which was the right way for director Kevin Macdonald to go about it. See, when I think of Bob, it’s hard to picture someone other than the icon I’ve seen on posters and album covers all my life. He’s an image first and a tangible person second. With that being said, hearing his biography this way does wonders in dispelling the larger-than-life stigma that’s attached to him. No one talks about how many records he sold or what their favorite song was, it’s just one story after another about their memories of him playing music, playing soccer, and practicing the life that he preached. It’s a personal story, and that’s exactly the way Bob’s story should be told. It’s a rare and special thing to learn about someone for the first time, especially when it’s someone you’ve admired all your life.

Although in a lot of ways, he was that larger-than-life figure. The way he had this Ghandi-esque quality about him that single-handedly united a country divided by hatred and violence. The way people worshiped the guy and were accepted into the fold. And there’s a clear understanding of why people worshiped him, loved him, and wanted to be around him. Not only was he as gifted as they come, but it was his message that made his music universal. Even though it makes me want to facepalm myself every time I hear “One Love” get pimped out by the Jamaican tourism board, that right there’s the kind of music worth living by.

But, more importantly, the testimonials are honest. Little did I know that for all the good Bob did, Bob wasn’t perfect. Turns out that after he got married and had four kids with his wife, Rita, he went and cranked out seven or eight other Marleys with seven or eight other women. According to Rita, everyone was pretty cool with it because that’s just the way Bob rolled, but let me tell ya’, my heart just about sank when that whole part of the story unfolded. Somewhat shattering to hear that the guy you thought was peace and love personified was in fact taking his own love for granted.

It’s no easy pill to swallow, but it’s an important one all the same. I like that Mcdonald didn’t sweep that part of Bob’s life under the rug, that he didn’t paint us a picture of someone who Bob wasn’t. Nobody’s perfect, not even Bob whose life was rooted in his “imperfections.” All in all, it’s just a very interesting portrait with more layers than I was expecting. It was interesting to educate myself about the Rastafari movement as being more than a great way to justify your weed habit. It was interesting to learn more about the history of Jamaica and how it went from a peace-loving country to a political battleground in a very literal sense of the word. It was interesting to see how the world has both changed and stayed the same from the viewpoint of a guy whose message might fall on a lot of deaf ears today. I guess it’s just interesting to listen to Bob in a way I’ve never heard him before.

There aren’t a whole lot of docs out there that fly by over the course of two-and-a-half hours, but Marley was over before I knew it. The music alone was more than enough to keep me glued and smiling right along, and if you’re already on the bandwagon, then this one’s a no-brainer. Not sure how much good I’ve done in convincing the non-believers, but if this review is somehow you’re first time hearing about Bob Marley’s existence, it’s not a bad place to get acquainted. Should probably give Legend a go first, though.

Point is: this movie’s been a long time coming, not just for me, but in general. Granted, my knowledge of the guy was criminally limited at the time. For chrissakes, I think I can name five other reggae acts that have existed since Bob, and two of them have his last name. And while it may be coming late, and while a good deal of this story might come as old hat for anyone who had the wisdom to do some research, it’s never too late and there’s always a good reason to spend time with one of the greats. There’s a lot to be learned from Bob, and until we’re all on the same page, there will always be a lot to learn from Bob.

And that’s the truth, Ruth.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 9, 2012 7:34 am

    I missed this in Miami, but I’ll grab it in Netflix. Thanks for the great review.

    • October 9, 2012 12:57 pm

      Do it to it, man. And you’re very welcome! Let me know what you think when you get around to it.

  2. October 12, 2012 7:21 am

    Reblogged this on Ryaandavis.

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