Marley’s Ghost

My favourite picture of Bob

I was lucky enough to get a last-minute ticket from Kevin Macdonald this week for his new documentary on Bob Marley. It was a coming home for me of sorts as it was playing at The Tricycle in Kilburn, whose cinema entrance is on Buckley Road where my other half used to live (No. 16) in the wake of a string of Irish sisters in exile. London was the place Bob headed for in the wake of an attempt on his life in December 1976 when he made the mistake of getting too mixed up in Jamaican politics – it was a place he had some special affinity with and  where he recorded some of his best work. I’ve written about the making of Exodus in punk London in 1977 here. There’s a good story in the film about how he and the Wailers crossed the Thames to Battersea Park on a regular basis to indulge his love of soccer, on occasion taking on a National Front team and whupping their arses at the beautiful English game. Questions of racial identity and Tough Gong’s status as a mixed race boy is brought to the fore in ‘Marley’, highlighting his rejection by black and white alike. One of the most moving moments of the film is when the song Cornerstone is played to two same-generation relatives on his despicable white father’s side, each listening intently on their ipods.

The stone that the builder refuse
Will always be the head cornerstone
(Sing it brother)
The stone that the builder refuse
Will always be the head cornerstone.

You’re a builder, baby
Here I am, a stone.
Don’t you pick and refuse me,
‘Cause the things people refuse
Are the things they should use.
Do you hear me? Hear what I say!

Don’t refuse me, don’t you refuse…

We hear how he went to visit his father’s brother, a prosperous white builder on the island, and, well aware of who he was, he refused to see him. The fecker only got in touch again years later when Bob was famous and playing a US stadium. Bob knew he was destined to be the Marley who would be remembered – the Cornerstone of the family. Macdonald attributes the rejection from both sides as a major driver for a singer who of course drew together back and white. Ironically for a fair while his US audiences were white dominated. That’s why he took a gig supporting The Commodores. His management told The Commodores’ people that the group should have been opening for Bob but Bob took the gig because he wanted to tap into their black soul audience. Coming on after Bob Marley – gotta be the toughest support act to follow – ever.

The amount of music contained in the story is very well judged – in no way a concert film, it gives insight into the music (especially live) but sends you off in search of more. The documentary captures a number of moments when Bob is clearly immersed in his music to a transcendental degree. At the Smile Jamaica concert, designed to reunite a politically riven country, just two days after the shooting (and the very reason for the assassination attempt), he shows up, a few hours late, the track of a bullet across his arm and chest, shows off his bandages and then launches into song oblivious of the hurt. We see this again as he performs Exodus at the famous Lyceum concert which sealed his reputation. And most notably at the gig he did on Zimbabwean Independence Day (April 1980, part of his homecoming to Mother Africa) when a tear gas canister clears the stage and much of the auditorium, people weeping and a’wailing, but he is left alone singing away, away, beyond the power of the throat burning eye stinging fumes. His power is again evident in the way he, towered above by the opposing politicians, evidently not a tall man, brings about the handshake between Prime Minister Michael Manley (People’s National Party) and opposition leader Edward Seaga (Jamaican Labour Party) at the One Love peace concert in Kingston in April 1978 after the year of exile in West London (not a million miles from Buckley Road).

The way he tours the States and beyond with cancer secretly worming its way through every part of his body is testament to his amazing energy. Those moments when he loses himself in the music and reaches a place beyond the trials and tribulations of the every day, beyond the petty rude boy politics, the heartless rejection, the shadowy disease, the loneliness, the black and the white are the high points of ‘Marley’ – naturally mystical moments where we see him coming home to peace, love and oneness.

It’s a film made with love and patience and is best enjoyed in that spirit, settle back in front of a big, loud screen for a carefully paced circular journey from his birthplace in the hills of Nine Mile, Saint Ann to a mausoleum just a stone’s throw from his childhood home there.

Here I am, a stone.

Stoned immaculate: a unique energy


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1 comment so far

  1. onalaja olatunde on

    bob Marley is my best man on reggae music.keep on man i will be with you in babylon soon.


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