By Jeremy Shatan, on 02 Feb 06, 2013
It seems fashionable in some hipster circles to dismiss Bob Marley, as if he didn't make REAL reggae, like Augustus Pablo or Linval Thompson or Burning Spear or Junior Murvin. I can sort of see why some people might feel that way. He wasn't the most innovative of the reggae greats and, while he could sing sweetly, he didn't have the deliciously light touch of Gregory Isaacs or Dennis Brown.
None of that matters, however, because by the time he died, Bob no longer belonged to reggae, he belonged to the world. Through his incredible songwriting and otherworldly personal magnetism he became a global superstar, some even said a prophet.
Even that doesn't matter to me, though, because I have my own personal relationship with his music. Rarely have I taken such deep pleasure and succor from an artist. When I was 16 I got the Exodus album and listened to it every day for the summer. Since only the lyrics to the title track were printed, I painstakingly wrote the rest out. Through that process, I learned about Marcus Garvey and Paul Bogle, and was led to an in-depth study of Jamaican history and culture, which continues to this day.
Years later, a song from Exodus got me through one of the hardest nights of my life, when my son was in post-surgical pain and I sang him to sleep with Three Little Birds. The song came unbidden to my lips and worked like a charm.
Exodus was followed by the somewhat underwhelming Kaya, and then by Survival, which I've always felt was underrated. I downloaded it after not listening to it for a few years and when So Much Trouble In The World spilled into my headphones I thought "The world needs Bob Marley" - and I still feel that way. My daughter and I listen to Survival every morning on the way to the ski area and I can see that Marley has become part of her soul, too.
I have my own hipster moments when I think the weirder, rawer stuff he recorded with Lee Perry is his best work, but I love it all. I was lucky enough to see him (it was quite a night) at his second-to-last NYC concert and he was beyond charismatic, neither his singing nor his dancing humbled by his fatal illness. Think what he could have accomplished if he had lived for another 36 years - at the very least. Happy 68th birthday, Robert Nesta Marley.