I’m starting to believe that no other art form can transform a person into a myth more solidly than pop music. Perhaps this notion depends primarily on the ‘pop’ portion of the equation. With arguably a larger, more demanding audience than books and fine arts, not to mention an audience so heavily swayed by the visual and the auditory, pop music can cultivate the idea of a person with much more resonance than the actual person.
The image of Bob Marley, for anyone who knows nothing more than his most popular songs, unfortunately conjures up one thing: the collegiate pothead. I was definitely one of those people (someone who knew nothing more than Marley’s most popular songs, not a collegiate pothead). It was this unfair attachment to the musician that kept me from learning anything about him. Without realising it, other people I never knew ruined Bob Marley for me, and the poor chap didn’t even have a chance to play me one of his other songs.
My antennae didn’t react either when Kevin MacDonald’s documentary, Marley, was released here in New York City about two weeks ago. But luckily a friend, someone who did know more than Marley’s most popular songs, expressed her excitement for seeing the film. I decided it was finally time I learn a little bit about one of the most internationally famous musicians our world has ever seen.
MacDonald’s documentary introduced me to a complicated and sometimes confused individual, unsure of how to best utilise his fame and authority for what he felt was right. After becoming the most famous representation of Jamaica – whether he wanted to be or not – Marley often found himself in the middle of political and ideological wars, with varying results.
Above all, the film introduced me to a man fueled and driven by music, whose heart and soul found themselves in every note and word he performed. Look no further than the performance footage. MacDonald cropped many of these scenes so that all you see is Marley’s sometimes pained, sometimes ecstatic, always sweat-drenched face as he plays. I found it rather difficult to watch him perform and not think I was watching footage of the greatest musical performer I’ve ever seen. And I never thought I actually liked reggae.
So if you know next to nothing about Bob Marley, just like me, forget what you heard and, just like he did, start from the bottom and move your way forward.