A highlight of last week at the Dunedin International Film Festival was “Marley,” a two and half hour documentary about Bob Marley’s life. It was a haunting and well-rendered account of Bob’s story – and of his incredible and occasionally bizarre jouney from the tiny, impoverished rural mountain town of St Ann’s in Jamaica, to the global stage of musical super-stardom, and finally to the snowy mountains of Bavaria where he spent his final days, riddled with cancer; at just 36 a withered man with sunken eyes and the famous, defining dreadlocks fallen from his head.
I can remember the moment Bob first got through to me. I was eighteen, in Auckland. I was discovering the thrills and attractions of a big city for the first time, finding myself exposed to vast amounts of new music and a world far removed from my rural upbringings. I was hanging out with Daniel Pilkington, my friend and partner in crime in those days and Daniel had this album
of Bob Marley tunes in ambient dub playing in the background. I can still vividly recall hearing that spooky chanted refrain of “Exodus” bleeding through the cloud of swirling electronics and dubbed out guitars. It seemed to reach down into the depths of some primitive inner being; caught me unaware. I was transported, fascinated, converted in that moment. Over the coming months and years I drank deeply from that well, exploring Marley’s catalogue and the spectrum of 70’s Jamaican music, from Toots and Maytals to Burning Spear. However, while it was reggae I was traversing, it was really Bob that had me. Beyond Bob it was more academic – with Bob it was personal. I responded to his songwriting, the pounding groove of the music; laid-back yet militant, joyous yet aching. It thundered in my being in a way no music had before and spoke to me deeply, as it did to millions of people all around the world.
Years later, I still occasionally dip into Bob’s music. Of course, in the intervening time I’ve explored many other forms of music and I guess in some ways I’ve really done my dash with reggae. But every now and then I’ll put on one of Bob’s albums – his brilliant breakthrough “Catch a Fire,” maybe, or “Natty Dread” or “Uprising,” his last album which contains two or three of his best songs. And if the moment is right, his music still reverberates in me just like it did when I first heard it.There are many truly great artists, but to me Bob Marley stands alone – no one else set the world on fire in the same way he did. I think it’s because he was on a truly spiritual quest – the strength of his belief and sense of purpose gave him the power to achieve great things. And amid the sometimes confused tenets of Rastafari there exists a deep, universal truth that people all over the world could, and did respond to. Bob brought a message of hope to the world, and his message burns as brightly three decades after his death as it did when he was in his prime.
Rest in Peace Bob, and thanks for the music.