'Legend': Remembering Bob Marley
Bob Marley, here performing in Sweden in 1978, has kept his hold on the popular imagination three decades after his death.
May 11th, 2011
01:39 PM ET

'Legend': Remembering Bob Marley

Bob Marley lives.

The reggae star may have died 30 years ago Wednesday, but his music - and impact - are inescapable. “Legend,” the best-of compilation his label, Island Records, originally released in 1984, is among the best-selling albums of all time, with a “Diamond” certification (more than 10 million sold) from the Recording Industry Association of America, more than 1,000 weeks on Billboard’s catalog chart and a listing as No. 46 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

Kevin Macdonald, director of “The Last King of Scotland” and the Oscar-winning “One Day in September,” is preparing a documentary on the Jamaican musician.

"He's gone beyond being a famous musician, he's now a philosopher and prophet," he told the BBC last month.  A portion of Macdonald’s film, “Marley,” is scheduled to screen at the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday.

And, of course, there’s the endless Marley paraphernalia visible on any college campus: posters, shirts, hats and, well, materiel related to the cannabis plant of which Marley was known to partake.

What was it about this son of a white plantation overseer and Afro-Jamaican woman who continues to inspire three decades after his death at age 36 from a rare form of cancer? Why is Marley the popular face of reggae instead of “Israelites” hitmaker Desmond Dekker, “The Harder They Come” star Jimmy Cliff or pioneering producer Lee “Scratch” Perry?

Part of it, says University of Rochester music historian John Covach, has to do with the singer-songwriter’s charisma.

“His music is accessible because of the groove … (and) Marley the performer was charismatic enough to sell it. A lot of artists don’t have that,” he observes, noting that Marley’s colleagues in his band the Wailers - such as Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston - didn’t have the success Marley did.

Moreover, Marley became known for a message of peace and understanding, Covach observes. Add that message to the romantic notion of dying young - not to mention partying, dancing and smoking dope - and it’s no surprise that college students have a fondness for the man, Covach says.

But that popular perception is far from complete, Marley fans have pointed out. In a 2006 Slate article headlined “Free Bob Marley!”, Field Maloney wrote that the musician’s early records, such as “Soul Rebels” and “Rasta Revolution,” were “more satisfyingly complex” than his later work - tougher and more clever.

Indeed, Marley remains a hero in Third World countries because of his political bent, Macdonald told the BBC. “In the slums of Nairobi (Kenya), there are murals of Marley and people quote the lyrics to you,” he said.

That’s not the kind of Marley who could be used to sell trips to lush tropical beaches (though Marley remains a key Jamaican tourist attraction.) But, of course, a successful artist’s work is open to many interpretations.

“What's in the popular mind is often a caricature of what the artist really achieved,” Covach says.

For Marley, 30 years after his death, that’s a great deal.

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Filed under: Jamaica • Music • Showbiz
soundoff (83 Responses)
  1. Michael

    I’m sick of the banasy getting on here and telling us how she is blessed with a wonderful family and spouting out personal nonsense. And this pollution with her gang of buddies is sickening. They need to go to a chatroom or start their own personal blogs.
    Banasy, you and your sista should go to the library and put books on the shelves. Do something useful for once. Txt or call your buddies. Just get off of these blogs.

    May 11, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Cesar

    @Michael: So?

    May 11, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  3. brains

    No replacement 4 my marley.he lives.

    May 11, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  4. brains abraham

    He sang it all.alwaz in our heart.

    May 11, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Michael

    Banasy for President!

    I love how banasy gets on here and tells us how she is blessed with a wonderful family and telling us her stories.

    And the rapport with her gang of buddies is so fun to read. They should to do it more!

    Banasy, you and your sista sound like people I'd like to meet online.

    Do me a favor and tell me how to make friends.
    Txt or call your buddies and tell them I need friends!

    Don't ever get off of these blogs.

    May 11, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Robert Nesta Marley

    Herb se gerizon an yon nasyon, alkòl se destriksyon an!

    May 11, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Michael

    I Love banasy too! Hey, which Michael are you? There seems to be about six of them around. They got the cesar rastaman vibrations! 😉

    May 11, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Michael

    I'm just glad that stupid Outsider guy has calmed down and is gone. That dude is crazy. Maybe he will come back to play, if not then he will probably just stay away.

    May 11, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Michael

    I think it's six. Well anyway,I'm too stupid to know. I come from a family of a poor gene pool. Oh well.

    May 11, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Michael

    I’m serious about being sick of banasy getting on here and telling us how she is blessed with a wonderful family and spouting out personal nonsense. And this pollution with her gang of buddies is sickening. They need to go to a chatroom or start their own personal blogs.
    Banasy, you and your sista should go to the library and put books on the shelves. Do something useful for once. Txt or call your buddies. Just get off of these blogs.

    May 11, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  11. jake nagan

    he will never be forgotten..he is a peaceman,freedom fighter and an inspirational...i ove him so much..he did it his way and i will do it my way... may God bless him and give him a nice place in heaven...

    May 11, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
  12. raven

    Have Marley on vinyl,tape and cd. Who could NOT love him ?

    May 11, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jazzzzzzzzzz

      Hey Raven, love Bob as well this is a quick hello before the troll see's me

      May 11, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jabba the Hutt

      Pfff I have him frozen in Carbonite.

      May 11, 2011 at 9:49 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Michael

    I love how banasy gets on here and tells us how she is blessed with a wonderful family and telling us her stories. And the rapport with her gang of buddies is so fun to read. They should to do it more! Banasy, you and your sista sound like people I'd like to meet online. Do me a favor and tell me how to make friends. Txt or call your buddies and tell them I need friends! Don't ever get off of these blogs.

    May 11, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Brandt Hardin

    Bob Marley has influenced the entire world with his music, which will live on to be rediscovered by more and more generations to come. His work has affected my life and my art so much. I paid tribute to him with a surreal and psychedelic portrait inspired by his words. You can see it on my artist’s blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/05/in-memoriam-bob-marley.html

    May 11, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Agent 420

    I cant remember where I left my zig zigs... .

    May 11, 2011 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      Agent 420, they are called Zig Zags, and they are in your breast pocket.......must be some good stuff!

      May 11, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |
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