'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. banasy

    @Agent 420: *snicker*

    I loved Bob Marley. I can't believe it's been 30 years!

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

    Bob marley is my insparation he made so many great songs and who cares if he got high he was amazing i love him! i love his song dont worry the most it makes me happy!:) and anyone who doesnt like bob marley should keep it to themeselves he is too amazing for it

    May 11, 2011 at 7:57 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Wally

    The success of Bob Marley goes much deeper than what's mentioned in this article. He was the first one to SPREAD the message of the weak, the poor and the rebel. That is what made him alomst a "prophet". Just read his lyrics and you would understand: "Rat Race", "Chase them crazy bald heads out of town", "Running away", "So Jah Se", and the list goes on and on. Is there really any other that has – or ever had – such deep lyrics, mixed with a great music and outstanding performance. Just look at some of his concerts; the guy was performing with HEART. His music is truly the "Rebel Music". For you, Bob Marley Fans, try to find his older (not very well known) stuff.. you will be amazed!!!
    "Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds"..

    May 11, 2011 at 8:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shirley

      Thank You...I was searching for words to express my discontent with the article...your comment makes it unneccesary for you have said it well

      May 11, 2011 at 10:38 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Thomas

    Spoken like a complete hate-filled moron. Not so Ironinically, where I come from, calling someone a Joey is the same thing as calling someone a tool or an idiot.

    May 11, 2011 at 9:11 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Kirk

    Jah Live !!!

    May 11, 2011 at 9:14 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Kofi

    Forever Loving Jah! This "brethren" in four decades of living (music career that lasted merely 20 years) gave more words of "freedom" than so many folks out there today. His music still resonates 30 years after he moved on that youth born after his death are "jamming" to it. His words that his music will not die but lives on has been defintely come to pass!

    May 11, 2011 at 9:20 pm | Report abuse |
  7. brad1001

    I remember him well. "Lively Up Yourself (and don't be no drag)" ... good words to live by

    May 11, 2011 at 9:30 pm | Report abuse |
  8. comfortinprayer

    This isn’t the only important new’s today….

    It's the end of days & the beginning of a new world

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    May 11, 2011 at 9:32 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Garbage

    Bob Marley sucks. Only potheads listen to that crap.

    May 11, 2011 at 9:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      You say that like it's a bad thing. Carl Sagan was a pothead, you think you could trump him? What about Richard Feynman? Don't go insulting potheads unilaterally, it'd be like insulting alcoholics unilaterally and you'd end up making it seem like you consider yourself superior to Hemmingway. But either way, marley was still truly amazing, and your opinion is pretty damn irrelevant.

      May 11, 2011 at 9:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Garbage

      He's still garbage.

      May 11, 2011 at 9:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • How can you hate?

      Mr. Marley sang from the heart and influenced millions of people for the better. Personally, I've never met anyone in person that didn't respect his work even if they weren't a fan. I wonder what kind of music you consider not to be garbage?

      May 11, 2011 at 10:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • refactor

      10 million records sold. You don't know what your are saying

      May 11, 2011 at 10:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Che-3

      Pinhead, at least Bob Marley is smarter and more popular than George W. Bush. And that's a FACT Undisputed!

      May 11, 2011 at 10:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ghosto

      This is coming from you "hold on" you're a nobody, so who cares what you have to say.
      Without Marley there woundt be Dubstep, Reggae Dub, and many of the main stream artists of modern age music.

      May 11, 2011 at 10:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      Garbage is a good name for you. Bobs music was great. You dont have to be a fan, but if you come out and talk smack about it, you are probably a prude and a lame, and hate it whan others have a good time. Probably because you are lame.

      May 11, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheresOneInEveryCrowd

      1. bet you've never listened to his music. and 2. which is even more disturbing, bet you a fan of Newt.
      and have a tatoo that says craftsman or snap-on... ie..your a complete tool.

      May 12, 2011 at 12:31 am | Report abuse |
  10. lennon420

    Not just a musician, but a true prophet.

    May 11, 2011 at 9:37 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Bob Bennett

    I am an almost 60 yo white guy – BM speaks loud and clear to me, always will!!! –
    "get up, stand up, stand up for your rights"!!!!
    YES!!!!!!!!!!! we need as much of that as we can!!!!!!!!!
    Bob M will never really be dead.... his work will live on, as long as there are oppressed people, anywhere.
    His voice will never die, never!

    May 11, 2011 at 9:42 pm | Report abuse |
  12. mtrought

    What kind of rubbish is that about white plantation overseer go to jamaics and get your facts straight you trolls, the man was a british officer

    May 11, 2011 at 9:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • BabyDoll1209

      About his father...Sho ya right!
      About his music...tantalizing
      About his life...legendary

      May 11, 2011 at 10:22 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Princesemicharming

    Follow me on Twitter, I promise my words will strike a chord for you at some point. http://twitter.com/#!/princeSemiCharm It's amazing how much garbage and knockoff memorabilia Marley has generated. Regardless, check out his Live Forever album, presumably released by his Estate. The track listing is a nice variation and not just bread and butter repeat of the Legend soundtrack.

    May 11, 2011 at 9:52 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Bob Battiola

    Bob Marley is one of the greatest song writers of all time, the impact of his lyrics, positive energy, what he exemplified and brought to this world cannot be measured. The wisdom and power of his love gives way to the truth. It seems whom has ever wrote this article has not seen that truth, this article is a sad excuse of proclaim to one of the greatest. But do not fear, the soul rebel will forever live on, spreading hope, beauty, and peace to this world! You freed up my mind big BoB, love ya!

    May 11, 2011 at 10:03 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Ghosto

    He's the reason I'm a musician

    May 11, 2011 at 10:09 pm | Report abuse |
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