'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. Gary

    Bob Marley always makes me feel "irie".

    May 11, 2011 at 10:11 pm | Report abuse |
  2. billblues

    Bob was an true artist who stood up for what he believed in . For those of you who would cut down Bob like that need to stop listining to music all together , you'll never get it .

    May 11, 2011 at 10:13 pm | Report abuse |
  3. billblues

    yer an idiot , go listen to some lady gaga , thats more like your speed .

    May 11, 2011 at 10:15 pm | Report abuse |
  4. dallas007

    Yes Rasta, he is the heart beat of a people. RIP Robert Nesta Marley. One Love

    May 11, 2011 at 10:19 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Che-3

    Idiot, Bob Marley was original and natural in all his songs and music compositions; unlike your fake, copycat Elvis who stole songs from black musicians and made them to be his own. Besides, Bob Marley didn't die from drug or pot overdose unlike your fake idol Elvis. And that's huge difference between the two. One was original and natural whilst the other was a fake, copycat and a thief of black music. What do you say to that, trailer Park PUNK?

    May 11, 2011 at 10:25 pm | Report abuse |
  6. sam

    "smoke dope"? you shoot dope. you smoke marijuana.

    May 11, 2011 at 10:39 pm | Report abuse |
  7. JRASTA

    GARBAGE...GO RECYCLE YOURSELF AND SAM STOP TALKING ABOUT WHAT YOU DO ALONE IN YOUR ROOM...

    May 11, 2011 at 10:49 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Monroy

    Bob Marley is a Legend, Listen to his music it will change you, for better. You still live through your music Bob. ONE!!

    May 11, 2011 at 11:10 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Agent 420

    @ Ryan,thanks found them,but now cant find doritos or twinkies... .

    May 11, 2011 at 11:48 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Michael

    As great as Bob Marley is, he is given too much credit for the Wailers' music. The music was deeper, and more edgy, when Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer were in the group - before the Wailers became Bob Marley AND the Wailers.
    Once Tosh and Bunny left, the great harmonies were gone. Tosh is the one who brought the edge to the group's sound. It's no surprise it wasn't there anymore, starting with "Natty Dread," the first album made without Tosh and Bunny on board.
    I like Marley - he was a prolific songwriter and very charismatic, but the mainstream fans who idolize him to no end don't realize how much talent there was in the Wailers. From Peter Tosh to Bunny Wailer, to the best Jamaican rhythm section at the time in the Barrett brothers.
    "Legend" was a shrewdly made compilation designed to appeal to mainstream listeners outside of Jamaica. It's practically a pop album, with very little edge. People try to make Bob out to be some peace-and-love hippie guy, but many of his songs present a pro-black, pro-Rasta stance that deal with the overthrow of the racist, evil oppressors. But people, in their dreamlike, naive state don't even recognize that.
    Unity was but one of Bob's messages.

    May 12, 2011 at 12:11 am | Report abuse |
    • pete

      well said.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:02 am | Report abuse |
    • PacMan

      U negative, man, chill!

      May 12, 2011 at 1:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Drips

      Umadbro?

      May 12, 2011 at 1:40 am | Report abuse |
  11. Pablo

    OMG LOL i have never notice before that bob marly is black lol. like am i the only one 2 notice this? lol wth

    May 12, 2011 at 12:12 am | Report abuse |
  12. Jazzzzzzzz

    The Patch is characterized by exceptionally high concentrations of pelagic plastics, chemical sludge, and other debris that have been trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre. this was from wikipedia. So does this mean that its larger than the Gulf oil spill ? Is it the lesser of the two evils for our environment. Shame Shame on us.

    May 12, 2011 at 12:45 am | Report abuse |
  13. nami

    I had the privledge of seeing him live in Hawaii in 1979. He was a warrior for peace and one love. Many of his lyrics are scriptures from the Bible. Thank God we had him for the brief time we did, tho his contribution will live on. Mahalo & Aloha Bob. Peace

    May 12, 2011 at 12:53 am | Report abuse |
  14. James

    What inspired Robert Nesta Marley? Easy. First off it's not a what, but a who. Who might that be? His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I. Born Ras Tafari Makonnen. King of Kings. Lord of Lords. Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah.

    May 12, 2011 at 1:16 am | Report abuse |
  15. David

    Thank you Bob.

    May 12, 2011 at 1:44 am | Report abuse |
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