Tag Archives: Bob Marley

True Dat: An Oral Biography

21 Jul

 

While understanding the appeal of biographies I have not found that the door stop comprehensive tediously factual compendia of a life (even of an admired or world historical personage) bear the weight of such attention— though Ben Bradlee managed to write a weighty tome about Ted Williams that held up well through its 800 plus pages. The concise biographical essay (around 200 pages) by a sympathetic writer introduced in a series by James Atlas seemed to me to adequate for most general (those not seeking to bathe in the minutiae of a life).

 

 

There is another approach to biography that in the two instances that I encountered them I found extremely effective— the oral biography. Crystal Zevon’s assembly of commentators on her late husband I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon and Robert Altman: The Oral Biography by Mitchell Zuckoff. There are, of course, a number of reasons why these two lives lent themselves to the oral history approach, not the least being the outlier, colorful personalties of Zevon and Altman.

 

 

 

 

Except for Che (Guevara), no one comes to mind who has greater cross generational universal appeal than Bob Marley. Setting aside the fact import of more than 500 books devoted to the late Jamaican musicIan, his image adorns more consumer products than one can reasonably imagine (except Swatch watch only  a Che adorned wristwatch. And it is the complexity and wide reaching appeal that Bob Marley generated in his few 36 years before succumbing to cancer that makes So Much Things to Say: The Oral History of Bob Marley by Roger Stevens both exponentially useful and definitive

 

 

Roger Steffens is one of the world’s leading Bob Marley experts. In compiling this biography in over 40 years he interviewed more than seventy-five friends, business managers, relatives and confidants of Bob Marley. As an early adopter of reggae music Steffens was present t the creation and with the zeal and determination of the true believer he draws out the telling stories from Marley’s original group the Wailers ( Junior Braithwaite, Beverley Kelso and Cherry Green) as well as his intimate relationships (wife Rita Marley and long time companion Cindy Breakspeare.)

 

 

As we should expect, Steffens elicits little-known stories, about of some of Marley’s songs, the Wailers’ difficulties with  producer Lee “Scratch” Perry, singer Johnny Nash’s  mentoring and the assassination attempt (see Marlon James novel), which led to Marley’s   stirring performance two nights later still carrying the bullet embedded in his arm.

So Much Things to Say allows to witness Marley’s conquest of a planet wide audience— for example, his visit to Zimbabwe to sing for freedom fighters  and a host  of other international public appearances. Clearl,y Marley packed a substantial life in his three and a half decades. Most compelling are  the accounts of Marley’s post Cancer (controversial) diagnosis and his rapid decline. Bob Marley (1945-1981).

Even a cursory viewing of a Bob Marley concert video will provide one of  those light  that get through the cracks and that he gained sufficient cultural/political valence to occasion conspiracy theories about the alarmingly late cancer diagnosis, ties to the CIA and casting shadows on Chris Blackwell, Island Records owner. Bob Marley’s  musical legacy is inestimable (as you can get a taste of in the videos I have included ) and if you are inclined  to attend to 464 pages (including 40 pictures) about a remarkable life, this should be the one.

 

 

 

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1.Serviceable Online biography of  Bob Marley… https://www.biography.com/people/bob-marley-9399524

2. I should note that Jon Lee Anderson’s  biography of Che Guevara is exhaustive  accessibly with lots to recommend it as Anderson is  superb example of a disappearing calling— the foreign/war correspondent. Here’s a chat I had with him back in 1997 when his Che biography was freshly minted…https://ourmaninboston.wordpress.com/2015/02/08/talking-cuba-and-che-with-jon-lee-anderson/

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