I don’t trust a man that doesn’t like the music of Bob Marley. Don’t ask me why, I can’t give you an answer – I just question the integrity of someone that isn’t partial to the late reggae legend’s music.
I inherited my love for Bob Marley from my late father – I was told that he used to play ‘Stir it up’ to me when I was a little cub and, for as long as I can remember, Marley’s music has been sacred to me. Every time I hear one of his songs I think of my father, which on one hand makes me sad but on the other joyful.
The thing is, until my mid-twenties I knew nothing about Robert Nesta Marley the man. I hadn’t bothered to pick up a book to read about his life – all I had to judge Marley on was the music. Which is the way it should be, right?
When it comes to public figures I admire, I try to find out more about their personal life – I honestly believe this makes you more appreciative of their art because you understand what informed their work. I didn’t fully understand Michael Jackson’s genius until I was fully aware of his abusive childhood and the same goes for Martin Scorsese’s work and his drug problem.
Bob was an enigma. That was until I watched a fantastic little documentary from Kevin MacDonald, the bloke that directed The Last King of Scotland.
The first thing that struck me about Marley was that he was mixed race. I find it incredible that it took me some 20 years to find out this pivotal fact about him. Although his mixed race background isn’t a big deal to the post-Obama world of 2014, the issue of race and race identity was massive in his lifetime. The fact he struggled with his ‘lightness’ from an early age through bullying from the black community and rejection from the white Marley’s makes his story feel more profound. Marley always felt like a unifying force and for as long as I can remember, whether at discos or family gatherings, I was always awe struck at how many different types of people were on the dance floor when one of his songs came on. Old, young, black, white, yellow – it didn’t matter, they all seemed to love his music.
What surprised me most about the life story of Marley was his love life and the effect it had on his children. I think it is fair to say that Marley was a womaniser and the film gives the impression that he was reckless when it came to this part of his life. To MacDonald’s credit, he does not shy away from this part of Marley’s life and you can tell that many of the interviewees felt uncomfortable discussing this side of Marley. I don’t know if it is a cultural thing, but I was surprised that most who knew Marley defended his ‘indiscretions’ and Rita Marley, his wife from 1966 until the day he died, never chastises him in the movie. It is clear that she is still in love with the man. With that said, Marley’s playing around deeply hurt his children and that is heart-breaking to see and watching their hurt in this film felt invasive. This does leave you coming out of the film with mixed feelings about Bob Marley the man.
Ultimately, Marley is a wonderful film littered with funny and damn near inspiring stories about this titan of music. It’s well worth a watch for the music alone as MacDonald gets a hold of rare demos and performances from Marley that shine a new light to well know songs. What I took away from the film most is the fact that Marley was a flawed human being – and frankly, I am fine with knowing that. Somehow, this makes him more relateable to me and, importantly, it doesn’t take away from my enjoyment of his music.