Bob Marley would have been 61 years old today. Sixty-one! Man alive, time is speeding past... As is our family custom, the house this Feb. 6 is filled with the positive vibrations, rolling riddims and wise words that make up sonic legacy of the legendary musical revolutionary, whose 1981 death from cancer still leaves us reeling with sadness.
His story alone fills us with wonder: Born in the tiny,impoverished Jamaican village of Nine Mile, Robert Nesta Marley grew up a gifted sufferah. His curse was having his mother's brown skin rather than his English father's more socially acceptable complexion, being abandoned by the man who sired him, being poor and considered among the lowest ranks of society. But young Bob was blessed too - with the love of his mother and grandfather; with enough education to make him a literate, thinking person; with musical gifts that gave him an alternative to life as a roughneck rude bwai on Kingston's mean streets - and the bravado, faith and tenacity to make success happen.
What started as his ticket out of the ghetto in the 1960s, the harmony group the Wailers, became his passport to the world. His band's driving reggae one-drop combined with his relentless message of love, unity, freedom and equality for all took him to stages around the world. Sufferers from places ranging from his native Jamaica, Europe, the US and even colonial Africa heard his call and stood up for their rights. His momentum pushed ever forward and even his untimely death could not stop his message: Even today, people throughout the planet are inspired and moved to action by a fighter whose only weapon was his guitar.
Time named Bob Marley's Exodus the album of the 20th century; a host of publications, politicians and plain folks see him as the preeminent activist-artist of all time. For us, Marley's essential truths are endlessly relevant guidebooks to resisting the still-oppressive and unjust status quo and maintaining positivity in the face of near-total adversity. That it comes in the form of quirky, seductive songs of freedom makes his work all the more compelling and irresistible.
Times are hard, but imagine how little hope those who suffer and those who are oppressed might feel if not for Bob. Who, then, is better qualified to give us a lift and to spread uplifting vibes? Of course, Marley isn't the only one spreading the word of freedom, but for my money, he is the best.