Bob Marley got that right. Marley got a lot of things right and a few things wrong, actually. Lamenting the troubles of the world is eternally on-target; no matter how much change and progress mankind achieves, the world continues to be cloaked in sorrow. It just shifts and moves and takes on new forms to match the times. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the fighting; everyone should do the work of standing up and making their own times a little better.
This is where it all began. It’s the first single by the group then known as The Wailing Wailers, and a #1 hit in Jamaica in 1963. It would be another decade before the rest of the world caught on to what The Wailers were wailing, but Bob Marley’s career was slowly catching afire. You would never guess from this rather raw-sounding track the global influence Marley would eventually attain, nor would you guess it from their dorky and clean-cut appearance in those days. But the spark is there. It’s there in Marley’s assertive vocals, and it’s there in his songwriting. Although Jamaican artists back then were still encouraged to model their appearance and their writing on American vocal groups, Marley is already writing about the things he cared about. This song, in what would become typical Marley fashion, appears to be about personal stuff – it sounds like he’s breaking up with a lover – but was actually inspired by and directed towards the violent ‘Rude Boys’ of Marley’s hometown Kingston. Even then, Marley loved his community, but was disgusted by the poverty and political oppression there, and hated the violence that resulted from those things. And even as a rookie artist struggling to make his name, he was already clear on the message he wanted to send: simmer down, people, you can’t stand up for yourselves if you’re fighting amongst each other.
Bob Marley writes a simple song about a simple, universal experience. It’s that time when your lover has left you, and you know deep down that they were right to leave you, but your life feels bleak and empty all the same. Resigned heartbreak. We’ve all been there. Marley wrote a lot of songs about things that were specific to his own milieu, politically charged songs, ideological songs. He covered a lot of ground, more than most songwriters ever do. It’s impossible to quite pinpoint the key to his popularity, what it was that catapulted him out of his relatively obscure genre and into the realm of pop icon. There were a lot of factors at play, bottomless charisma being not least of them. And one of those factors was surely Marley’s ability to deliver both love songs and political anthems with the same sensitivity and conviction.
What does it mean, in Bob Marley’s book, to be satisfied? He’s probably talking about love and ganja and good times. You know, the basic things. You would expect a political undercurrent or some more spiritual element, but I think it’s really that simple. Of course, that’s more than some people get on a daily basis. We’re all looking for simple things to satisfy our simple needs, and it’s pretty sad that it’s so easy to come up short. On basic human validation and basic creature comforts. So we never really get ahead or achieve anything of note because we’re underserved on every level of the needs pyramid. We live and die with our souls roundly unsatisfied. Who knew that a Bob Marley love song could trigger such existential malaise?
Bob Marley offers a plain and pithy truth: you can’t run away from yourself. End of story. That’s a truth that a lot of people are in denial about, and no amount of reggae songs or life experience will convince them to stop trying. If you know what’s good for you, though, take some life lessons from Marley. He has a lot of them to offer, about being a strong and righteous person.
Okay, here’s one you probably all know. It’s one of Bob Marley’s most popular songs. I’d say that for many of us, it’s been part of the wallpaper of our lives since childhood. It’s just one of those songs that’s about as universal as a composition can be. It’s nice to see a little video and get a sense of who made the music. Funny how Bob Marley and the Wailers were rarely asked to appear on Top of the Pops-type television shows. It’s probably because they didn’t look much like most of the artists who appeared on those shows. Ahem. Well, they probably didn’t love miming in front of a blank studio screen either.
There’s a lot that we’ll never know about Bob Marley, a lot that we’ll never see, simply because he grew up and lived during a time when even the most creative people didn’t see the necessity of documenting themselves for posterity. It’s arguable that the world would be a richer place if Bob Marley had had an Instagram account or some similar outlet of constantly sharing his thoughts with the world; not everyone wants to constantly share their thoughts with the world, and nearly no-one’s thoughts are constantly worth sharing. (Though I imagine that an artist like Marley, who had a strong political message and an ambition to make change in the world, would have done really well as a Twitter activist.) However, it’s hard to argue that the world would, in fact, be at least a tiny bit richer if there were more – and higher quality – footage of Bob Marley and the Wailers in action. Their earliest days as a group were barely documented, and that would be fascinating to see. There must have been so many amazing performances that have been lost to memory, especially the ones that came before the worldwide fame. It’s not entirely a blank – enough shows were filmed for at least one full concert documentary, probably more. It’s enough to get a good idea of what a Bob Marley concert would have been like; it looks like fun, it looks like a powerful show to take in. We’ve just been spoiled by the technological and social advances that now allow artists to have an all-access relationship with their fans. We like all of that unfiltered oversharing. We just want to see our favorite artists doing what they do.