Bob Marley gets a bad rap.
I blame the hippies.
To be fair, I blame nearly everything that sucks on the hippies, from hacky sacks and Phish to burnt toast and Season 2 of The Walking Dead. I dropped my phone in the toilet and I’m convinced that it was somehow Jerry Garcia’s fault. Drum circles increase your risk of prostate cancer. I know for a fact that patchouli oil caused the Korean War.
While it’s debatable that those things aren’t true (except for the drum circles), hippies really did ruin Bob Marley. And it’s for one reason and one reason only: 420 maaaaannnnnnnnnn!!!!!!
There’s no denying that Bob Marley loved the ganja. Intensely. But so did Charles Manson and you don’t see anybody following him. Wait…
Potheads focus on Marley as a soundtrack to their toke-fest, then ignore the other 80% of his subject matter. He sang about war, social injustice, the Old Testament, Rastafari, rioting in the ghetto, the liberation of Zimbabwe, numerous other subjects and yes, weed. But because hippies are so goddamn yappity about it, the rest of the world associates the two. Suddenly Bob’s got a stigma. Boom! Musical icon ruined.
It’s not fair. John Lennon sang about walruses a couple times. That doesn’t mean he was the walrus guy. Do you ever see zookeepers walking around with John Lennon shirts? Was he on the cover of “Tusks Monthly”? “Pet walruses every day! Coo coo ka choo!”
When I was a bartender in college there was a regular who loved Bob Marley so much that he filled his entire apartment with Tuff Gong posters and Jamaican flags. He was never not high and refused to drink anything other than Myer’s Dark Rum because he wanted to “support the Jamaican economy.” He was also the most physically white person I’ve ever met. He made Marilyn Manson look like Kanye West. One day, after listening to him talk about Bob Marley for time on end, I got fed up.
“Alright dude, you love Jamaica so much? Name one reggae artist besides Bob Marley.”
He sat there in stone silence while I waited in vain. After a while I actually forgot that I asked him the question.
“Peter Tosh?” he said finally, with a hint of doubt in his voice.
Congrats dude, you named a guy who was in his band. That’s like saying you’re a humongous fan of George W. Bush, filling your apartment walls with presidential seals and buying ten gallon hats to support the Texan economy. Then when asked to name just one other president you pause for 45 minutes and say Dick Cheney. (Reggae stars that he could/should have mentioned: Jimmy Cliff, Desmond Dekker, Toots & the Maytals, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Burning Spear, Gregory Isaacs and yes, Bunny Wailer.)
My point in bringing up these fakin’ Jamaicans is that they are the people doing the repping. Of course you are going to think Bob Marley sucks when you see his fan base. But it’s not Bob’s fault. Bob was the real deal. He started with ska in the early 60s, worked his way through rocksteady and then became a reggae star. He proudly sang of being black, standing up for yourself and loving one another. He championed his causes so much that he actually got shot for it and still performed that very night! He was a baller. (He was also a man-whore and had more illegitimate children than there are Sesame Street characters but that’s neither here nor there.)
I love reggae. I got into it because of The Clash and Operation Ivy. Reggae is the only thing that punks and hippies agree on. The punks like it for the militaristic side and the relative simplicity of the music and hippies like it because of the love and the reefer. Neither side is going anywhere. It’s like Israel and Palestine. We have to just get along. We need to strike a deal. I suggest a bargain:
Punks get all the Bob Marley songs about shooting sheriffs and burnin’ and lootin’. Hippies get all the songs about three little birds and one love. We also get “Punky Reggae Party” for obvious reasons.
And hippies, as a token of fairness: you can just have Ziggy Marley outright.