Robert Nesta Marley Feature
Perry Henzel's Interview on Bob Marley
My first memories of Bob Marley are of a youth who used to hang out around Mortimer Planno, who used to visit him when I was doing research for the "The HarderThey Come" in Trench Town, Tenth Street I think it was, and the last time I saw him was in concert just before he died. And I saw him at pretty much every important stage in between -- working with Johnny Nash and Danny Sims at Graham Heights, his first big concert with Marvin Gaye at the stadium in Kingston when Don Taylor first came onto the scene. I remember when he came to Boston and triumphed in the first big concert outside Jamaica with Peter Tosh and Bunny, tapping the power in the audience that "The Harder They Come" had built up over the eighteenth months playing continuously at the Orson Welles theater near Harvard Square. Five hundred viewers per show three times a day for a year and a half, all wanting to hear and see more of this brand new music. So the concert took off like rocket, expanding the audience for the film -- the film and the concerts, bouncing a growing crowd between them in city after city, country after country, round and round the world.
I remember when the Wailers first started recording at Basing Street, how great those sessions in that studio were, and how during the mixes it became so clear that Bob knew exactly what he wanted, that he was hearing it. I was on my way to see Bob when he was shot, and witnessed that greatest of all his performances when he triumphed over the people who'd tried to kill him by standing up in front of a crowd of thousands, daring them to try again. What a talent! What a life!
Q: Bob Marley constantly projected himself and his message as Rastafarian, and yet we outside Jamaica know very little about it except that we recognize locks. What is their significance?
A: Locks comes from the vow of the Nazarene not to cut or comb your hair, and you'd think that would result in something very unattractive, but in fact it results in a very noble look, doesn't it? It makes you remember that Jesus was a locksman. After all he "the" Nazarene. That's the vow he took, that's what he must have looked like.
Q: Is Rastafarianism a religion?
A: I would say it's a way of life, a way of thinking, that came out of smoking a lot of ganja in Jamaica, starting way back in the early forties when I used to ride a horse up to a house where probably a third of all the Rastas then in the world were working, and I remember how they used to smoke herb and read the bible and tell stories and laugh. They were not talking about how poor they were, they were talking about how high they were -- there's a lot about Rasta that makes sense to me. Like the Rasta concept of "Babylon". "Ital" means natural living, but it means more than that, it means not being a slave to material things. Now a lot of people say that but they make it sound boring. Yet living ital in the Jamaican countryside is not boring at all.
An old Rastafarian once said to me that right at the beginning of mankind the two sons of Adam were given two different blessings. One received the blessing of nature and the other the blessing of science. The spirit that loved and depended on nature could get everything he needed from her even if he was an Eskimo living in snow. The other hated and feared nature and was just waiting for the fulfillment of his blessing to use science against nature and ravage the natural world to make life easy for himself. As the refugees from the world that lives in harmony with nature swell the ranks of those who ravage it, the end of once natural abundance approaches more and more rapidly. Don't we see that happening?
Ital is like a stoic's philosophy in a way, it says there's freedom in being happy to do without, you don't have to live a greedy, jumpy life.
Q: And what is Babylon?
Babylon is what says "oh yes, you do have to live a greedy jumpy life because I need your energy, to pay tax, to fight wars, to serve some plan that I have for you. Rasta identifies a dangerous enemy and gives it a name and says "beware of Babylon".
Q: How are we to recognize it, Babylon, in the Rasta sense?
The characteristics of Babylon are never failing. Babylon will always: persecute you for not proclaiming some ludicrous proposition that they preach as gospel; invade your privacy as a routine; insist on wearing uniforms, particularly boots, guns, hats -- dogs on leashes; they particularly love marching in imitation of robots; they always demand an end to relaxation in general and laughter in particular and they have an infinite capacity for boredom..any "ism" will do as an excuse for letting loose the beast-religion, politics, race, class, the sheer lust to cause fear; I would say that the war against "drugs" is currently a big favorite excuse for babylonians supreme to interfere with people's lives and propagandize nonsense and create a chance for criminals to make more and more money and gain more and more power every day because central authority is fighting some basic instinct in human nature -- but nobody can tell the French anything they don't already know about Babylon; France lived under Nazi rule, and you can't get any more Babylonian than that.
Is that spirit of central bureaucratic power and ignorance and stupidity still alive and well in Europe? Oh yes. In the world at large? Indeed it is! And are Rastas in the front line of opposition against such a spirit? They are. And was Bob Marley a general leading Rasta forces in the world? For Sure. And should we, because of that, try to deify Bob Marley? Oh no. Bob was just a man, but he was carrying a mighty spirit; so his structure was just the structure of a small guy, kinda sulky when music wasn't there to flush it out, but most of the time music WAS there, just flowing through him like pure inspiration, a cleansing force, so much so he was convinced it would just sweep the cancer away, but apparently the spirit of the music that passed through Bob wasn't that concerned about any one man, and if his spirit had been recorded there were lots of of others to carry on, to give expression to it -- after all, if electrons on tape could record Bob's music, why couldn't electrons in the air record Bob!?
The entire universe is suffused with electricity, why wouldn't it record everything?! Electrons on tape record emotions, and release those emotions in millions of people simultaneously, worldwide, on cue, we know that. Computers collect data, and we know that the accumulated intelligence of the computer system is greater than the brain of any one man; do you think something made by man, using what he's learned from nature, can do more than nature itself?
Isn't it obvious that nature itself records everything that ever happened? And isn't the data in the worldwide computer system analyzed by the minds of men? So why wouldn't there be an intelligence greater than man's analyzing all the data collected since the beginning of time? It doesn't take a lot of imagination to grasp all that in 1995, and it doesn't take a lot of imagination to predict what the Babylonian system will make of it. Of course, the Babylonians will build supercomputers and they'll tell us THAT's the supreme experience-the thing they built and own, that's what we must believe and obey-and the Spiritualists of the earth will say "Our higher spirit sends us music such as your machine cannot make!" and that's when somebody somewhere in the world of oppression will be sneaking a track of Bob Marley and the Wailers, along with all the other greats.
Bob sang "babylon system is a vampire". I think that when we celebrate Bob's memory as in a fiftieth birthday we have to make sure that we don't have to sneak a listen of anything! That we can play any music we want loud and clear in a free world! That the expression of the soul of freedom in music never dies.
Q: Apart from Selassie, the other figure invoked by Marley was Marcus Garvey. Can you tell us about that link?
A: Marcus Garvey was a black man from Jamaica who proclaimed himself the leader of all black people everywhere, and said he was going to fight for their rights. By 1920 he had something like four million followers worldwide, he was marching his own personal army around Harlem, and he was filling Madison Square Garden with delegations of his movement from all around the world. He started preaching a Back-to-Africa message because he said it was only Africans from the West who could rise above class and tribe and unite to save the continent. When he said that an Africa free from white domination seemed like a long way off, but in fact Garvey's prophecy has come to pass, and when Bob Marley went into the heart of Africa to give a concert in celebration of the freedom of Zimbabwe and sing of African unity I think it was like a fulfillment of Garvey's prophecy expressed in a very real way. Lucky Dube sings "Going back to my roots, Reggae music."
When an African born in Africa sings of going back to his roots in Jamaica, there is something very Garveyan about that.
Q: What happened to the Garvey movement?
A: There was a practical side to Garvey's plan. He became a real threat to some powerful enemies. He had steamships, and Liberia, where he planned to make his African beachhead, had rubber. Industry in the USA needed rubber desperately. The British had Malaya and Burma, the French had Indochina, the Belgians had the Congo, the Germans were already in the Amazon. Sothe Americans wanted Liberia, and when they realized that they might have to go through Garvey and the Africans to get their rubber, well, you see the next time a Black Star Liner sailed? It ran into the dock before leaving port, then it ran onto a sandbank in the harbour, then another ship ran into it, then the boilers were pumped full of salt water and blew up, and the rudder broke and on and on; it's pretty clear that Garvey's enemies were prepared to spend whatever it took to sink him along with his boats, and they succeeded. He ended up in jail.
Q: Babylon again.
A: I guess Marcus would say so. It's an amazing story, I've just finished writing a movie about his life, I and another Jamaican writer named Tony Bogues.
Q: Do you think reggae music will live on?
A: Sure. Will Country Music live on? Who knows why the expression of the independent white farmer plugged into amplifiers in Nashville Tennessee? Who knows why the spirit of the poor black youth of the world plugged into Kingston Jamaica? Maybe it's because we in Jamaica have a long tradition of freedom of expression, also virtually unique in the tropical world, but as long as there are poor people in the world with ambition and a yearning for higher things they will build on the foundations established by the reggae pioneers, Bob Marley foremost among them. The music will take different forms, but the spirit will be the same, and hopefully Jamaica will provide the best means for expressing it.
Marley Story Part One
Marley Story Part Two
Bob Marley Feature - R&R Hall of Fame
Marley Feature Part Four (Roger
Perry Henzel's Interview with Bob
Bob Marley - LEGEND LIVE
Reggae Road Bob Marley Main Page
The Boy From Nine Mile