In this great future you can't forget your past
So dry your tears, I say
-- Bob Marley
This is not a story about Bob Marley. That story's been done and done and done to death. We know Robert Nesta Marley died on May 11, 1981, in Cedars of Lebanon, a Miami hospital later renamed Cedars Medical Center. We know that for years Chris Blackwell and members of Marley's extended family fought bitterly for control of his estate. We know that matter was settled, but new lawsuits have been filed by Bunny Wailer and others in new battles for control of the vast musical (and monetary) legacy.
We know enough about Bob. And we know nothing. Because the truth is this: Bob Marley is not dead.
He did not get cancer and he did not fly away home to Zion. When Billboard magazine initiated its reggae chart about eight months ago, nineteen of the Top 50 were by Bob Marley. Certainly dead men make sales A immediately after their departures, popular artists' catalogues tend to skyrocket up the charts. But if you believe Marley is dead, then you must believe he died thirteen years ago. That helps not at all to explain this guy's awesome worldwide popularity in 1994. In fact, he's headlining one of the biggest reggae events of the year -- the Bob Marley Day Festival scheduled for this Saturday.
Some company recently came out with designer snow skis, one featuring the Grateful Dead's name, the other Bob Marley's. You don't name a line of skis after a corpse.
New releases? Island recently issued Songs of Freedom -- four full CDs of Marley music. Not bad for a stiff. And that says nothing about the hundreds and hundreds of bootleg and international (but not licensed) recordings currently available everywhere. Vibe magazine reports that of those nineteen entries on the Billboard chart, six weren't released by Island, but by companies not authorized by anyone to release anything by the King of Reggae. The magazine also notes, perhaps unnecessarily, that Marley remains the most popular reggae musician in the world.
"I'm just reviewing some Marley dubs I've never heard before," says WDNA-FM (88.9) reggae DJ and Marley-music collector Steve Radzi. "He made such an impact. A guy from a tiny little island, and his music had such an impact when he was 'alive.' He produced so much, I don't think anyone can rival him as an artist, not the Beatles or Michelangelo or anyone. He is completely universal. Is he alive? He was someone not from this planet to begin with. He just dropped by to say hello." So that's it then: Marley was a space alien. The theory makes perfect sense in the context of his immense popularity and continuing effect on both culture and human spirituality.
Five months before doctors and managers conspired to fake his death, Marley told the Miami Times that "I'll be alright and I'll be back on the road again. You know this is Bob talking to you. Don't have no doubt."
Stella McLaughlan, a long-time reggae insider and one of the coordinators of the Bob Marley Day Festival, has no doubt. "He's still alive," she says. "I believe that. He's out there, definitely. He's only bigger and better. He said, 'You're gonna be tired to see my face, but you can't get me out of the race.'"
In 1992 three articles about Marley ran in this newspaper. None of them were obituaries. More significantly, who graces the cover of the February 24 issue of Rolling Stone? You got it. A man that's been dead nearly a decade and a half. A man, Stone notes, who sells a million records a year -- from the grave. Supposedly.
This year the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted several new members, including Elton John, Rod Stewart, the Band, and Bob Marley. Occasionally the Hall also inducts people who have passed away.
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WVUM-FM (90.5) reggae DJ the Judge says that he's a big Peter Tosh fan, but admits that even the great Tosh was overshadowed by his bandmate. "I agree that Bob's alive," Judge says. "There's an aura running through everything he's done that creates this image that he never died. He was one performer who truly A and this is the key -- touched audiences of all different backgrounds. He put an end to the idea that reggae is just for Jamaicans or just for black people. That's crazy. Reggae is universal music, and Bob did that best."
Marley himself hinted at his fate, and his words support the theory that his death was faked just as Paul McCartney's death was faked way back when. "God sent me on Earth," Marley said. "He send me to do something, and nobody can stop me. If God want to stop me, then I stop. Man never can." Marley himself was too humble, too real, to suffer a Jesus complex. But just because he didn't see himself as the Lord's messenger doesn't mean others can't.
When you go to the Bob Marley Day event, look around for ghosts. Or perhaps a space alien. Or something more.
The Bob Marley Day Festival takes place Saturday at Bayfront Park Amphitheater, 301 Biscayne Blvd, 247-1105. It's free. Please see the "Calendar" for more information.