Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Vote Bob Marley in 2008!

Article by Christopher J. Farley
New Bob Marley Book: Before the Legend

This week, the New York Times published a story reporting that folk-rocker Neil Young was set to release a new politically-charged album that was "overtly partisan."

Pearl Jam, the Seattle-based rock band, just came out with a single, "World Wide Suicide," that seems to be critical of President Bush's handling of the Iraq War.

In recent years, a number of country singers have released songs praising the president and the troops and the conduct of the war.

Politics has returned to music. It never really left, but the Iraq War has put it on the radio, on the charts and in the mainstream media.

It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a war to raise the voices of political songwriters.

So it's a good time to look back at the greatest political singer-songwriter in music history: Bob Marley. May 11th is the 25th anniversary of the reggae singer's death.

Like a great politician, Marley transcended politics. In many ways he was like Barack Obama with a guitar. And dreadlocks. And a spliff.

Well, maybe he wasn't that much like Obama, but you get what I'm going for here.

Marley could have toured the red states and the blue states. He could have toured the magenta states too, if they had them.

It's hard to find people that hate Bob Marley.

I once did an interview with Bob Dylan and the subject of Marley and his songwriting came up. Dylan told me "Bob Marley's music isn't political. Bob Marley's music is universal."

And, of course, the other Bob was right. Dylan did write "Like a Rolling Stone," after all, so he knows a little something about songcraft.

Marley's genius is like that of William Faulkner or James Joyce: he made the local into the universal.

Marley is also a lot more fun to dance to than Faulkner or Joyce.

I once saw an interview in which someone referred to Canada as the Bob Marley of countries. In other words, the speaker was using Marley as symbol for something innocuous, inoffensive, and easy-going.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

They have a word they use in Jamaica, "Irie." It means many things, but it also means that things are doing alright. How you doing? Irie, mon.

Marley found the perfect blend of ire and irie.

Many of his songs--"Babylon System," "Get Up Stand Up," "War," "Rat Race"--are filled with incendiary lyrics.

Just Google them, you'll see.

If you're Googling them in China, I'd be careful.

Many of today's partisan singers, on either side of the issues, miss the main point of political songwriting.

Marley's most political songs are so convincing, so charming, and so righteous, they seem to have no politics at all. They draw you in with their warm grooves, and the sweet melodies make the angry lyrics go down easy.

Great political songwriting shouldn't just enrage--it should enchant.

Marley's music continues to cast a spell over partisans of every stripe.

Christopher John Farley is the author of the new biography "Before the Legend: The Rise of Bob Marley."

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