Bob Marley was more than an Artist

Money can’t buy life.

Bob Marley’s last words to his son Ziggy.

On this day, in 1981, Bob Marley passed away as a result of an acral melanoma.

Marley’s message of resistance, of spirit as a means to defeat oppression and claim one’s inherent rights, has clearly emerged as his most powerful and important legacy. It’s true that many others in popular music have spoken to these same concerns, including the likes of Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Marvin Gaye, Bruce Springsteen and Tupac Shakur. But with the exception of Tupac, these voices addressed injustice, intolerance, deprivation and oppression from outside the living heart of that experience. 

What made his message so effective and enduring is how he framed it. He was a superb melody writer. Marley sang about tyranny and anger, about brutality and apocalypse, in enticing tones.

“One Love” the Marley song that BBC named “The Song of the Century” is a good example. On the surface, it sounds like a feel-good chant-along about the power of love to bring unity, but enter that song and you’ll find something else: It is about war, it is about damnation and a vengeful God’s Armageddon, and it is about those who have been so wicked in their efforts to oppress the souls of mankind that they can’t possibly escape the fire that is going to rain down on them.

And then, there is my personal favorite, “I Shot The Sheriff”. This song is a tale of injustice and its results: A lawman is hounding another man who represents something — perhaps it’s race, perhaps it’s class — that he just can’t abide. The sheriff sets out to kill him, until the person telling the story strikes back. He kills the sheriff — it’s all he can do — but he doesn’t kill the deputy. That’s a parable of justice and compassion. But maybe, there is an underlying meaning. He didn’t shoot the deputy because there wasn’t time. But that time will eventually come. Make no mistake.

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