My first Bob Marley CD was “Live!,” Marley and the Wailers' live album from a July 1975 concert at the the Lyceum Theatre in London. I was in 7th grade and ordered it as part of a “5-CDs-for-a-dollar” deal through one of those Columbia House Music mail-order catalogs. The album came three weeks later in a package with Dave Matthew's “Crash,” Sublime's “40 oz to Freedom,” Limp Bizkit's “Three Dollar Bill, Y'all,” and Third Eye Blind's self-titled album.
Don't judge: I was 13.
Bob Marley's “Live!” is an energetic album, opening with Marley gleefully sqwuaking out the first lines of “Trenchtown Rock”: “One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain.” As an impressionable young teenager coming of age in a world where music tastes were dictated after school by a mouth-breathing Carson Daly on TRL, those lyrics were like gospel to me. It was the moment of my Bob Marley baptism: Riding home on a school bus from middle school, just a few bars into “Trenchtown Rock” as the CD spun away on a 20-second skip protection Discman.
I love Bob Marley. At this point in my life, I've loved Bob Marley for a really long time. But everyone loves Bob Marley. Like The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, and Frank Sintara, Marley is enshrined on a Mount Rushmore of world-renowned musicians who are utterly impossible to hate. There are few other artists in 20thcentury music who enjoy such universal appeal. “Bob Marley is overrated” or “What a douchebag” have never been uttered when “Jammin'” or “Easy Skankin'” is queued up on a summer pool party playlist. His music has inspired millions of fat, middle-class Americans to chill the fuck out and have another pina colada out on Royal Caribbean cruises for decades.
What is easy to hate, however, is fanboys who become just-a-little-too obsessed with Marley. You know the type: Wookied out in natty brunette dreadlocks, wearing a hemp beanie, rocking a green-and-yellow Jamaican flag shirt. Footwear of choice: Birkenstocks. Only drinks water out of a Nalgene plastered in stickers, which sometimes they use as a beer reciptial. More often than not, this person is mostly likely the spawn of successful upper-middle-class parents, perhaps dentists or car dealership owners.
Over the years, I've noticed how this overly-intense Bob Marley fandom can be a gateway drug for tour-rat life-nowhereness. Trust me, you don't want to end up spending your summer slinging nitrus balloons in amplitheater parking lots. And no one likes a poseur, especially one pushes his beliefs and tastes on someone else. Everyone knows those faux-Rastafarian “beliefs” you've embraced only exist as a thinly-veiled excuse for getting fucked up.
Since today, Feb. 6, 2013, would have been Bob Marley's 68th birthday, I've identified the phases Bob Marley's most intense fanboys tend to go through. They often happen quickly, so don't ignore the warning signs.
1. The Pot Smoking Stage
This is where it begins. Unscientifically, there's a statistical correlation with one's first few experiences with marijuana and uttering the phrase, “I've been getting into a lot of Bob Marley lately.” When going through this phase, “Mellow Mood,” “Easy Skanking,” “Soul Shakedown Party,” and “Kaya” are all high on the song rotation, mostly because of their not-subtle-at-all references to getting high. This is no accident. Long before Wiz or Snoop or Tommy Chong, Marley was the ultimate wake 'n bake, dusk-to-dawn musical pothead. To understand how much Marley smoked and how it inspired him creatively, check out Kevin Macdonald's documentary “Marley”, in which the filmmaker details just how 24/7 Marley's daily weed diet was. It's on Netflix.
2. The Headshop Poster Buying Stage
This is the phase where Marley fans get to know their local headshop owner by name while “decorating” their apartment with various Bob Marley posters and tapestries. The posters are obvious choices, with Marley playing acoustic guitar, a giant spiff-in-mouth, crooning out “Redemption Song.” In due time, these spirited trips to that dusty, disgusting patchouli den become excuses to buy new glass bubblers.
3. The Trying-to-Understand Rastafarianism Stage
Eventually, Bob Marley fans want to understand his religion and why he frequently sang about Babylon, Zion, and “Jah” so much. On college campuses, many people pretend to understand the Rastafari spiritual movement. In reality, they do not understand it all, except that it's a religion that involves smoking a lot of pot. That is true, since Rastafarianism views herb as a sacrament, like wine in the Catholic communion. But in reality, it was more a movement than a religion. They don't know about how the movement grew in popularity around the teachings of black nationalist Marcus Garvey or how rastas seem themselves as African royalty. They don't understand how rastas see Haile Selassie I, the Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930–1974, is viewed as Jesus incarnate in Rastafarism. These people would be shocked to learn that less than one percent of Jamacia's population identifies as Rastafarian.
4. The Political Stage
“Get Up, Stand Up” on repeat, all day and all night. This is the phase when acolytes want to channel Marley's passion for shaking up the political system. Outside of music, bipartisan political unification might be Marley's most important legacy. His political work in the developing world was truly revolutionary. In 1976, he was shot at a free concert organized by Jamaica's Prime Minister that sought to ease political tensions in the country. He returned to Jamaica from London in 1979 to unite Prime Minsiter Michael Manley of the People's National Party with his political rival, Edward Seaga, at the historic free concert. When white minority rule in Rhodesia ended and the country officially became Zimbabwe in 1980, Marley was there to help a joyous population celebrate. Considering the times, those were incredible accomplishments.
This is the stage when you tell everyone you're planning on joining the Peace Corps after college. Then you do Teach for America when you realize that the Peace Corps is intense.
5. Experimentation with Other Reagee Artists Stage
Wait, Bob Marley wasn't the only reggae artist? No way! This is the phase when oblivious Marley fans learn that it was The Wailer's guitarist Peter Tosh — not Marley — who sang about legalizing it. Quickly listen to a few Toots and Maytals “Greatest Hits” albums, followed by Jimmy Cliff, The Heptones, Black Uhuru, and Steel Pulse. Eventually, you settle on Matisyahu. Complain to all your friends how reggaeton has nothing to do with reggae/dub music.
6. The Bitchin' About People Who Only Own 'Legend' Stage
This is the douchy-stage where Marley's biggest fans complain about other fans not digging deep enough into the Marley discography. For decades, when CDs sales were important, “Legend” was one of the largest selling “Greatest Hits” albums of all time. Thus, its tracks are often the most revered in pop culture. People in this stage get angry that the masses at large don't know “Sun Is Shining” and “Mr. Brown” as well as they know “Jammin'” and “I Shot the Sheriff.” It's the ultimate hipster complaint.
7. The Bitching About Everyone's Bob Marley Covers Stage
Perhaps the second most obnoxious and self-righteous stage of douchey-fandom: Complaining about Bob Marley covers by others. This is the phase where you rate who can and cannot tastefully cover Robert Nesta, which is a fool's errand. There are probably a thousand out there on Spotify alone: Johnny Cash and Joe Strummer's “Redemption Song,” Sublime's “Zimbabwe,” Clapton's “I Shot the Sheriff.” No need to bitch all high and mighty when your cruise ship pool band launches into a cheesy cover of “Three Little Birds.”
8. The Jamaica Pilgramage Stage
This is where it all comes full-circle: A stoner pilgrimage back to Marley's former residence at 56 Hope Road in Kingston, Jamaica. Here's the thing: It won't be an intentional trip. In reality, you'll be in MoBay or Negril for Spring Break and you'll take a day “off” from the beach scene to go over the Blue Mountains to Kingston to see a house Marley got shot in and admire the green “botany” collection in the front yard. After swinging by Marley's childhood home in Nine Mile, you'll get the hell out of dodge, because you heard that Kingston, Jamaica is a dangerous city with a high crime and murder rate. Momma doesn't want you there. Time to get your faux-rasta-hippy ass back to Magritaville for rum-pineapple bodyshots before you become a walking target.
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