Bob Marley Day – No Woman, No Cry

February 6

“I don’t have prejudice against myself. My father was a white and my mother was black…Me don’t dip on the black man’s side nor the white man’s side. Me dip on God’s side, the one who create me and cause me to come from black and white.”     – Bob Marley

There’s a scene in L’auberge espagnole where the main character witnesses a guitar-playing American woo a European girl with his very white rendition of “No Woman, No Cry.”

“…I remember when we used to sit
In the government yard in trenchtown…”

Strange how this song, co-written and immortalized by a Jamaican man about the ghetto of Kingston, would become an unofficial anthem for North Americans backpacking through Europe, to the point of cliché.

There’s a beauty that shines through Bob Marley’s music, despite the many impediments of the artists and tourists who try to duplicate his magic.

Officially, Marley shares credit for “No Woman, No Cry” with his old friend Vincent ‘Tartar’ Ford, a “bredda from Trenchtown.” Ford was a paraplegic who ran the soup kitchen in Kingston where Marley once lived and played. How much Ford actually contributed to writing the song, we don’t know. Marley once said he wrote the song while he was tuning his guitar in Ford’s yard; it’s been argued (in litigation) that Marley simply wanted to avoid contractual obligations by crediting songs to his friends and the Wailers. In this case, he wanted to send royalties the way of Ford and his kitchen.[Reggae Routes]

Of course, the creative process is never as clean-cut as litigators and music executives would like.

Marley’s biographer Vivien Goldman commented on the song-writing process:

“That song may very well have been a conversation that they had sitting around one night. That’s the way Bob’s creativity worked. In the end it didn’t matter. The point is Bob wanted him to have the money.” – NY Times, 1/4/09

Vincent ‘Tata’ Ford outlived his ‘bredda’ by over a quarter century. He lived to see Marley grow from being a music sensation to an international movement. Marley now has a greater following than even the man whom he, like other Rastafarians, revered as a prophet, the Lion of Judah: Emperor Haile Selassie I.

We’ll never know just how much Ford contributed to one of the world’s most famous songs. The 68 year-old former soup kitchen manager died five weeks ago, on December 28, 2008, in Kingston, Jamaica, from complications related to diabetes.

Good friends we have, oh, good friends weve lost
Along the way.
In this great future, you cant forget your past
So dry your tears, I seh.

Bob Marley & Vincent Ford, No Woman, No Cry

February 6 is Robert Nesta Marley’s birthday, and a national holiday in his homeland of Jamaica.

[published Feb. 6, 2009]

Bob Marley Day – Song of Freedom

February 6

How long shall they kill our prophets

While we stand aside and look?

Some say it’s just a part of it:

We’ve got to fulfill de book…

Redemption Song, Bob Marley

Most national and religious holidays commemorate the death (or the birth) of a martyr or martyrs executed for their beliefs.

And then there are the victory holidays, of battles and wars, which essentially celebrate the deaths of somebody else’s martyrs.

And then there are Poets. History teaches us that unlike political and religious leaders, artists need not die for their cause to have a holiday named after them, provided they die young.

The Scots have Rabbie Burns, and the Slovenes have France Preseren. Jamaica and the world have Bob Marley, born this day in 1945.

Hard to believe he’d be in his sixties if he were alive today. He died at 36 of melanoma cancer. He left behind, not a traditional bible, but a legacy of spirit in song.

Buffalo soldier,

in the heart of America

Stolen from Africa,

brought to America

Fighting on arrival,

fighting for survival…

If you know your history

Then you would know where you coming from

Then you wouldn’t have to ask

Who the eck do I think I am…

–from Buffalo Solider

In an industry where the vast majority of popular music revolved around repetitive and vapid love songs, Marley’s lyrics articulated complex social issues: race, power, politics, and God. He filtered these themes through his own unique view of the world, one which saw beyond the arbitrary borders and distinctions of the society in which he lived. He once said:

“I don’t have prejudice against myself. My father was a white and my mother was black. Them call me half-caste or whatever. Me don’t dip on nobody’s side. Me don’t dip on the black man’s side nor the white man’s side. Me dip on God’s side, the one who create me and cause me to come from black and white…”

His first single, aptly titled “Judge Not,” was released in 1962, the year of Jamaica’s independence.

Marley spread the Rastafari philosophy around the world. His most famous concert may have been the 1978 One Love Peace Concert, during which he called the leaders of the ruling and opposing parties on stage to hold hands.

Exodus 20th Anniversary Edition

In 1999 Time Magazine called his 1977 album Exodus the “Best Album of the Century.”

The title alludes to the spiritual birth of the Judeo-Christian and Muslim religions. Marley’s lyrics consistently draw upon Biblical themes, Jamaican folk-lore, and his own experience to speak to the continuing struggle of the African Diaspora, particularly in the New World.

Open your eyes and look within:

Are you satisfied with the life you’re living?

We know where we’re going

We know where we’re from

We’re leaving Babylon

We’re going to our father land.

–Bob Marley, Exodus, 1977

Because of the timelessness of Marley’s lyrics and recordings, his legacy will continue to grow over the coming decades. The further we get from his death, the more people tend to recall the legend over the person.

In Before the Legend: The Rise of Bob Marley Christopher Farley touches on the very human side of Nesta…

“…near the end of his life, when his dreadlocks had begun to fall out because of the cancer treatments, he would still summon the strength to play with his kids. He would put on a Frankenstein mask from off the kitchen counter and chase his sons and daughters around their house in Miami. “A lot of people know Dad the musician,” [Marley’s eldest daughter] Cedella says. “We’ve always known him as Dad–who could be corny, funny, serious at times, but would never spank. If he saw a tear in your eye, he would look the other way. That’s the person that we know.”

He was called the “first Third World superstar,” but as he said of himself…

“…I don’t think Third World. To me, I am of the First World. I can’t put people in classes.”

Think Bob Marley’s legacy is overrated? It’s okay to say it, we’re all friends here. But think of this: It is culture and tradition that sustain a people separated from their homeland. Unlike previous diasporas, the Africa Diaspora was so brutal and so widespread that descendants were cut off from an evolution of culture and tradition that had been passed down for a hundred generations.

Marley’s success at embodying, expressing and popularizing a unique cultural movement in the 1960s and 70s, specifically of, by, and for the African Diaspora, was the culmination of hundreds of years of adaptation and indomitable faith. The movement redefined core values of peace, unity, God, redemption, and the enjoyment of life.

Nesta Robert Marley died in 1981. At his request he was buried with a bible, his guitar, a soccer ball, his ring, and a bong.

Nesta Robert Marley :  February 6, 1945-May 11, 1981

Songs of Freedom: The Music of Bob Marley as Transformative Education

Bob Marley’s Legacy Lives On

Marley Videos

Wolfgang Amadè Mozart’s Birthday

January 27

Today, January 27, is Wolfgang Amadè Mozart’s birthday.

If you’re like me, everything you know about Mozart comes from Falco’s immortal ballad “Rock Me Amadeus.”

“1756, Salzburg, January 27, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is born.
“1761, at the age of five Amadeus begins composing.
“1773, he writes his first piano concerto…

But did you know that, according to Marcel Danesi’s Forever Young: The Teen-Aging of Modern Culture:

There are solid data to suggest that even minimal exposure to the music of Mozart, for instance, benefits both children and adults in many ways.

Ironically, this maturing effect of Mozart’s music did not work on the great composer himself, who despite his musical genius, lived much of his life in a state of perpetual adolescence. Mozart’s letters are riddled with misspellings, unorthodox grammar, and references to his fecal and scatological obsessions.

“How I like Mannheim?–as well as one can like any place without Baasle [little cousin]. Pardon my poor handwriting, the pen is already old; now I have been shitting for nearly 22 years out of the same old hole and yet it’s not torn a whit!…Now I must close, as it so happens, because I am not dressed yet, and we’ll be eating soon so that afterward we can go and shit again, as it so happens. Do go on loving me as I love you, then we’ll never stop loving each other…”

Nov. 13, 1777, letter, to cousin Maria Anna Thekla Mozart, translated by Robert Spaethling, Mozart’s Letters, Mozart’s Life

Perhaps the fact that Mozart virtually “skipped” childhood [He wrote his first symphony at age 8.] led him to make up for it in later years. Granted, Mozart probably didn’t expect his personal letters to wind up on the Internet, but then who does. Anyway, his eccentricities didn’t detract from his following, either during his life or after.

Nearing the centenary of Mozart’s birth, The Musical World (1855) wrote:

There is no name in music which addresses itself more powerfully and universally than that of Mozart in appeals to the heart as well as to the intellect. From infancy his melodies are made familiar to us; they are hummed at our cradles, taught us at schools, sung at our theatres, and made the groundwork of our musical appreciation.

We’ll never know how Mozart would have aged. He died on December 5, 1791, at age 35. He died of illness, though specifically of what illness we may never know.

Young Mozart
Young Mozart

Mozart’s Requiem

The mystery of Mozart’s death revolves around his haunting final work: Requiem. The Requiem was commissioned anonymously, and conveyed by a “Gray Messenger.”

Before long he became convinced that the Messenger had come to warn him of his own mortality and that he was indeed composing the work for his own death. Concerned with this morbid fascination, his wife Constanze hid the score and forbade him to work on the Requiem for several weeks.  But, shortly after resuming work in mid-November, Mozart became ill and took to his bed. He gathered a choir of friends around his bedside the afternoon of December 4th to sing the movements he had completed. He died less than twelve hours later.

Robert Levin, Requiem by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

His death was fictionalized in Peter Schaffer’s Amadeus. Historians believe the Requiem was not a rival composer’s plot to kill Mozart, but was commissioned by an Austrian count and amateur musician who intended to pass the work off as his own, in honor of his deceased wife.

Over 200 years after his death, historians and musicians still place Mozart in a category of his own. Mozart’s ability to connect to music-lovers for over ten generations, and his ability to express the entire range of human consciousness through music is made more remarkable considering the two things the composer never had: a true childhood, and a true adulthood. As the current Pope Benedict XVI once said:

“His music is by no means just entertainment; it contains the whole tragedy of human existence.”

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 1996, quoted in God’s Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the future of the Catholic Church

Birthday of the King: Elvis

January 8

The Mississippi Delta was shining
Like a National guitar,
I am following the river
Down the highway
Through the cradle of the civil war,

I’m going to Graceland, Graceland
In Memphis Tennessee…
…I’ve reason to believe
We both will be received
In Graceland

Paul Simon, Graceland

Today is the birthday of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll Elvis Presley. Though not an official holiday in any nation, it is observed throughout the world.

Elvis statue Elvis worshipper

(Above: the author praises the King in Memphis, Tennessee)

The focal point of the celebration is Graceland, Elvis’s former home in Memphis, Tennessee. Festivities begin each year with a gospel tribute at the Gates of Graceland at midnight.

Graceland was not named by Elvis, but by the original owner S.E. Toof after his daughter Grace.

Elvis Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi. At age 13 the Presley family moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where Elvis lived for most of his life.

In 1957 the 22 year-old superstar purchased the Graceland mansion in Memphis. He was proud to move his parents into it, a long way from the two-room house where Elvis was raised. His mother Gladys died the following year.

Graceland living room

Early viewers of Elvis’s concerts, such as rock legend Roy Orbison, cite his instinct and incredible energy as a performer as separating him from the artists before him. It is difficult to convey the novelty of Elvis after the half-century of imitations and changes that followed. Various morality groups assailed him for his “vulgar” and “obscene” music and movements on stage.

His discoverer, Sam Phillipsof Sun Studios, said Elvis “put every ounce of emotion…into every song, almost as if he was incapable of holding back.”

When Elvis first entered the Sun Studios, receptionist Marion Keisker asked him who he sounded like. He is reported to have said “I don’t sound like nobody.”

While this was true in mainstream radio, Elvis was heavily influenced by the black gospel singers he had seen at Memphis’ Ellis Auditorium and black blues performers in the clubs along Beale Street.

Stories make it sound like Elvis walked into Sun Studios and the rest is history, but in fact, after his first recording in 1953, Elvis politely hassled Sam Phillips for a year—while working as a truck driver—before Sam teamed him up with bassist Bill Black and guitarist Scotty Moore. The three recorded a high-energy version of black R&B artist Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right, Mama” in July and the single was released that month. Some white disc jockeys refused to play Elvis’ music at first, believing Elvis was black.

In January 1956 RCA released Heartbreak Hotel, co-written by a part-time Florida schoolteacher Mae Boren Axton, who was inspired by the newspaper epitaph of a suicide victim: “I walk a lonely street.”

Heartbreak Hotel slowly and steadily climbed the charts, entering at #1 68 in March, and making its way to #1 in May.

Elvis the #1 Hits: The Secret History of the Classics

Though Graceland is considered the musical Mecca for Elvis fans, do not miss Sun Studios just to the east on Union Avenue, for a more in-depth historically revealing tour about Elvis and Memphis music history.