The Resurrection of Bob Marley

(or at least, his Land Rover)

Bob Marley would have been 70 today. To mark the occasion, his Land Rover has been ‘brought back to life‘ as you can see in the video below (which is accompanied by a horrible remix of ‘Is This Love’ – so horrible that the answer must be NO! – so I suggest you mute it and listen instead to the clip below it, which contains one of his earliest & most beautiful love songs).

The organisers of this mechanical resurrection said ‘we felt the greatest gift we could give to him was to restore his original Land Rover to its former glory’. It must have cost them some money, but as they are a luxury Caribbean holiday company, no doubt it will earn its keep as a tourist attraction. Be that as it may, Marley’s reported last words to his son were ‘Money can’t buy life’.

And here are his last words to his fans:

According to his mother, Marley’s last spoken words were ‘Jesus take me!’ I say ‘according to his mother’, but I only know this according to internet hearsay. In any case, the words may sound unlikely, for Marley’s image as ‘the first third world superstar’ is so identified with Rastafari: ‘One can not fully comprehend [sic] Marley or the Wailers’ music without reference to this movement’ says Island Records.  But how are we to know the limits of his spirituality, beyond record label reductionism? One thing we do know is that from early on Marley was a Soul Rebel:

Said I’m a living man
I’ve got work to do
If you’re not happy, then you must be blue

I’m a rebel, soul rebel
I’m a capturer, soul adventurer
Do you hear me?

Another thing we know is that Bob Marley joined a Christian church in his final years…

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is the largest of the Oriental Orthodox Churches, and traces its origin to the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch as recorded in Acts 8:26-39. The church established a branch in Jamaica in 1970, when Archbishop Abouna Yesehaq was commissioned by Emperor Haile Selassie (aka Ras Tafari) to ‘lead Rastafarians away from worshiping him and turn to the worshipping of the God he worshipped’. This mission was explicit at the inaugural service of the church, when 750 were baptised in one day. The following day the first High Mass of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Jamaica was celebrated in Kingston Parish Church, at the invitation of the Anglican Bishop. 3000 people attended the service, including the Roman Catholic Archbishop. Given the alienated status of the Rastafari in Jamaican society, this was an extraordinary event. But the success of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church amongst many Rastafari must be partly due to the respect that Archbishop Yesehaq gave to their culture in general, recognising it as an expression of resistance to the oppressive legacies of slavery. He ‘understood and identified with their discontent and frustration. Here were a people searching for their identity, which was lost in Western civilization, a scattered and rejected people’. You can read his ‘defence’ of this position here.

Archbishop Yesehaq talks about his relationship with Marley in this regard here: (from 10.40 on)

Not all Rastafari accepted the Christian teaching of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. ‘Unfortunately, those who demanded baptism in the name of Ras Tafari misunderstood the mission of the Church in the West.’ The Archbishop said in another interview that Marley “had a desire to be baptised long ago, but there were people close to him who controlled him and who were aligned to a different aspect of Rastafari. But he came to Church regularly. I remember once while I was conducting the Mass, I looked at Bob and tears were streaming down his face. Many people think he was baptised because he knew he was dying, but that is not so… he did it when there was no longer any pressure on him, and when he was baptised, he hugged his family and wept. They all wept together for about an hour.”

Bob Marley died of cancer in 1981.

His funeral was conducted by Archbishop Yesehaq. It began in Holy Trinity Church, Kingston, where the opening hymn was ‘Jesus Lover of My Soul’, with music led by Cedric Brooks with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church Choir:

Cedric ‘Im’ Brooks played saxophone with the Skatalites, and later the Sound Dimension, the two greatest house bands at Coxsone’s Studio One, where Bob Marley and the Wailers recorded ‘I’m Still Waiting’ and many other tunes, and where most of the classic reggae riddims were first laid down (although it was Marley who was to take the sound around the world).

But Brooks first learned to play music at Alpha Boys, the Catholic school where many other foundational reggae musicians studied, including a number of Marley’s own backing band.

One teacher at the school, Sister Ignatius, was particularly significant, later becoming known as ‘the nun who nurtured reggae‘: ‘If you want to get grown men to cry simply talk to them about her… several said they would be dead if it wasn’t for her.’ Sister Ignatius put on dances where she herself deejayed the latest records: ‘when she died her collection ended up in a Seattle museum, such was its importance as a chronicle of Jamaican music… and it wasn’t just music; she also taught them boxing, happily donning gloves to take on boys that were often twice her weight and size. She believed it was her Christian duty to teach them skills that would see them through their lives in a rough town like Kingston.’ But most importantly of all, she gave them the encouragement and space to learn to play their own music… Studio One producer Coxsone Dodd compared then to musicians who trained in the Army (the other way that those with no money could gain access to a musical education): ‘The ones coming from the Army were too militant, too straight… the guys coming from Alpha had a soul of their own; they could solo and feel the music’.

(Sister Ignatius appears from 10.30 in this video)

The funeral of Bob Marley moved from the church to the Jamaican National Stadium, where Cedric Brooks again led the first hymn, ‘O God Our Help In Ages Past’. With a 6,000 strong congregation in the stadium, and the world’s media in attendance, there was tension at one point when a Rasta friend of Marley’s took over the proceedings – as you can read about in this eyewitness account.

The funeral then moved to Marley’s birthplace, Nine Miles in St Ann, where he was laid to rest. The final hymn was ‘Abide With Me’:

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide; The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.

At his request, Bob Marley was buried with his Bible, open at Psalm 23, and his Gibson guitar…

My sermon it was built for freedom; The Good Lord said: Son, you´re a free man
I´m gonna talk that freedom talk; Now let me see you walk that freedom walk
Better get ready; Children, please get ready …