By Sidney Miller Jr.
Just took the time out to see Marley, the fantastic documentary on Bob Marley that is now in limited theatrical release. I was deeply touched by the film’s revealing look at a music icon I thought I already knew. After all, I had personal access to him over the years through my friend Danny Sims, his longtime manager.
For two and a half riveting hours, an intimate portrait of the real Bob Marley unfolds. We see the shy but people-loving Marley, the guy who came from a rural village in Jamaica to the Trench Town slums of Kingston, where he began to make his infectious music–even drawing from R&B groups like The Temps. Viewed as an outcast because of his mixed racial heritage, Marley really did care about social justice for his fellow man. And everybody who knew him loved him back. Especially women.
That’s probably why his wife Rita, who was also one of his backup singers, accepted the fact that her husband was not to be possessed by her alone. She understood that he was a very special man on a mission, so she felt it was her duty to help in any way possible–even if it meant embracing his many outside relationships and children.
Whenever they traveled together, they always had separate living accommodations. Bob would have a room full of women in his suite and if he got tired of his guests, he would call his wife to put them out of his room. The show must go on.
The last time I was in Bob’s company was September 1980, when he opened for The Commodores at Madison Square Garden in a show for Inner City Broadcasting’s WBLS-FM chief rocker Frankie Crocker in an attempt to expose Marley to more black U.S. audiences. But it was quite obvious that the sold-out crowd had come to see him (no offense to Lionel Richie) because three songs into The Commodores set, the house was only half full. Bob appeared in military fatigues with unlaced combat boots, his long thick dreads in constant motion, while Lionel and his band had four slick outfit changes and elaborate production. Yet Marley killed them. The crowd was on its feet the entire time.
After the show Danny approached me about doing a cover story on Bob and I agreed. So I went to his hotel, the Essex House, to set up an appointment. When the elevator arrived on his floor, I was met by one of Bob’s security. He had his hands full because there were at least 35 to 40 girls lining the hallway waiting to see Bob. At his suite, the girls were admitted into the living room and would exit through the bedroom door.
Shortly after I got there, I was squeezed in between the girls and set up an appointment for 1:00 p.m. the next day. I left him about 2:30 a.m. and when I arrived for the scheduled interview, there were still ladies waiting. But at least the line was shorter than the night before. He told me that his secret virility potion was “Irish Moss.”
Well, it must have worked. Bob is survived by eleven kids and seven ‘baby mamas,” all of whom, I understand, get along fabulously. They are one big happy family even though he left no will.
Marley seemed to race through his short but full life. His Rastafarian religion led him to Ethiopia where he met Emperor Haile Selassie, the man worshiped by the Rastas as God (Jah) on earth. When Emperor Selassie visited Jamaica, Marley himself had become a powerful international presence. He had traveled around the world spreading the genre and culture of Reggae, which was recognized by NARAS as a Grammy category in 1985, four years after his untimely death from late-stage cancer in 1981. He was just 36.
While Bob Marley doesn’t get all the recognition he deserves, his record sales today still dwarf those of any two artists. But we must go beyond the enduring impact of his music to get the full measure of the Rasta Man. His legacy of peace, freedom and unity must remain a guiding force in our lives –particularly as we mark the 20th anniversary of the Rodney King-fueled Watts Riots and witness the current racial divisions surrounding the Trayvon Martin case.
Yes, Marley’s lyrics urge us to “get up, stand up for our rights,” but he knew–above all–that it is the spirit of “One Love” that truly joins all humankind on this planet.
NOTE: If Marley was not shown in your area, it is available “On Demand” on some cable systems.