portrait of this blog's author - by Stephen Blackman 2008

Saturday, June 23, 2012


From Big O - not only music . . . . .. .  .
by an author journalist I admire greatly, and I don't say that often or lightly believe me, but this is from John Pilger
June 22, 2012 – 5:27 pm
By John Pilger
Arriving in a village in southern Vietnam, I caught sight of two children who bore witness to the longest war of the 20th century. Their terrible deformities were familiar. All along the Mekong river, where the forests were petrified and silent, small human mutations lived as best they could.
Today, at the Tu Du paediatrics hospital in Saigon, a former operating theatre is known as the “collection room” and, unofficially, as the “room of horrors”. It has shelves of large bottles containing grotesque foetuses. During its invasion of Vietnam, the United States sprayed a defoliant herbicide on vegetation and villages to deny “cover to the enemy”. This was Agent Orange, which contained dioxin, poisons of such power that they cause foetal death, miscarriage, chromosomal damage and cancer.
In 1970, a US Senate report revealed that “the US has dumped [on South Vietnam] a quantity of toxic chemical amounting to six pounds per head of population, including woman and children”. The code-name for this weapon of mass destruction, Operation Hades, was changed to the friendlier Operation Ranch Hand. Today, an estimated 4.8 million victims of Agent Orange are children.
Len Aldis, secretary of the Britain-Vietnam Friendship Society, recently returned from Vietnam with a letter for the International Olympic Committee from the Vietnam Women’s Union. The union’s president, Nguyen Thi Thanh Hoa, described “the severe congenital deformities [caused by Agent Orange] from generation to generation”. She asked the IOC to reconsider its decision to accept sponsorship of the London Olympics from the Dow Chemical Corporation, which was one of the companies that manufactured the poison and has refused to compensate its victims.
Aldis hand-delivered the letter to the office of Lord Coe, chairman of the London Organising Committee. He has had no reply. When Amnesty International pointed out that in 2001 Dow Chemical acquired “the company responsible for the Bhopal gas leak [in India in 1984] which killed 7,000 to 10,000 people immediately and 15,000 in the following twenty years”, David Cameron described Dow as a “reputable company”. Cheers, then, as the TV cameras pan across the £7 million decorative wrap that sheathes the Olympic stadium: the product of a 10-year “deal” between the IOC and such a reputable destroyer.
History is buried with the dead and deformed of Vietnam and Bhopal. And history is the new enemy. On 28 May, President Obama launched a campaign to falsify the history of the war in Vietnam. To Obama, there was no Agent Orange, no free fire zones, no turkey shoots, no cover-ups of massacres, no rampant racism, no suicides (as many Americans took their own lives as died in the war), no defeat by a resistance army drawn from an impoverished society. It was, said Mr. Hopey Changey, “one of the most extraordinary stories of bravery and integrity in the annals of [US] military history”.

“False reality” requires historical amnesia, lying by omission and the transfer of significance to the insignificant.

The following day, the New York Times published a long article documenting how Obama personally selects the victims of his drone attacks across the world. He does this on “terror Tuesdays” when he browses through mug shots on a “kill list”, some of them teenagers, including “a girl who looked even younger than her 17 years”. Many are unknown or simply of military age.
Guided by “pilots” sitting in front of computer screens in Las Vegas, the drones fire Hellfire missiles that suck the air out of lungs and blow people to bits. Last September, Obama killed a US citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, purely on the basis of hearsay that he was inciting terrorism. “This one is easy,” he is quoted by aides as saying as he signed the man’s death warrant. On 6 June, a drone killed 18 people in a village in Afghanistan, including women, children and the elderly who were celebrating a wedding.
The New York Times article was not a leak or an expose. It was a piece of PR designed by the Obama administration to show what a tough guy the ‘commander-in-chief’ can be in an election year. If re-elected, Brand Obama will continue serving the wealthy, pursuing truth-tellers, threatening countries, spreading computer viruses and murdering people every Tuesday.
The threats against Syria, co-ordinated in Washington and London, scale new peaks of hypocrisy. Contrary to the raw propaganda presented as news, the investigative journalism of the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung identifies those responsible for the massacre in Houla as the ‘rebels’ backed by Obama and Cameron. The paper’s sources include the rebels themselves. This has not been completely ignored in Britain. Writing in his personal blog, ever so quietly, Jon Williams, the BBC world news editor, effectively dishes his own ‘coverage’, citing western officials who describe the ‘psy-ops’ operation against Syria as ‘brilliant’. As brilliant as the destruction of Libya, and Iraq, and Afghanistan.
And as brilliant as the psy-ops of the Guardian’s latest promotion of Alastair Campbell, the chief collaborator of Tony Blair in the criminal invasion of Iraq. In his “diaries”, Campbell tries to splash Iraqi blood on the demon Murdoch. There is plenty to drench them all. But recognition that the respectable, liberal, Blair-fawning media was a vital accessory to such an epic crime is omitted and remains a singular test of intellectual and moral honesty in Britain.
How much longer must we subject ourselves to such an “invisible government”? This term for insidious propaganda, first used by Edward Bernays the nephew of Sigmund Freud and inventor of modern public relations, has never been more apt. “False reality” requires historical amnesia, lying by omission and the transfer of significance to the insignificant. In this way, political systems promising security and social justice have been replaced by piracy, “austerity” and “perpetual war”: an extremism dedicated to the overthrow of democracy. Applied to an individual, this would identify a psychopath. Why do we accept it?
Note: Visit www.johnpilger.com. The above article was posted at Information Clearing House.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

 Interesting take on the Syrian situation here from Big O

....it does much more than music......


The “activist”-authored narrative of a ruthless dictator slaughtering his own people - complete with fake photos, phony videos, and tall tales legitimized as “news” - is aimed at a Western audience. Justin Raimondo of Antiwar.com explains.
It was supposed to be another “Benghazi moment” - an incident so horrific that it would spark Western military intervention in Syria’s increasingly violent civil war. The massacre at Houla was reported to be just such a moment: Syria’s security forces stand accused of killing 32 children under ten years of age, and more than 60 adults, by bombing the rebel-held village of Houla.
Photos of the massacre soon appeared on Twitter: and on YouTube, videos of the slaughter, uploaded by anonymous “activists,” appeared on cue. There was just one problem with this “evidence” of a massacre committed by the Syrian government - much of it was completely made up.
Take the photo the BBC used to illustrate the atrocity: it showed a young boy jumping over piles of corpses neatly laid out in preparation for burial. Very dramatic, and very disturbing - except it wasn’t a photo of anything that happened in Houla. Instead, it was a photo taken by Marco Di Lauro in Iraq, in 2003, and appropriated from his web site. The stolen photo was accompanied by a caption that read:
“Photo from Activist. This image - which cannot be independently verified - is believed to show bodies of children in Houla awaiting funeral.”
“Somebody is using illegally one of my images for anti [S]yrian propaganda on the BBC web site front page,” Di Lauro says, “I almost fell off my chair when I saw it.” When confronted by Di Franco, BBC editors took it down, and, by way of explanation, pointed to the caption as somehow exonerating.
Yet it is the very phrasing of that caption that condemns them out of their own mouths, the key word being believed. Why was it believed by the BBC when they received it from some anonymous “activist”? Because it suited their propagandistic purposes - that is, the purposes of the British government, which runs and funds the BBC, just as the Syrian government runs and funds their own state-controlled media. The photo was believed to be an accurate representation of events taking place in Houla because the editors wanted to believe it.
It isn’t just the photos purporting to show the massacre, it’s the “reporting” that is also thrown into doubt: after all, these accounts are all coming from the very same “activists” who have no compunctions about supplying fake photos to the very same media who report their every word as gospel.
It is claimed the Syrian army bombarded Houla, and yet the photos shows people with their throats cut, and shot in the head at very close range: this seeming contradiction required a revision of the “activist”-supplied narrative, which was duly changed to depict government-controlled “militias” coming into the village after the bombardment.
Yet even this hasty revisionist version didn’t cover all the bases: for example, one of the victims was a candidate in Syria’s recent elections who had refused to stand down at the demand of opposition “activists.” He, too, was brutally murdered, and the question is - by whom?
The BBC’s falling for - or enabling - “activist” fakery is hardly the only such incident: there was the case of “Syria Danny,” whose on-camera antics were exposed in flagrante delicto as he staged a Syrian army “attack” for the benefit of CNN. And don’t forget the fake “blogger” who purported to be “Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari,” a 35-year-old lesbian living in Damascus, supposedly kidnapped by the Syrian regime and abused.
“Amina” turned out to be a middle-aged married American schmuck and “Middle Eastern activist,” one Tom MacMaster, studying for a degree at the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland. The cause of “Amina” was taken up by those ubiquitous Syrian “activists” and trumpeted by their online propaganda apparatus - which has sprung up with weed-like rapidity. That’s what a healthy infusion of money from Western governments will buy you.
Yet even all that money apparently can’t buy competent sock-puppets, with amateurs like MacMaster, “Syria Danny,” and whoever supplied the BBC with Di Lauro’s photo running wild.
Speaking of running wild with enormous amounts of taxpayer dollars, the rebels - already receiving cash, arms, and other emoluments from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the Gulf sheikdoms - have already handed a $12 billion bill for “post-Assad development” to the Western “Friends Group,” led by Germany. That, you can be sure, is just the beginning.

Remember that the aim of war propaganda is to create a general impression, not to establish the truth (or falsehood) of any particular disputed fact. The idea is to hurl as many accusations against the target as rapidly as possible, without regard for their source, so as to generate the kind of murkiness where the truth can be created, rather than merely reported. It’s all about establishing a narrative, and any bothersome facts cropping up and getting in the way are hurriedly kicked aside.

With the Eurozone going down into the economic abyss, and the Germans berating their Greek (and now Spanish and Italian) partners as unproductive free riders, one has to wonder about German priorities. The British, too, are on the hook, having just upped the amount they’re sending - at a time when government subsidies to the very needy are on the chopping block.
And, of course, there’s no telling how many American tax dollars have been funneled in “non-lethal” aid to the rebels-who-couldn’t-get-their-lies-straight, but one thing is clear: their American trainers and advisers have their work cut out for them.
he US State Department has posted aerial photos of Syrian troops massed near the village, which purportedly show the government was in control of the area when the massacre occurred. The Syrians, for their part, claim they were in a defensive posture, and “activist”-supplied videos are unreliable for all the reasons detailed above. We will probably never know the truth about what happened at Houla - at least, not before the regime-changers in Western capitals and their Saudi allies kick the propaganda ball over the goal post.
Remember that the aim of war propaganda is to create a general impression, not to establish the truth (or falsehood) of any particular disputed fact. The idea is to hurl as many accusations against the target as rapidly as possible, without regard for their source, so as to generate the kind of murkiness where the truth can be created, rather than merely reported. It’s all about establishing a narrative, and any bothersome facts cropping up and getting in the way are hurriedly kicked aside.
Amid all the loud lamentations over the Syrian regime’s brutality, one fact downplayed by Western media outlets is that there are over 60 different rebel militias operating in Syria, whose activities are indistinguishable from the shabihas, or pro-government militias, which are getting the brunt of the blame. As the Washington Post reports:
“As the shabiha’s ranks and violence have grown and widened, groups have sprung up to counter them. Analysts say shabiha-style militias made up of the Sunni Muslims who represent the majority of the population have also started to emerge in regions such as Homs province, where Houla is located and where Sunni and Alawite communities sit side by side, increasing the potential for sectarian violence.”
In funding and arming rebel groups, whose violence is now being unleashed on civilians caught in the middle, the US and its allies are actively undermining Kofi Annan’s peace plan, which the Syrians have accepted. The rebels are determined to destroy the plan, which leaves them out of power: they won’t be happy until they have given the West a pretext to intervene militarily. As Hillary Clinton’s public pronouncements acquire a certain shrillness, that prospect is becoming increasingly likely.
By supporting the “Free Syrian Army,” the US and its allies are openly engaged in another Libya-style intervention, with the same radical Islamists as their armed wing, while a supposedly “secular” and “democracy”-oriented “youth movement” serves as the public face of a deeply reactionary rebel army.
Imagine, for the moment, that some group of foreign powers were involved in financing and arming a “Free American Army,” which launched attacks on US army bases and carried out terrorist acts - car bombings, as have occurred in Damascus, for example - in Washington, D.C. Imagine this rebel army had acquired footholds in key areas, and called for the overthrow of the “regime” in Washington. Do we even have to ask what would be the reaction of the US government?
The Western powers are intent on establishing international rules of governance they have no intention of applying to themselves, and, in this instance, are utilizing the United Nations as their chosen instrument. However, it is by no means certain the UN will go along with the game plan, as Annan’s peace plan - which calls for mutual disarmament and an end to hostilities - would indicate. In which case, the West will do everything it can to undermine the Annan plan and destabilize Syria to the point where they can declare it a “failed state” - and move in for the kill.
The “activist”-authored narrative of a ruthless dictator slaughtering his own people - complete with fake photos, phony videos, and tall tales legitimized as “news” - is aimed at a Western audience. In Syria - where the majority fears the opposition as much, or more, than the dictator Assad - they know better. Unfortunately for them, they have no power to stop the Western-initiated juggernaut headed in their direction.
Note: Visit antiwar.com for more.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Out of the mouths of babes........

I wanted to share a couple of observations from a friend of mine's 8 year old daughter. In these times it is often hard to find much uplifting. The news is unrelentingly grim it seems and today is no different than yesterday. I was going to post another 'What Have We Learned this Week' but it was so full of people being arrested for killing their children, the triple dipping recession, the state of Belarus, football hooligans in Ukraine and Poland developing new forms of  violent racist fascism in the name of sport and in the UK corruption and moral decay left right and centre right, I thought I would post something that made me smille and raised a faint flickering little flame of hope in this tired old heart of mine.

Now my oldest friend, his father is from Trinidad and his daughter's mother is one of the most beautiful black women it has been my fortune to count amongst as friends. Now this is a bright young girl and she has been given an enquiring mind that brings her parents, as well as their friends, much joy. She is given to the sort of imagination that one time recently she pointed a gun shaped finger at her Dad and made the shooting noise beloved of all small children. When expressing concern that he had, of course, been shot by this imaginary gun she merely replied,

"Love Gun"!

We have, I guess, been waiting for the subject of racism to rear it's ugly head  for at primary school it has been noted often I believe, that little children have to be taught racism, mostly by their parents and that they play together with little to no self consciousness about such tiresome things. But come forward it has like so much scum on foul water and a little boy in her class had said something to the effect he didn't like black people and now the school were brilliant in dealing with this and had called her father to let him know. When asked by her concerned and angry father how she had coped with this form of bullying, she replied

 "I just went to a happy place in my head and ignored it"

Saturday, June 02, 2012


Posted at Big O May 30, 2012 – 4:38 pm
Kevin MacDonald’s documentary, Marley (2012), gives new insight into both the man and his music. It shows what an awe-inspiring man Bob Marley was – a powerfully unique spirit and an exceptionally charismatic and talented person, who was ignited by an unquenchable desire to create music and change the world. Kim Nicolini reviews for Big O.

Following the trajectory of a cinematic biopic, the new documentary Marley is organized as a straightforward biography, starting with Bob’s birth and ending with his death [Bob Marley died in 1981 at the age of 36.]. But the movie is so much more than a linear story of one man’s life and music. Its 144 minutes expand the standard genre and end up being a kind of resurrection of Marley’s spirit. The movie itself becomes as captivating and inspiring as Marley’s music.
Directed by Kevin MacDonald, whose political inclinations and creative eye can be seen in The Last King of Scotland (the impeccably filmed story of Idi Amin), Marley is shot and assembled beautifully. Compiled from contemporary interviews and archival footage, the film isn’t just a messy hodgepodge of material with a bunch of talking heads thrown in for the delivery of factoids.
Rather, the film is assembled to be a thing of beauty itself, evoking the spirit of Bob Marley in both form and content. Contemporary interview material includes reggae musicians Jimmy Cliff and Bunny Wailer; Jamaican ska/reggae guru Lee Scratch Perry; Marley’s wife and backup singer Rita Marley; two of Marley’s children – Ziggy and Cedella; the former Miss World and one of Bob Marley’s many girlfriends – Cindy Breakspeare; and various music industry people and friends.
All the interview footage is shot with attention to aesthetics and to highlight the individuals’ personalities. The interview subjects are not your standard talking heads. They are situated in environments, colors and compositions that show the emotional and internal landscape of the people being interviewed and their personal relationship to Bob Marley.
The cinematography evokes an emotional landscape which resurrects the spirit of Marley through the hearts of the people talking about him and enhances our perception of Marley the man. Instead of just providing the sort of information about Marley that one can easily find on the internet, the way the people are filmed allows us to see and experience the man through their eyes and adds to the film’s sense that we really are spending 144 minutes with this man even though he is long dead and gone. It’s almost like he’s there in the room with the people talking.
For example, as daughter Cedella is filmed with her body taut like a coiled wire in a stiff backed chair in a dark room, we are able to feel the claustrophobia of her bitterness and emotional baggage, her resentment over her father’s absence from her life, and the lid she has clamped down on her sense of abandonment and pain over the loss of her father.
On the other hand, Rita Marley bursts onto the screen in a riot of color and enthusiasm. The sun shines behind her. She is a glowing spirit of light and color, giving us the portrait of a woman whose spirit got her through the best of times and the worst of times. She was wife, backup singer, and Rasta Woman, but also paid witness to Marley’s infidelities with other women. Yet she stood by him because she had complete faith in his art.
Marley had 11 children by seven different women. All of this is revealed through interviews spliced between archival footage. Certainly Cedella shows one side of this story, but with the legacy of Marley’s music and the change that it affected in the world, it is hard to judge him. “Judge Not” as he says in that first song at age 16. And the film asks us to “judge not” as well.
Bunny Wailer and Jimmy Cliff have no end of stories about Marley. They are situated center frame, speaking as the musicians they are. When they recall their stories about Marley, we feel as if we are with the man himself as they scratch out songs at dawn, kick a soccer ball on a field together, or gather for political discussions at Marley’s house in Jamaica.
Both musicians came from the trenches with Bob, and they have plenty of personal stories to tell about the evolution of Marley and his music. As they tell the stories, we really feel like Marley is with them as they evoke Bob’s spirit by making their tales so personal and full of life.

Bob Marley was a man whose drive to create and spread his art and voice through music was so powerful that he pumped it out of himself at full speed for his whole (and much too short) adult life. Even when his entire body was being eaten away with cancer, he got up on stage and poured every inch of his being into his songs and his performances.

The documentary gives new insight into both the man and his music. It shows us what an awe-inspiring man Bob Marley was – a powerfully unique spirit and an exceptionally charismatic and talented person, who was ignited by an unquenchable desire to create music and change the world. He was a man whose drive to create and spread his art and voice through music was so powerful that he pumped it out of himself at full speed for his whole (and much too short) adult life.
Even when his entire body was being eaten away with cancer, he got up on stage and poured every inch of his being into his songs and his performances. He was a man whose music not only inspired political change and revolt, but whose legacy has continued to ignite freedom of the human spirit across cultures, races, and countries ever since. A man who sung his way out of the Jamaican ghetto, Marley poured his own personal conflicts and experience of racial and economic inequality into music that became universal cries for freedom and love.
It is pretty damn hard not to like Bob Marley’s music and, after watching this documentary, it’s pretty damn hard not to stand in awe of this man who is one of those rare spirits who lands in the world, lives too short, and gives us so much to make our lives better. I am a firm believer that in this world that that seems to be on a head-on collision with the apocalypse, we have to embrace the good that humans have to offer.
Good for me comes in the form of creative expression – music, art, poetry. Bob Marley’s creative voice was a gift that changed so many people’s lives, whether providing respite in the form of some sweet music to dance to or inspiring people to revolt against the forces of racial oppression. There are few musicians who had the spiritual and political aura and the ability to incite change through music that Marley had.
The film talks about how Marley was born mixed race, the son of a white man (Norval Sinclair Marley) who abandoned him at birth and a black Afro-Jamaican (Cedella Booker) who moved Marley to the slums of Kingston, Jamaica when he was a young boy. Trenchtown is the name of the neighborhood where Marley grew up, and it is poor as poor gets.
Yet it is also the birthplace, the core, and the very heartbeat of reggae music. Bob started playing music when he was dirt poor in Trenchtown, and he stayed dirt poor for a good long time before he finally became successful. He moved from an unsuccessful solo act to a “band” with the Wailers, creating his own record label with the help of Lee Scratch Perry to fight the stranglehold Trojan Records had on ska and reggae.
In classic record industry exploitation of disenfranchised musicians (see American “roots music” for another example), the record executives were making the money while the musicians were making the music and not seeing any of the economic returns. Marley and his group changed that by making their own label, acting on the sentiment of resistance and empowerment that lies at the core of so many of his songs. Later they would move onto other labels, but early in his career the way Marley produced music was an act of rebellion.
Through Jimmy Cliff and Bunny Wailer, we also learn about the roots of ska music and the evolution of ska to reggae. First they talk about how ska had a different rhythmic structure than doo-wop and soul, with stress on the offbeat. Then they explain how reggae evolved from the change of the sound of the guitar, how it was an accidental change of guitar rhythm (from a tape loop playing over itself), creating a double stroke on the strings – cha-ching, cha-ching – rather than a single.
This is the kind of information about the creative process that makes music documentaries like Marley rewarding for artists like myself. Cliff, Wailer, Lee Scratch Perry and Marley’s London record producer Chris Blackwell also deliver quite a bit of information on the evolution of the Reggae sound and Marley’s music. It didn’t just start as the “One Love” sound we hear today. It was an evolution over time, a result of process, sound manipulation, and just plain accidents.
Marley cut his first single “Judge Not” at age 16, and that song contains so many things that Marley would follow through with as his career matured – the plight for equality, the drum and bass rhythm that is the signature backbone of reggae, and an infective spirit to lift our hearts and our voices and embrace life against all odds.
That first Marley song was “ska” – the “pre-reggae” music that dominated Kingston before the distinctive reggae sound was accidentally found in the studio one day. The low cost production values combined with Marley’s young bursting enthusiasm make those early songs so urgent and raw, carved out of the streets from which he came.

The archival footage in the film really is what drives the energy of the documentary and cues us into the absolutely mind-bending energy of Bob Marley… The man had an aura that could blow the lid off of any government. He seemed so casual, yet his energy was entirely focused with power and vision.

Early ska music wasn’t highly produced in some slick music studio. Instead it was created from everything from empty metal drums covered with cow skin to an empty box with three taught strings pulled across the surface. The rawness of the streets is evident in the music, but so is the human spirit, a creative will that can make music even amidst the hardest of realities.
In the documentary, record producer Blackwell refers to Marley’s breakthrough album Exodus as “the most pasteurized” of Marley’s albums. Indeed, this album represented the turning point in Marley’s music. The songs are layered with sounds that are a result of studio technology. The pure heart of Marley is there, but it has been put through tape loops and effects, the riffs layered on top of each other to make the music more dense yet more clear at the same time.
Having access to high-end equipment that could “layer” the sound gave Marley’s music the signature reggae dub effect. That doesn’t make the sound less good. It’s just more refined. Marley’s spirit and distinct sound are still alive and pulsing in his later (and most successful) albums, but the sound is definitely not the raw, unfiltered pleas that came from his voice in Trenchtown.
Still, all of Marley’s music - from his first song to his last album - is amazingly urgent, passionate and transformative. His production values may have changed over time, but his voice, energy and message never did. The trajectory of his career – from his childhood in Trenchtown to his stadium-packing career as a musical Messiah – is fascinating. As a man, an artist, a revolutionary and a visionary songwriter and performer, Marley is a wonder. The film does his legend full service.
In tracing the evolution of Marley’s music, the film shows how troubling it was for Marley not to be able to reach a black audience in the United States. While the music rose from the black ghetto of Jamaica, it was never adopted by the black audience in America.
Outside his country, Bob Marley was seen as a rock star, an image that record producers promoted and which aligned Marley with white musicians (not unlike Jimi Hendrix). But Marley’s music was very politically and racially motivated, so this image was one that left him troubled, especially given his own internal conflict about his mixed race. It’s interesting because there are so many black American musical influences in reggae. The songs are clearly driven by roots music, jazz and soul, yet the American black audience did not embrace Marley.
Even today, Marley’s American audience continues to be largely white. His music inspired massive political change in making Zimbabwe an independent country governed by black people and free from white oppression (how sad Marley would have been to see Robert Mugabe’s decline into another dictator abusing his own people), yet in America that spirit of racial equality did not ring for the black audience.
Right before Marley was diagnosed with cancer, he was asked to play the opening act at Madison Square Gardens for the Commodores. He willingly accepted, hoping to reach a broader American audience. Indeed, the black people in the audience embraced Marley’s sound, but the concert footage shows that the audience that followed the Commodores was also largely white. Racial dynamics of soul music in America is something on which whole books can and have been written. It’s interesting to think about where Marley fits on that musical spectrum.
The film also provides a kind of crash course in what it means to be a Rastafarian, including the religion’s roots in the Jamaican black descendants of slaves, its Christian dimension, the religious doctrine of smoking weed because the Bible says to “take in the herb,” growing dreadlocks as a sign of spiritual evolution, and the patriarchal heart of Rastafarian culture (for example, women wear dresses and no makeup).
Marley also explains that in the early days Jamaicans worshipped the Emperor of Ethiopa Haile Selassie who they saw as the second coming of Christ (a.k.a. Jah). Later, Bob Marley would assume that role by becoming a global musical Messiah spreading his message of peace, love and revolution.

The footage of his live performances is amazing. The film is a gift just to allow us to see such a delicious glut of material of Marley in action. This man gave all of himself every single time he performed. He never held back.

You can still find Marley’s image painted on black velvet worldwide, right next to paintings of Jesus at the Last Supper. Understanding the spiritual significance of the dreadlocks and ultimately the spiritual role that Bob Marley played in the lives of so many oppressed people, it is heartbreakingly tragic to hear how he lost his hair to cancer.
First he began to lose his hair with chemo, but then the weight of the dreadlocks themselves was too much for his frail body to bear. The image of his hair coming off is a tragic symbol of his physical decline. It is a powerfully final and devastating symbol of the fragile mortality of this visionary man. Nevertheless, Marley may have lost his hair and his life to cancer, but his spirit lives on today.
The archival footage in the film really is what drives the energy of the documentary and cues us into the absolutely mind-bending energy of Bob Marley. Concert and interview footage with Marley himself and archival photos are expertly spliced together with the present-day interviewers of his survivors. Watching Marley speak and perform, it is clear that he was channeling major energy from some powerful source.
The man had an aura that could blow the lid off of any government. He seemed so casual, yet his energy was entirely focused with power and vision. That is why he was the target of assassins who attempted to still his voice with guns, because he was seen both as in league with the Jamaican government but also as a source of revolt and uprising. Though he was trying to spread peace and equality, in his homeland the reception to his message was as mixed as his race.
The footage of his live performances is amazing. The film is a gift just to allow us to see such a delicious glut of material of Marley in action. This man gave all of himself every single time he performed. He never held back. In interviews and concert footage of Marley, one thing is constantly clear. The man had vision and the persistent energy to drive his vision forward. Whether writing songs at the crack of dawn, kicking a soccer ball, running on the beach, pulling chords from a guitar or dancing on stage – Marley was a fireball of creative energy and charismatic drive.
Marley emanated energy like a solar flare, a shining force of power and light. He smoked a joint and went for a run before he wrote songs. He was fiercely athletic and furiously competitive, but like most artists, he mostly competed with himself. In the end, he both won, and he lost. He created a musical legacy that changed the world and the sound of music, but his drive also prevented him from tending to his own physical health (follow-up exams for the melanoma that he had on his toe) and he dropped dead of cancer at age 36.
His death was a sad and terrible thing. One day he was performing with his entire heart and soul. The next he was flying to Germany in a last ditch effort to survive by going to the world’s most renowned holistic healer. When Marley was in Germany, I kept thinking how sad it was, that he should be back in his home in Jamaica for his last weeks alive.
However, Marley sings in his songs, he was not going to “give up the fight.” He did fight, but in the end, cancer won the battle, and the world lost a musical legend. But it didn’t lose his music or the spirit it conjures every time one of his songs is played.
Fittingly, then, rather than ending with Marley’s death, the film ends with the sound of Bob Marley’s music playing today and with footage from all over the world of people singing and dancing to his songs. In Japan, Russia, Africa, South America, the Middle East, France, his native home Jamaica, and all around the world, the filmmakers caught people on film living the spirit of Marley. It is clear in this footage, that the message and sound of Marley’s music is just effective today as it was over 30 years ago.
These closing shots are hopeful and life affirming even after Marley’s death. It made me think that Bob Marley really did give us a gift that few people, regardless of age or race, can’t appreciate. I remember one time in the early 1980s when I was playing a Bob Marley record on the turntable. My mother came over to visit and asked what I was playing. I told her Bob Marley, and she said, “I like it.” She stopped in the middle of the room and began to dance.
I think I’ll stop everything and dance to a Bob Marley song right now. In these hard times when the world seems to be crashing down in every corner on the globe, where the gap of inequality grows wider every day, it seems like as good a time as any to revive Bob Marley’s voice and to “get up, stand up and don’t give up the fight.” This documentary reminds us of that spirit, and that, my friends, is a good thing.
Note: Kim Nicolini is an artist, poet and cultural critic living in Tucson, Arizona. Her writing has appeared in Bad Subjects, Punk Planet, Souciant, La Furia Umana, The Berkeley Poetry Review and CounterPunch. She recently published her first book, Mapping the Inside Out, in conjunction with a solo gallery show by the same name. She can be reached at knicolini@gmail.com. The above article was posted at CounterPunch. Original article here Big O Review of 'MARLEY'