All That’s Left to Know About the King of Reggae
published: 14 /
in her 'Raging Pages' book column Lisa Torem examines Brett Hagerman's fantastic new book, 'Bob Marley FAQ'.
With a keen eye for detail, a sly sense of humour and an impressive devotion to the topic-at-hand, author Brent Hagerman has threaded together a great Bob Marley bio. Hagerman doesn’t stint on the historical essentials — he drops the reader into Jamaica’s 'Nine Mile', introducing us to the man’s primary caretakers, his mother and grandparents, describing his white, biological father as a “deadbeat dad” who “left Nine Mile the day after his wedding.”
After a thorough examination of how family members influenced the young Nesta Robert Marley, Hagerman brightly segues into the phenomenal birth of a mystical genre known as “reggae."
Hagerman explains, “By the sixties, Trenchtown had gained a reputation as the Motown of Jamaica.” Local entrepreneur Joe Higgs operated The Trench Town Conservatory of Music, where Bob would explore his love of music and mingle with the future Wailers. Bob sang with the Wailers from 1964-1966, but money was tight and he was forced to work odd jobs for meagre wages. The band longed to gain control of their financial and creative future - they were under the gun of their promoters, but Bob was always looking towards the future. He established US connections around the time of his marriage to Rita Anderson.
Rita Marley, Hagerman explains, was Bob Marley’s muse and ultimate protectorate after his demise, but was “sometimes cast as the jealous, jilted wife only in it for the money.” But although Marley had many paramours, Rita was his only wife. She went on to forge her own musical career, support her husband’s and co-write a number of popular tunes. Still, their relationship was complex, and worth Hagerman’s scrutiny.
Hagerman also spends time exploring the personalities of Marley’s many love interests. Categorized as 'The Baby Mothers', 'Beauty Queens' etc., he examines these relationships, often using “race” and “class” as barometers. Not surprisingly, we learn much about Bob Marley’s character through the author’s frank insights.
In addition, we learn about Marley’s supposed fourteen offspring, many of whom have pursued careers in entertainment, and some for whom DNA tests have proved otherwise. Still, the stories circulate…
More compelling are the chapters, 'Ambush in the Night' about assassination attempts, 'Mighty Dread Can’t Dead', an analysis of his “posthumous financial power” and all of Part 2, which delves meticulously into the man’s musical legacy and for the average music fan is the real stuff. Here the reader can get lost in the following topics: Marley’s backing musicians, “songs of love, sex and seduction” and even Bob’s views on “cross-dressing and homosexuality.”
Part 3 is less dense, but still on-topic. Hagerman focuses on Marley’s revolutionary fervour, early Christian influences and even his strict diet. There’s quite a bit to work through, but don’t let the variety of chapter subjects intimidate you. The book is so well-organized that if one subject fails to please, it’s easy enough to move on, and the black and white graphics and bold titles help underscore and substantiate the diverse stories. That said, 'A Guide to the Albums of Bob Marley' is a must for any serious pop culture historian. And there’s an absolutely mind-blowing bibliography.