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Published: 2002/02/20
by Dan Greenhaus

Exodus, "I Got So Much To Say": A Personal/Historical View

Editor's note: last month we presented Dan's view on Pink Floyd's Animals. This is our second installment of what will be an occasional, ongoing series
that focuses on individual’s engagements with notable albums. If you have an idea for a spotlight record or wish to submit a piece, please send one our
way- jambands@jambands.com

Exodus.

The album stands by itself as Bob Marley’s greatest accomplishment. It is
revered throughout the music community as a triumph of his will. Time
magazine named it the most important album of the 20th century by, arguably,
the most important musical figure in the same time period. Exodus is a
sonic assault on the senses as it condenses many of life’s problems into
forty-six minutes of musical majesty. Hundreds of artists from across the
spectrum of music genres cite it, and the man himself, as a major
influence in their lives (some go so far as to name their pets or even
their children after the man). The album is a tour de force, ten powerful songs charged by an
attempted assassination attempt on Bob while he was still in Jamaica, which
some people argue was orchestrated by the CIA. Exodus
was born out of years of frustration and certain events that shaped Bob
Marley’s life, and eventually the album.

A true Rastafari until the very end, Bob Marley spent years of his life
trying to bring his message of peace and "one love" to the world. Born
sometime 1945 (the exact date is not confirmed although February 6th is
accepted), Bob’s family moved to Trenchtown sometime in the late 1950’s, a
place where he would meet many people who would play an important role in
his life and music, including Bunny Livingston (a.k.a. Bunny Wailer) and
Peter Tosh. The three began making music together and, eventually, were
soon playing in front of some important people on the Island of Jamaica. It
was apparent right from the beginning that Bob’s lyrics, unlike many of his
contemporaries at the time, were inspired by many of the problems on the
island of Jamaica, which included the people’s general unhappiness with the
economic condition of their homeland. These views can be found in one of
his earliest songs, "Simmer Down". By the late 1960’s, Bob had discovered
Rastafarianism, a belief that would totally change his life and the themes
explored in his music. In fact, the new themes coincided with a change in
popular music on the island, one that better-suited The Wailers music.
By 1970, the band had become quite popular in Jamaica and were joined by the
brother bass/drum duo of Aston and Carlton Barrett, two of the most
respected studio musicians in the region. But despite having several hit
songs on the island, and a powerful American friend in Johnny Cash, the band
was virtually unknown internationally until Bob approached Chris Blackwell
of Island Records. Chris, who was very aware of the stir Bob was making in
Jamaica signed him to the label and gave him the money to make an
album, Catch a Fire, under the band name The Wailers. Despite releasing
an album on a major label, Bob continued writing and exploring topics that were not, and still
aren’t, encouraged for pop artists. The album’s title track deals with
slavery directly and talks about retribution for those slave drivers. The
band continued to record and tour, both Britain and America, and the 1973
album Burnin featured a song, "I Shot the Sheriff," that would put Bob on
the international music map when it was later covered by Eric Clapton. It
was this international acclaim that would play a major part in an attempt on
Bob Marley’s life in 1976.

In the year of 1976, there were two parties competing for power in Jamaica.
One of these, the PNP, was putting on a concert on December 5, dubbed "Smile
Jamaica," and wanted Bob to perform. Although Bob was assured the
invitation wasn’t politically-motivated, many people felt that his
presence at the PNP-sponsored event would assure victory. Subsequent death
threats were taken very seriously as Marley was being protected 24
hours a day by armed guards. However, on the night before the concert, several
gunmen were able to get through to the house where Bob was staying, and
began to open fire on the house. Only the presence of Bob’s manager
standing in front of him saved his life as the gunmen shot at the
star. When all was said and done, no one was killed, however Bob was wounded
in the arm, his wife in the head, and several friends were in critical
condition. Afterwards, the decision was made that Bob would go on at the
concert as planned, and he was driven to the stage where he grabbed the
microphone and exclaimed to the crowd, "When me decided ta do dis yere
concert two anna ‘alf months ago, me was told dere was no politics. I jus’
wanted to play fe da love of da people." After a ninety minute set, Bob
left Jamaica and would not return for a year and a half. It was during this
absence that he completed the aptly-titled Exodus.

Recorded in London, the album is filled with some of Bob’s most politically-
charged lyrics over some of his catchiest rhythm. At the same time it
presents songs in stark contrast, dealing with the simple minutia of everyday
life. Three songs off the album, "Waiting In Vain", "Exodus" and
"Jammin’" were huge singles that propelled the album up the London music
charts, where it stayed for fifty-six weeks. The album begins with the
fade-in of "Natural Mystic," the smoothest song on the album, as Bob admits
that he doesn’t have all the answers to life’s problems, despite what many
people believe. The title track of the album, my personal favorite, is as
powerful a song as any recorded. The song deals directly with one
topic Bob broached frequently, people’s suffering due to poverty, as he
implores "Jah" to end it:"Jah come to break down ‘pression, rule equality.
Wipe away transgression, set the captives free" On "Guiltiness", Bob
approaches the difficult topic of the shooting, and the shooters as sinners
and disbeliveers, when he says, "Guiltiness, Pressed on
their conscience. Oh yeah. And they live their lives, on false pretence
everyday, each and everyday".

While those particular songs contain fierce political overtones, Bob’s
genuine love for mankind and desire for peace shines through
on more than one track. "Three Little Birds," a song about birds
that used to eat the leftover marijuana seeds in Bob’s backyard, contains
the most direct, simple, and positive message Bob has ever written:"Don’t
worry about a thing cause every little thing gonna be alright". A message
that is duplicated in "One Love." "Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I
will feel all right. Let’s get together and feel all right." On this album
love also began to make its way into Bob’s writing (although present
in greater quantity on Kaya, the follow up) with "Waiting in Vain."

Marley would go on to record several more albums before his death on May 11,
1981. Contrary to the stories one hears while in high school, Bob did not
die from lung cancer from smoking too much marijuana. The cancer begun in
his toe (first found on the Exodus tour after a soccer injury) and
eventually spread throughout his entire body, including his lungs. Had Bob
amputated his toe when the cancer was first discovered, it is widely
accepted that Bob would’ve survived. However, Rastafarianism prohibits
amputation in any form, so it was left virtually untreated.

Its impossible to speculate on what Bob would have done had he not passed.
However, the body of work he left behind puts Bob Marley among the most
important musical figures in history. He brought the problems of a tiny
little island into the world’s view. He is one of the most powerful lyricists,
and his ability to craft songs with potent messages and smooth
melodies stands as the defining characteristic of reggae. Having been to
Jamaica myself, one can see many of the problems that Bob had spoken about,
even today. But its hard to argue that the country, and music in general,
is not better off having heard Bob Marley.

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