Bob Marley Georgia Christgau - Essay

Georgia Christgau

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Last year's Kaya was the first Bob Marley and the Wailers album I liked since Natty Dread, but they were very different records. Marley the shouter, the budding international pop star whooping and hollering revolution in 1975, had become Marley the crooner, the established international pop star missing his girlfriend and writing beautiful songs about the weather. Kaya is music anyone could like. But because the lyrics are dippy compared to Marley's eloquent reports on the life of the Jamaican poor—waking up in a curfew, sharing cornmeal porridge, making love in a single bed—a lot of his old fans don't like it. Marley doesn't write about being poor in Jamaica anymore; his condemnation of Babylon is at large again, however, on Survival. Kaya's lyric sheet ended with a tag line, "to be continued …" Survival is its political better half; one of its sharper songs is "Zimbabwe"—which the rest of the band … turn into a jubilant chorus of hope. Marley worries in "Zimbabwe" that his people will be tricked by mercenaries. I worry that Marley is a mercenary myself, but when I saw him at the Apollo last week, once again I thought visionary was more like it. (p. 65)

Though the lyrics that stand out on Survival are the ones about fighting for right in Africa, "So Much Trouble" is my favorite—a vague but ominous lament that builds quietly into a release about disillusionment….

Amid the ruins of Babylon, Marley can still generate good feelings, but he's just as likely to question them. And that two-sided possibility reflects his success as well as his struggle. (p. 80).

Georgia Christgau, "Bob Marley As Professional Prophet," in The Village Voice (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice and the author: copyright © News Group Publications, Inc., 1979), Vol. XXIV, No. 45, November 5, 1979, pp. 65, 80.