Bob Marley Lester Bangs - Essay

Lester Bangs

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Kaya] is quite possibly the blandest set of reggae music I have ever heard, including all the Engelbertisms of would-be crossover crooners like John Holt. It's pleasant enough if you just let it eddy along, but nothing on the ten cuts pulls you in like the hypnotic undertow of Burning Spear's Marcus Garvey, haunts like the best from The Harder They Come soundtrack or churns up the guts and heart like Toots and the Maytals. (p. 56)

In the past, though his delivery arguably lacked the force and intensity he seemed capable of, Marley always delivered concise, sometimes devastatingly understated, sometimes brilliant lyrical turns. Most of the words on Kaya apparently deal with the simple beauties of vegetable matter, the sun and other aspects of the insensate organic world, and how contented they make the singer feel. The placidity is so completely undisturbed (except in one song of love lost and the last two cuts, which really don't say anything anyway) that Marley comes off as down-right smug.

Some sort of inverse racism must be involved if people can actually ascribe commitment, or even talent, to verses like: "Excuse me while I light my spliff/Oh GOD I gotta take a lift/From reality I just can't drift/That's why I am staying with this riff." Unless Marley is just heaping contempt on his ever-credulous white audience—which seems unlikely since his Jamaican fans are expected to buy this stuff, too—such lyrics place him sub-Chocolate Watchband. There's also a song about how the rain is falling and how glad he is because that'll make the dope crop grow. (pp. 56, 59)

[This] man wants to be a superstar at all costs and will sell out his music, his people, his religion and his politics to get there. I know Jesus was betrayed by a kiss—but a toke? (p. 59)

Lester Bangs, "Bob Marley Aims High, Misses Big," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1978; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 266, June 1, 1978, pp. 56, 59.