Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Future is the Beginning: The Words and Wisdom of Bob Marley

The Future is the Beginning began as a series of visits back in the early eighties when, as a teacher of creative writing, I took my students to the Bob Marley Museum at 56 Hope Road in Kingston, Jamaica. We walked up the stairs to the second floor and there, in the first open room with big windows that fronted Hope Road, were walls and walls, floor to ceiling, full of Bob Marley’s spoken words. For years we visited Bob's old uptown Kingston home -- he'd brought the ghetto uptown, he once joked.


So here was the third world's first superstar captured in newsprint. Picture after picture, message after message. The person who wallpapered the room was Neville Garrick, a close friend of Bob Marley’s, a visual artist and Rastaman, who knew what it all meant. That it represented a significant history was clear to Garrick but not to the thousands of yearly visitors from all over the world who came to the Museum.


The words came mainly from newspaper interviews. Pasted directly on four walls and sealed in varnish, the newspapers dated back to the early seventies and, in some instances, the sixties. The visitors who came to this large (and one smaller room) didn't have the time or inclination to actually read the articles, the clippings, the yellowed linotype fading in the hot Kingston sun that filtered through the jalousie window slats.


It was on one of these visitations that I thought -- Bob is so alive here. He's talking to us all on the walls of 56 Hope Road. The people pass, curiosity seekers, going quietly from room to room. But they look and they don't listen. How can we get them to hear what Bob's saying?


That gave me and my daughter, Mariah, an idea. So we asked our friend, Cedella Marley if we might try to put together a collection of her father's interviews that would, quite literally, spring from the wall to pages of a book. First, we would record the clippings, put them on tape, translate the patois, and then arrange them into chapters. What struck me, then as well as now, is that these interviews had not been previously collected into one volume. Many of them were originally published in very small and obscure magazines and ephemeral newspapers that had come and gone long ago.


Cedella liked the idea, and told us to give it a try. So our family went to Kingston for a period of time and Mariah photographed and the two of us translated. The tours came through, as usual, and we were sprawled on the floor or on a ladder, transcribing, translating, recording.  Mariah got photographs of every newspaper and magazine article and I tape-recorded the talking walls of 56 Hope Road, and that is how this book began. Seven years later, we have an off-the-cuff Bob Marley book of aphorisms, wisdom, folk sayings, poetry, and straight talk. It may be a small book. But it covers a large geography. It’s Bob, as he was, as he is, as he will always be, talking to you.