February 7, 2011

What Can Bob Marley Teach Bloggers?

An artist’s life is a gift to his community. Appreciation of the gift is another matter. For many years while he toiled in obscurity, Bob was denied the recognition that he deserved in Jamaica. Bob’s rise to international fame in a country governed by what Colin Grant, author of InI: the Natural Mystics, has called the “brown and white elite,” did not happen overnight. Marley’s ascension was a combination of hard work, perseverance, and livication to his craft—admirable traits that would serve any writer/blogger well. But there are other characteristics, which if they were applied to blogging, would increase authority and online presence—the Holy Grail of blogging.

“Take my soul and suss me out/ Check my life if I’m in doubt.” (“Rebel Music”)

One of the most striking aspects of Marley’s songwriting is his authenticity. When Bob wrote “One good thing about music/ When it hits you, you feel no pain,” (“Trench Town Rock,”) or “Yes, me friend, me good friend/ Them set we free again,” (“Duppy Conqueror), you know immediately that he had experienced the downpression of Babylon in its most brutal forms. Yet he turned these events into stories that entertained and made his listeners think about the plight of the sufferahs. Bob wrote out of a conviction borne from his experiences. As Rita Marley explains, He was on a mission.”

A blog should have a mission. Bloggers need to write with the same level of intensity about subjects that will sustain not only their interest, but also the attention of readers over the long haul. Bob was passionate about freedom and justice. You can see it in Bob’s face in one of the earliest exposures of the Wailers when they played “Concrete Jungle” on BBC`s Old Grey Whistle Test 1973. Colin Grant borrows a term from Garcia Lorca to describe Marley’s passion: duende.  Passion is contagious. Write with passion and readers will follow.

“We come from Trench Town/ Most of them come from Trench Town” (“Trench Town”).

Bob was committed to the people of TrenchTown and celebrated them not only in song, but also with material assistance. According to Herbie Miller: “He helped many not only through financial assistance, but also in setting up small businesses and paying school fees and health costs.” His life and work were in service to his community.

Seth Godin calls this the creation of a tribe. And the size of the tribe doesn’t matter. What matters is consistent shipping (another Godinism) of unique and valuable content that will change a reader’s perspective.

“Though I try to find the answer/ to all the questions they ask/ I know it is impossible/ to go living through past” (“Natural Mystic”).

As an adolescent what first attracted me to Bob’s music was the experience of life that Bob delivered by his mindfulness and transformation of the details of his life into a coherent message. I began to see events from a different perspective than the one presented through the media. He explained meaning from a Rastacentric point of view, which has influenced my fiction and poetry. With the release of successive LPs, I also recognized the steady development of three themes:

Downstruction of Babylon and the freedom of InI
JahLove in its many forms
Oneness and inviolability of InI

So, in a song like “Rebel Music,” which can be summarized in a Tweet: “Road block? Rain falling. Gotta throw away ganja,” Bob alters the tone of the incident into an interrogation of Babylon and a yearning for freedom:

Why can't we roam this open country?
Oh, why can't we be what we wanna be
We want to be free.

Depending on the overarching theme of the blog, posts should achieve cumatively what George H.W. Bush called “the vision thing.” Bob’s daily mission was to “chant down Babylon, and he made his listeners feel as if they were a part of the struggle. His listeners could relate to his stories and broadened their moral imagination.We became inhabitants, at least in our imagination, of Trench Town and were willing if necessary, to “fight this little struggle,” in Kingston or anywhere there was a struggle for equal rights and justice (“Zimbabwe”). This, perhaps, is the reason why his music Marley continues to be relevant. As Christopher Winks observes:

The whole of Marley’s work bespeaks an ethic of reciprocity: the “we” he invokes reminds everyone listening that they are immediately and inextricably involved in what he is singing about at that moment. So when we hear him sing “woman hold her head and cry” at the violent death of her son from a stray bullet “just because of the system,” (“Johnny Was,” Rastaman Vibration), how can we not think of the youths not only of Tivoli Gardens, but also of the Gaza Strip, Ciudad Juárez, Cité Soleil?  When Marley defiantly tells “Mister Cop” that he “ain’t got no birth certificate on me now” (“Rebel Music,” Natty Dread), the plight of undocumented immigrants in the United States is not far away. And when he snaps at an officious TV interviewer that “Babylon nah bear no fruit,” the massive oil pollution in the Gulf of Mexico, the Nigeria Delta, and Ecuadorean Amazonia, the coal mining disasters worldwide, and the persistent state of “war in the East / war in the West” (“War,” Rastaman Vibration) tragically and enragingly bear him out.  

At first, devising a comprehensive theme for a blog may seem a grandiose project, but as Justine Musk suggests, writing a manifesta, “organizes all your content into a unifying whole greater than the sum of its parts.” Little by little, the parts will come together. But it begins with the intention of convincing readers that their concerns are also yours.

“Dem a go tired fe see me face/ Cyaan get me out of the race” (“Bad Card”).

Bob Marley’s life as artist was marked by his tireless work ethic. As Chris Blackwell notes, ‘I never saw him leading his band by toughness, I saw him leading them by example. If the bus was going on somewhere, he'd be the first person on the bus. Normally the star turns up at the end, cracks a few jokes and climbs on, but he'd be the first one there.” Or as Bob confessed, “You haffi ask man like Garrick how hard me work. People see me and say, ‘how come yu shoes so wet up?’” (“Talking Blues”). For anyone willing to take the time, there are many lessons that Bob’s life will continue to yield. His life and work will continue to inspire other writers/artists. But most importantly, he will be an example to anyone who wants to share her gifts with her community.

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Yasmin said...

Geoffrey, this was such an inspiring post. As a Jamaican and Marley fan, I could relate to everything you said. Buffalo Soldier is my favorite Marley song, and as a blogger, this song brings to my mind the soldiering on aspect of blogging, aiming to produce interesting posts that inspire and inform one's audience over time.

Geoffrey Philp said...

Yasmin, give thanks. We all have a lot to learn and teach each other.


Anonymous said...

Hi Geoffrey! I completely agree with Yasmin. A very inspiring post indeed! My fave Bob Marley tunes are "One Love" and from back in my drinking partying days "No woman, no cry."

Bob was certainly one of those people whom "God broke the mold" after creating him...

Geoffrey Philp said...

Dave, I couldn't agree with you more:
"Bob was certainly one of those people whom "God broke the mold" after creating him..."