CATCH A FIRE: The Life of Bob Marley by Timothy White

CATCH A FIRE: The Life of Bob Marley

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Veteran reggae-journalist White has all the background, and has done all the research needed for a thoughtful study of reggae-star Bob Marley--one that brings in the larger issues of Jamaican politics, Rastafarianism, and Caribbean music-history. Unfortunately, however, though hard-working readers may be able to extract a fair amount of substance here, White has opted for a book that ""gives itself over in an atmospheric fashion to the confluence of belief systems that informed Bob Marley""; in other words--fictional narrative style, reconstructed dialogue, clots of show-offy prose, and much sliding back and forth between subjective and objective viewpoints. The story of Marley's early years (which follows two introductory chapters that ramble through all of the book's topics) is especially trying: a kernel of material--Marley's Jamaica birth, his abandonment by a white father, his mother's tribulations--is padded out into a sentimental, ill-written novelette. (""Imagine! Even a young child, laying helpless in a shack, cannot avoid bumping into the nameless, misfortunes! thought Omeriah as he gazed out on the dripping scene in front of the porch, still in the grip of the rain's spell."") Things do become a bit more straightforward once teenager Bob (a.k.a. Nesta) records his first ""ska"" tunes in the early 1960s--soon developing a ""rude-boy"" band, the Wailers, with freshly controversial ghetto songs: ""music of the sufferah, a crude, spontaneous volley from the psychic depths of the Dungle underclass."" And White goes on to chronicle: the Wailers' transition to ""rock-steady,"" then reggae; Marley's very slow warming to ""the Rasta way of knowledge,"" winding up in a non-orthodox Rastafarian sect and a quasi-hippie commune; Marley's friendship with Jamaican PM Michael Manley (""a West Indian Elmer Gantry""); his increasing support of Manley Marxism (amid mid-'70s violence); his death from cancer. But, though all of this material is on display, it's never brought together coherently: the politics are often simplistic, the musical analysis is often portentous in the worst rockslang vein--compounded by White's excess parading of Jamaican patois. (""They were reaching out in an organic sense, aiming their undiluted dreadrock at the outside world, defiant in their crazy belief that Rasta reggae was not parochial, not just shantytown sankeys for pariahs--that it was music that could interpret, explain and beat back the planet's moral turpitude. . . ."") A disappointing mish-mash--but Marley enthusiasts may be pleased, and a few others will want to pick out the solid content from the rhetoric and embroidery.

Pub Date: June 24th, 1983
ISBN: 0805080864
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston