A veteran reggae observer offers her take on an icon’s defining statement.
Goldman (Bob Marley, 1981) seems perfectly situated to write a compelling fly-on-the-wall book about the late reggae star’s 1977 album Exodus (named “Album of the Century” by Time magazine in 1999). Formerly features editor for the defunct British music weekly Sounds, she interviewed Marley frequently in Jamaica (where she stayed in his home for a time) and London, attended sessions for Exodus and accompanied the Wailers on their ’77 European tour. She takes a muddled trek through an interesting story. Goldman’s digressive account is mired by the enormous amount of backstory she must tell: Marley’s long apprenticeship in the island’s music business, the finer points of the Rastafarian faith and its connection with Judeo-Christian thought and the tangled and violent intrigues of ’70s Jamaican politics. A third of the book has gone by before Goldman arrives at her tale’s flashpoint event: the politically motivated December 1976 attempt on Marley’s life at his Kingston home, which led to his flight to London. There, the Wailers undertook studio work that resulted in not one but two albums, Exodus and its lightweight 1978 sequel Kaya (which she deals with only in passing). Despite a wealth of firsthand knowledge and copious new interviews, Goldman fails to bring the reader closer to an understanding of the record—a compelling mix of spiritual anthems and blissful love songs—or the deepest motivations of the artist who created it. A labored look at interpretations of the biblical exodus through artistic history stops the book dead in its middle section, while observations about the intersection of punk and reggae similarly bog it down near the end. An anecdote-studded track-by-track analysis of the album is no better than what one finds in other making-of tomes by less-savvy musical trainspotters.
Uncertain in organization and thin on insight—a blown opportunity.